Sunday, May 31, 2009

Stop whining!

Sometimes I feel sorry for myself studying Chinese. It's so difficult, and anyone else - studying any other language - is having a much easier time than I am. If only I were studying a different language ...

Like English. Yes, English is easy. After all, I was speaking English when I was a baby.

But perhaps we forget how messy English can be. For example, look at this sequence of words ...

  • thou, tough, though, through, thorough

We're pretty much only adding one letter at a time, but note how the pronunciation of the consecutive words changes so much. (And note that although the word pronounce contains "u", the word pronunciation does not.)

Take a glance here to see that the letters "ough" can have seven different pronunciations.

And have you ever seen the word "ghoti"? Did you know it is pronounced "fish"? If you have no idea what I'm talking about, look here.

Are you close enough to close the window? Do you wonder why a fire can raise a house to the ground? When an alarm turns on, why do we call it going off?

There is no ham in hamburger, or egg in eggplant. Guinea Pigs are not from Guinea, nor are they pigs. Sweetmeats are candy, but Sweetbreads are meat. Dancers dance, but fingers don't fing. People recite at a play, but play at a recital. A slim chance and a fat chance are the same, but a wise man is very different to a wise guy. I know what unrequited love is, but have never heard of requited love.

In English: I am / you are / she is. In Chinese: wǒ shì / nǐ shì / tā shì [我 / 你 / 她]. This saves a lot of time when memorising ... I remember how many months I spent memorising the conjugation of verbs when studying German at school.

And as I wind up my watch to get it started, I wind up this post to finish it off. OK.

(With thanks to the many people who've made the effort to document why English is a very strange language. Aren't you glad you're studying Mandarin?)


  1. Whoops - yes exactly. English again proves itself to be a bit of a challenge!