writing four-syllable idioms in Pinyin

cover of Chinese Romanization: Pronunciation and OrthographyThe latest excerpt from Yin Binyong’s book on Pinyin orthography covers how to write four-syllable idioms in Hanyu Pinyin (929 KB PDF). Here’s a key passage:

almost all four-character idioms can be broken in two halves, called y?jié ?? (language segments), on the basis of phonetic structure. The simple expedient of connecting the two y?jié with a hyphen then provides idioms with their own distinctive written form, and assures ease of writing and reading. It is also a simple rule for students of HP to master.

But not all four-syllable idioms follow this rule, as the reading shows.

This is a worthwhile reading for Mandarin learners, even if you’re not particularly interested in Pinyin. There are many examples of idioms here, all given in Hanzi, Pinyin, and English.

Mandarin classes in Australia: ‘Chinese teaching Chinese to Chinese’

A soon-to-be released study of enrollments in Mandarin classes in Australia has yet more evidence that the much hyped craze for Mandarin learning isn’t what it might seem to be (as I keep saying).

In Australia, by the final year of senior high school, 94% of those who began to study Mandarin sometime earlier have dropped the subject, and 94% of the relatively small group who remain are ethnically Chinese, resulting in a situation in which “the teaching and learning of Chinese in Australia is overwhelmingly a matter of Chinese teaching Chinese to Chinese.”

Things don’t get much more direct than that.

From a newspaper story that quotes the report:

Unless the drop-out rate is tackled, “there seems little point in planning to expand the number of students starting Chinese at school”.

The report attributes the drop-out rate to three factors. Students studying Chinese as a second language are “overwhelmed” in assessments by “strong numbers” of students who have Chinese as a first language.

Second, they don’t develop sufficient proficiency because of the difficulty in learning Chinese and the inadequate time set aside for it.

Finally, they are trying to learn Chinese “in an often unsupportive environment at school, in their family, and in the community”.

The report, by Dr. Jane Orton of the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at Melbourne University, will be presented to a forum late this month on Mandarin language education. I’ll post more once I’ve had a chance to read it.

Thanks to Victor Mair for alerting me to this.

source:

further reading:

Hanyu Pinyin and common nouns: the rules

cover of Chinese Romanization: Pronunciation and OrthographyI’ve just added another long section of Yin Binyong’s book on the detailed rules for Hanyu Pinyin. This part (pp. 78-138) covers common nouns (2.4 MB PDF).

I should have mentioned earlier that this book isn’t useful just for those who want to know more about Pinyin. It can also serve as an excellent work for those learning Mandarin, since it tends to group like ideas together and gives many examples of how combinations form other words.

All that, and it’s absolutely free. So go ahead and download it now.

Here are the main divisions:

  1. Introduction
  2. Simple Nouns
  3. Nouns with Prefixes
  4. Nouns with Suffixes
  5. Reduplicated Nouns
  6. Nouns of Modifier-Modified Construction
  7. Nouns of Coordinate Construction
  8. Nouns of Verb-Object and Subject-Predicate Construction
  9. Locational Nouns
  10. Nouns of Time
  11. Noun Phrases that Express a Single Concept

John DeFrancis video

John DeFrancisTen years ago John DeFrancis was awarded the Chinese Language Teachers Association’s first lifetime achievement award. Since he could not be present at the association’s annual conference to receive the award, he sent a videotape of a 12-minute acceptance speech. The video was recently edited down to 6:27 and uploaded to YouTube: John DeFrancis remarks.

Here’s my summary of the main points:

0:00 — While working on what he intended to be a largely political study of Chinese nationalism, DeFrancis encountered references to people who wanted China to adopt an alphabetic writing system, an idea which he initially dismissed. But discovering Lu Xun’s interest in romanization led him to investigate the matter further. [I’m frustrated by the cut away from this discussion. Perhaps a fuller version of the video will be posted later.]
1:30 — Emphasizes he’s not in favor of completely abandoning Chinese characters. Rather, he favors digraphia.
2:30 — “I’d like to mention three aspects of the Chinese field which have interested me.”

  1. pedagogy (2:50) — lots of advancements
  2. linguistic aspect (3:20) — that’s also progressing well
  3. socio-linguistics (3:52) — the field isn’t doing as well as it should be

5:00 — computers and Chinese characters. DeFrancis tears into the Chinese government for its emphasis on shape-based character-input methods rather than Pinyin.

foreign languages in NZ secondary schools

New Zealand’s Ministry of Education has released figures on secondary school enrollments in foreign languages in 2007, according to a newspaper report.

