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Learning a non-phonetic language

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18 messages over 3 pages: 1 2 3  Next >>
ElComadreja
Senior Member
Philippines
bibletranslatio
Joined 4646 days ago

683 posts - 80 votes 
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Studies: Spanish, Portuguese, Ancient Greek, Biblical Hebrew, Cebuano, French, Tagalog

 
 Message 1 of 18
25 September 2005 at 4:28pm | IP Logged 
I at some point (maybe the end of the year?) want to learn some of these Asian languages such as Chinese & Japanese. The problem is I seem to learn the vast majority of my words through reading and trying to pronounce the words in my head. How am I supposed to do that in languages that primarily use “pictures” to write?



orion
Senior Member
United States
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623 posts - 66 votes 
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 Message 2 of 18
25 September 2005 at 6:34pm | IP Logged 
This has also been a stumbling block for me when trying to learn Mandarin or Japanese. I like to read passages in my target language, then look up unfamiliar words. I have found this very daunting in character-based languages, where even using a dictionary is a challenge. There are a number of self-teaching guides that have a list of "vocabulary characters" for a given passage. You have to memorize these first, then try to read the passage. I have used "Beginning Chinese" by Yong Ho. I am considering continuing on with either Mandarin, Japanese, German or Russian. The difficulties you mentioned are the reasons I will probably choose German or Russian over the other two. A year of effort in either German or Russian will put me much closer to fluency than in Mandarin or Japanese. Illiteracy is not fun! I also would be curious to hear how successful learners of character-based languages have addressed this aspect.

Edited by orion on 25 September 2005 at 6:35pm



Shusaku
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United States
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 Message 3 of 18
25 September 2005 at 6:53pm | IP Logged 
This is a great question. In my personal experience learning Cantonese, I've found it impossible to use the learn-by-reading approach. Instead, I've been collecting more and more recorded dialogues and have learned the majority of my vocabulary this way. These dialogues don't necessarily all need to come from language courses - to acquire more material, you can also ask a native speaker to record some audio for you. Another option is to extract dialogues from movies in your target language (if you search the web you can sometimes even find word-for-word transcripts).

When I first started, I spent a lot of time learning the basic sounds and tones, but didn't really know where to go from there (a general lack of learning materials didn't help matters any). Eventually I took the dialogues from a Teach Yourself course, stripped out all the English, put them on my MP3 player and just played them over and over and over again. Even if I was doing something else, I'd have them on in the background. As a result, those conversations are now permanently burned into my brain and I can recite most of them word for word without looking at the book.

Earlier this year I read about Ardaschir's shadowing methodology and for the past few months I've moved on from just listening to this more active approach. I've also acquired much more audio from a variety of sources. The more I do this, the more I realize how efficient this method is - you learn a lot of vocabulary all in context, you get speaking practice, and you gain a deeper understanding of how the language works each time you shadow the dialogues. After a while you intuitively know how to use the different patterns without even thinking.

As for learning characters this becomes more practical once you have a basic grip on the spoken language. What I've been doing lately is trying to read the character versions of the dialogues which I'm already very familiar with. This way, I already know what the text is about, and can kind of fill in the blanks for those characters I don't already know. Once you see them in context enough times it becomes easier to recognize them (the caveat here is that I can only write maybe 20% of the 800 or so characters which I can recognize).

In summary, you'll probably need to adapt your existing approach and embrace the fact that the spoken language will come before the written one. It's a long road ahead but definitely enjoyable and worthwhile!


Edited by Shusaku on 25 September 2005 at 7:01pm



ElComadreja
Senior Member
Philippines
bibletranslatio
Joined 4646 days ago

683 posts - 80 votes 
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Studies: Spanish, Portuguese, Ancient Greek, Biblical Hebrew, Cebuano, French, Tagalog

 
 Message 4 of 18
25 September 2005 at 11:43pm | IP Logged 
Ah geez I was afraid of that. Even as far as Spanish goes, I learned “0” words from talking to people in Mexico, and like 400-600 from a book I was reading while down there. I feel I have to “see” a word first, then hear it in a conversation/TV to have learned it completely. Having said that, how hard is it to get pinyin books?



orion
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United States
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 Message 5 of 18
26 September 2005 at 9:47am | IP Logged 
I have never seen any strictly pinyin books, that is not to say they don't exist. I believe the Taiwanese have a simplified writing system used to help kids learn, similar to the Japanese kana. I think its called bopomofo, or zhuyin fuhao (something like that). Maybe this would be useful to you? There are many people on the forum that would be able to offer you much better advice, I am sure. How about learning Vietnamese? It uses a Roman alphabet. Good luck!



Shusaku
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United States
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 Message 6 of 18
26 September 2005 at 9:48am | IP Logged 
Aside from textbooks and some children's books, I haven't seen anything in pinyin. There are some tools you can use (such as the POPjisyo site) which make it easier to look up characters you don't know, but it's still a slow process.

Is your heart set on Chinese or Japanese, or are you interested in Asian languages in general? If so, maybe Korean would be an option. Although you'd still need to learn the Hanja for full literacy, you'll probably have more luck finding materials purely in the phonetic script since I believe a lot of newer books as well as most stuff on the internet uses only Hangul. Despite this, some say attaining full fluency in Korean is a bit harder than both Chinese and Japanese so you'd still have a lot of work ahead, but if you really learn best by reading, it may be a better choice.



ElComadreja
Senior Member
Philippines
bibletranslatio
Joined 4646 days ago

683 posts - 80 votes 
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Studies: Spanish, Portuguese, Ancient Greek, Biblical Hebrew, Cebuano, French, Tagalog

 
 Message 7 of 18
26 September 2005 at 11:19am | IP Logged 
I'm interested in Chinese because of all the Mandarin speakers in Houston (and in my church). Japanese because apparently it's useful to know in the energy business (and I have a ton of anime to practice on!) My only real connection to Korean is my Korean karate instructor.



cheemaster
Newbie
Canada
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35 posts

 
 Message 8 of 18
26 September 2005 at 11:24am | IP Logged 
ElComadreja wrote:
I feel I have to “see” a word first, then hear it in a conversation/TV to have learned it completely.


I have had the same experience with Punjabi and Spanish. Unfortuneatly, this makes shadowing and contextual learning somewhat difficult. Perhaps instead of listening to the audio first, as Shusaku was doing, you could read through the dialogues and learn the words on paper first, and then listen to the dialogues.

Edited by cheemaster on 26 September 2005 at 11:25am




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