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Q: Just had a weird English language moment in China

Maybe I've been working too hard lately as an English teacher here in China, maybe too much drink and not enough uninterrupted sleep at night. But I got up from my desk at home a moment ago, uttered aloud a string of words in English to myself (as one is wont to do, on occasion), and although the string made perfect sense, it sounded entirely foreign to me.

 

I reflected.

 

I thought to myself: what a difficult language my native language must be to learn, especially for my Chinese students. I mean, when I think about how incomprehensible Chinese sounds (and looks) to me, how does English sound to a Chinese person? Equally unintelligible? 

 

Is English as challenging to learn for a Chinese student as Chinese is for a foreign student, albeit my advanced age, such as myself?

 

Any thoughts?

2 years 25 weeks ago in  General  - China

 
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There are often questions appear on here about why the West had the industrial revolution, the age of discovery, the scientists etc.

 

Maybe it does come down to language. We pretty much had a common alphabet. Sure, the Greek characters were written differently, but they were pronounced pretty much the same.

 

But the core thing was that the numbers were the same. 1,2,3,4. So when Newton and Leibniz were were pretty much discovering calculus at the same time, they could actually both understand each other's numbers and equations.

 

I digress from the question, but my point is, that having a common alphabet makes languages easier. But yeah, English and Chinese Alphabets are different. Of course.

 

But you see, English Characters are everywhere in China. It's on signs, it's on computer keyboards, it's on sheet music.... it's everywhere.

 

Basically, when it comes down to it, if a Chinese person wants an email address, they need to know at least a few English characters. dot com at the minimum.

 

So it's a matter of exposure. Born outside China, you are never exposed to Chinese characters in a situation where you need to understand them.

 

Born in China, even the most basic functions require some knowledge of foreign numbers and characters.

 

 

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2 years 25 weeks ago
 
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 I always tell them how Chinese is difficult for me to ease their pain at learning English.

I actively 'torture' them with Qs and free talk at my classes. I lecture only after they make mistake.

Classroom clock is on the wall behind my back, so I can clearly see them when they desperately count minutes to the break.

They know, I never take a train ride without an earplugs and Ipod, and I can't listen for too long, when Chinese talk.

I 'see' languages as melody, and both languages sound like different songs when spoken, so I guess that's where annoying part comes from.

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2 years 25 weeks ago
 
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Yes and no.

 

You're coming from an English language background. And so, for you, yes, Chinese will be harder for you. As an ESL teacher, you know the grammatical differences, as well as the morphological.

 

However, I'd be fairly certain you wouldn't feel the same about other languages, eg French or Spanish. And, even though Russian is quite different, you wouldn't feel quite so out of it.

 

Would a Chinese speaker feel as confused towards Arabic as they would towards English?

 

How about comparing English, Chinese, and Thai (or Japanese, or Korean, or Hmong)?

 

Language, remember, is entirely arbitrary.... humans, at some time in the past, at different places, decided that various sounds meant various things.

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2 years 25 weeks ago
 
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There are often questions appear on here about why the West had the industrial revolution, the age of discovery, the scientists etc.

 

Maybe it does come down to language. We pretty much had a common alphabet. Sure, the Greek characters were written differently, but they were pronounced pretty much the same.

 

But the core thing was that the numbers were the same. 1,2,3,4. So when Newton and Leibniz were were pretty much discovering calculus at the same time, they could actually both understand each other's numbers and equations.

 

I digress from the question, but my point is, that having a common alphabet makes languages easier. But yeah, English and Chinese Alphabets are different. Of course.

 

But you see, English Characters are everywhere in China. It's on signs, it's on computer keyboards, it's on sheet music.... it's everywhere.

 

Basically, when it comes down to it, if a Chinese person wants an email address, they need to know at least a few English characters. dot com at the minimum.

 

So it's a matter of exposure. Born outside China, you are never exposed to Chinese characters in a situation where you need to understand them.

 

Born in China, even the most basic functions require some knowledge of foreign numbers and characters.

 

 

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2 years 25 weeks ago
 
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I personally believe that English is harder to learn. But, I think Chinese is more difficult to speak. English words have muliple definitions and uses. And, sometimes they do not even reflect what the original word was meant to be. In Chinese language, one word has one meaning. The reason I say it is harder to speak Chinese than English is because of the four tones to a Chinese word. If we use the wrong tone in English, the words stays the same. Even if we mispronounce the word, with accents or phonetically, we can figure out what the word is. Not such an easy thing to do when you screw up the tone of the Chinese words. So, bith have their problems in leanring.

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2 years 25 weeks ago
 
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I think chinese is harder to get the basic right. The tones and wierd sounds can be killer but once you get the hang of it getting more and more fluent is easy depending on how much you care.

Whereas English is the opposite. The basics are not so hard. Basic conversations can be held within weeks or months but to get to a real fluent level is incredibly difficult. As seen by posters on this site, our wives ect ect ect.

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2 years 25 weeks ago
 
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the Chinese grammar is quite simple: no plural form or past/future tenses. lacking a philosophical/technological history has left Chinese rather crude.
when compared to english, even my native tongue Dutch is a bit of a farmer's language, with inefficiencies like backward numbers (25=vijfentwintig; 6:30=half zeven).

the tones in Chinese make things harder. every syllable must be pronounced in a certain tone, however all tones are superceded by the song tone when singing, and even ni3 hao3 must be combined as ni2hao3 because it can't be spoken with 3-3. very inefficient if you ask me.

the writing system is intentionally complicated so as to exclude rather than include people from writing - it's how imperial government marketed education (with repercussions felt in Chinese schools to this day).

when Chinese try speaking English, they either use a monotone robot voice, or get the emphasis/stress completely backwards. they tend to mumble the difficult words, and speak the grammar words clearly and loudly.
English: some of the WORDS should have TAKEN the STRESS.
Chinglish: SOME OF THE words SHOULD HAVE taken THE stress.

it makes listening to Chinglish quite difficult.

as for the complexity of English: i have no trouble with verb tenses, as that's embedded in my thought process. but i do mix up single/plural nouns and their tenses frequently, perhaps due to limited speaking with other English speakers. That indicates that some effort and thought is required to get it right even for native speakers.
if you always spoke a language that uses barely any plurals, maintaining consistency must be even more difficult.

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2 years 25 weeks ago
 
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it is generally accepted that an average literate Chinese speaker should recognize approximately 2,500 characters, where someone with a university education may recognize 4,000 or more.

 

The average English speaker has a vocabulary of 25,000 words.

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2 years 25 weeks ago
 
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