Education Ministry figures show nearly 70,000 pupils studied foreign languages at secondary schools last year, with 27,284 learning French.

Japanese was also popular (18,440), followed by Spanish (9531) and German (6623).

Chinese… attracted just 1687 pupils.

The total of those figures (63,565) seems considerably shy of “nearly 70,000.” So I suspect some languages more popular than Mandarin have been left off the list. Either way, Mandarin takes only about 2.5 percent of the total. And no indication is given of what percentage of those are “heritage” students.

That’s a lot of kids taking Japanese, though. Can anyone familiar with the situation in New Zealand comment on that?

I wasn’t able to locate the source of these figures. I did, however, find some figures from ten years ago, though they don’t include Mandarin. Also, I don’t understand the categories. But, FWIW:

Numbers of students studying second languages, July 1998

language secondary learners primary & intermediate learners
Japanese 21,701 13,625
French 20,990 8,413
German 7,377 3,877
Spanish 2,247 5,172

A few more lines from the 2008 report:

Under the new curriculum, schools must be “working toward” offering pupils in years 7 to 10 the option of learning a second language from 2011, in a push to make more Kiwis bilingual.

However, the ministry says it is up to schools and their communities to choose which languages are offered – meaning French is likely to remain popular.

A ministry spokesman said measures were underway to boost teachers’ ability to teach a variety of foreign languages in schools.

They included Maori medium scholarship and overseas exchange programmes.

sources:

further reading:

UK degree-program enrollments in foreign languages

Ozaru‘s link in a comment on my previous post led me eventually to a report on “community languages” in higher education in Britain. The report provides numbers for those in degree programs for various foreign languages.

Students accepted on U.K. language-degree courses, 1996-2007

Language 1996 2001 2005 2007 % change 1996-2007 % of total in 1996 % of total in 2007
French 5655 4077 3964 3700 -34.57 33.02 28.83
Italian 837 786 639 2461 194.03 4.89 19.18
Spanish 2155 2331 2547 1401 -34.99 12.58 10.92
German 2288 1736 1503 610 -73.34 13.36 4.75
Russian and Eastern European 418 380 425 409 -2.15 2.44 3.19
Mandarin 165 165 352 392 137.58 0.96 3.05
Modern Middle Eastern 214 260 362 378 76.64 1.25 2.95
Japanese 272 249 331 306 12.50 1.59 2.38
Portuguese 128 117 118 141 10.16 0.75 1.10
Other Asian 161 171 142 118 -26.71 0.94 0.92
African 54 57 57 67 24.07 0.32 0.52
Scandinavian 65 36 57 19 -70.77 0.38 0.15
Other European 2200 1507 1667 1647 -25.14 12.85 12.83
Other non-European 2514 1900 1248 1185 -52.86 14.68 9.23
ALL 17126 13772 13412 12834 -25.06 100 100

(Adapted from Table 3.3 in the report)

If I understand the report correctly, the figures are not for total enrollments, just for students majoring or minoring in the languages in question. Thus, the actual enrollment numbers are likely much higher, though certainly not distributed evenly across the languages.

I’m pleased to note that the number of students in Mandarin programs has more than doubled in the last dozen years, though this doesn’t match the even more impressive growth rate for Italian. (I have no idea why Italian received such a boost, especially during a period in which most other European languages were shedding students.)

Mandarin now ranks sixth (or perhaps fifth, depending on how many Polish majors there are) among foreign language majors, with 3 percent of foreign language majors concentrating on this.

On the other hand, because native English speakers must devote a great deal more time and effort to learning Mandarin than most other languages, the levels of learning and achievement aren’t the same. Simply put, for most native English speakers Mandarin is damn hard, and students won’t gain nearly the same level of fluency in four years as they would studying most other languages.

For example, in 2002 Goldsmiths, University of London, which is the “largest provider of community languages in a PGCE,” set up its Postgraduate Certificate in Education in community languages, starting with Arabic, Mandarin, and Punjabi, and adding Urdu in 2004. So far all of the students enrolled in the Mandarin program have had “some knowledge of the language as a community/family/heritage language.” In other words, most — perhaps all — students have been ethnic Chinese and have a background in the language beyond the classroom.

Although the College does not especially seek to attract students who have some knowledge of the language as a community/family/heritage language, all the students accepted so far do have this background. This may change in the next five to ten years, as more non-native speaker students graduate with UK degrees in Mandarin, and some may wish to go on to teach it. However, this will only take place if there is good progression in the language from school to university level so that graduates can reach a high enough level in the language to teach up to A level. Currently, this is not the case, and those who have applied so far do not have this level of expertise.

Ouch. So it’s not that non-Chinese didn’t apply to the program, it’s that none of them were judged up to the requisite level of fluency to teach the language, despite having attained unversity degrees in Mandarin. (This only reinforces my worry about the drop in graduate enrollments in Mandarin in the United States.)

The report also notes, “There are no degree courses in the four most widely used community languages in England: Urdu, Cantonese, Punjabi and Bengali, although SOAS will offer a degree course in Bengali from autumn 2008.”

The situation is more promising for those taking A-levels in “Chinese.” (NB: The chart does not distinguish between Cantonese and Mandarin — even though these have separate oral exams — but lumps them together as “Chinese.” The majority will be Cantonese.)

presentations in the main community languages for GCSE and A-level examinations in 2007

GCSE and A-level examinations

(The figures for Spanish have not been included in the chart because it seems likely that most pupils study this as a foreign language rather than a community language: in 2007, 63,978 candidates sat GCSE and 7,152 A-level Spanish. Hindi is not included in this chart as it is not available at GCSE or A-Level.)

The total number of A-Level presentations in these languages in 2007 is 5347, indicating potential numbers in a good position to continue their studies in these languages in higher education. The ‘retention rate’ for most of languages listed above is high. This is a percentage calculated by comparing the numbers sitting a GCSE examination in a given year compared with those sitting an A-level in the same language two years later. It has to be regarded as a proxy measure, however, as not all those sitting A-levels took the relevant examination two years earlier. The retention rate over all languages (i.e. including French, German and Spanish), between GCSEs sat in 2005 and A-levels in 2007, is 7.5%. Most of the languages likely to be studied as community languages have a retention rate considerably higher than those typically studied as ‘foreign’ languages. Chinese is the most spectacular, with a retention rate of 78%, followed by Polish (51%) and Russian (42%). Only Bengali (3%) and Punjabi (4%) have retention rates below the overall figure. The high retention rate for the majority indicates that community language learners can, generally speaking, be regarded as committed students, and potentially good candidates for continued study of these languages in higher education.

source:

further reading:

Mandarin newspaper with Pinyin

Victor Mair’s latest post at Language Log introduces a new U.S.-based newspaper, the Huayu Xuebao (Mandarin Learning Newspaper, ????), which is similar to Taiwan’s Guoyu Ribao (Mandarin Daily News), the main difference being the former uses Hanyu Pinyin while the latter uses zhuyin fuhao (bopo mofo).

Well, actually the Huayu Xuebao doesn’t use proper Pinyin (see recent remarks). But I’m so happy to see this long-needed paper that I’ll hold my tongue for now.

Unfortunately, the paper doesn’t have its Web site ready yet — not that the long-established Guoyu Ribao is much better at that, at least when it comes to texts as they appear in the newspaper. So, for more information about the Huayu Xuebao, write learningnewspaper [AT] yahoo.com or phone +1-201-288-9188 (New Jersey).

There’s also a sample issue.

source: How to learn to read Chinese, Language Log, May 25, 2008

Web site for stroke-order practice

Taiwan’s Ministry of Education has put online new a Web site devoted to stroke order for Chinese characters.

Unlike the older MOE stroke-order online handbook, this new site provides animations of the stroke order for 4,808 of the most frequently used traditional Chinese characters. And they really are traditional, too. For example, a Pinyin search for tai (it doesn’t accept tone marks or numbers) doesn’t return ?, even though it is more commonly seen in Taiwan than the full form of ?. But perhaps that’s a glitch, since ? is within the system, as a search for that particular character reveals.

Users can also test their knowledge of official stroke order, since each character’s animation also comes with an interactive feature in which users trace the strokes with their mouse. (Click on the button to the top right of the character.) It can be a little picky, as I suppose befits the prescriptive nature of the site. (In the real world, people write many characters using orders other than what Taiwan’s Ministry of Education and your Mandarin teacher might tell you is the One True Way. But that’s another matter.)

Although there’s no English interface at present, the files are labeled in English, so positioning your mouse over the navigation elements will usually reveal enough for non-Hanzi readers to make their way around.

Unfortunately, the site doesn’t appear to work with anything other than @#$%! Internet Explorer. Also, at first the search feature allowed the entry of no more than four letters, making it impossible to use Pinyin (Hanyu Pinyin is offered along with Taiwan’s official Tongyong Pinyin) to look up characters for, say, zhong and guang, or for the Pinyin syllables with the most letters: chuang, shuang, and zhuang (not counting -r forms); but someone there is on the ball, since that was fixed after I wrote the ministry about it yesterday.

partial screenshot, showing the character ? (TAI) being written

site and further reading: