Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Mandarin Moment

Hang on a sec', can I get your help quickly? Just hold this for a moment ... thanks, now take a quick look.

These are really common English phrases, and it's quite useful (nay, very useful) to be able to say it in Mandarin. Fortunately, in true WordPack style, there is a very familiar pattern that links these, and other similar phrases.

The pattern is:   一下

yí xià:  Literally this means "one down", but the dictionary translations look more like: one time / once / in a while / all of a sudden / give it a go (when used after a verb).

Here are some of the more common phrases that you'll hear, and certainly ones that you're very likely to use. If you're a little beyond beginner, then you probably already know most of the opening hanzi, in which case the phrases will be really easy to remember.

看一下: kàn yíxià: take a quick look
等一下: děng ​yíxià: wait a moment
让一下: ràng ​yíxià: literally this is "yield a moment", but it's used in the context of, for example, "Excuse me, can I get past you?"
拿一下: ná ​yíxià: hold this for a second
挑一下: tiāo yíxià: usually it's like "let me take my time to choose" (literally: choose a moment)

 Now that you've got these phrases sorted, take a moment ...

Friday, January 22, 2010

Volunteering in China - charitable projects

Hi all

I have two trips planned to Asia in March & May (and another to Japan in July, but we'll skip that since this is a Mandarin blog :-) ... and I am looking for your input. Please.

One of the things I'd like to do while in China is volunteer on some kind of charitable project for a week or so.  I've done some research, and found some ideas - but perhaps you know of others?

Although I'd like to pretend that my interests are purely altruistic, there is of course a (slightly) selfish side. This would expose me to a different type of China experience, and perhaps give me an opportunity to practice my Mandarin in a non foreigner-in-big-city kind of way!

These are some of the ideas I've come across so far, but would really appreciate it if you could leave comments with other ideas, websites or suggestions.

  • Volunteer teaching in Beijing
This is organised by Gap Year in Asia, and is my most likely option at the moment. You can start at any date, and assignments last from 1 week to 12 weeks. This includes a choice (or mix) of working at the following places: Orphanage, Charity for the Disabled, School for Poor Children, Project for the Children of Convicts, School for Disabled Children, Charity for Autistic Children. Activities would include teaching English, caring for children, working with disabled children.
  •  Friends of Dulwich College, Beijing
The charity work done by this organisation covers a foster home, a life centre for disadvantaged children, care for children, and Harmony outreach. Their site talks about projects you can work on, but it also seems that you can volunteer on work which simply involves email address. Good for non-residents of China?
  • Bean in Shanghai
According to the BEAN website, "BEAN is a networking, volunteering, and social group for young professionals in Shanghai. It affords many awesome opportunities for busy, young professionals to network, socialize, and make a difference." Although I think what they do is a great idea, it seems to be more short-project based - ideal for people already living in Shanhai.
  • Compassion for Migrant Children
This group  also takes on volunteers, but I get the sense they're looking for people who might be happy to volunteer on an ongoing basis (I guess if you live in China) - rather than me who is looking for something to last about a week.
  •  The Library Project
 Their website talks about ways you could volunteer - but again, this appears to be more of an ongoing commitment rather than just spending a week with them.
  • SOS Children's Villages
This is the China branch of their international network. Interestingly, they state on their website that they prefer not to use short-term volunteers - because they believe the children benefit more from long-term relationship with their teachers and helpers. For those who don't have time, you could always sponsor a child.
  • Chinese Children Orphan Sponsorship
If sponsoring a child is your preference, this is organised by Chinese Children Adoption International, where you could sponsor a children for as little as $40 a month.
  • Western Academy of Beijing
In the charity section of their website, they list the details of about a dozen charities.  As far as I can tell, there don't appear to be any volunteer projects available - but plenty of opportunities to donate money to a cause that means something to you.

I was convinced than when I trawled through the Net there would be so many options to volunteer on projects - and yet, as you can see, I'm struggling to find many choices.

So if you know of projects that might be of interest, or you know of someone who might know of projects of interest, please leave a comment.  I'd love to help.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

New Year Resolution: learn to speak Mandarin Chinese

OK, so here's the deal.  What if you were offered $1 million dollars to learn to speak Chinese?

It's a simple challenge. As soon as you can speak Chinese at the level of the average school-leaver, you'd get your money. (This is hypothetical situation, please don't send me an invoice.)

Do you think that, before you went to bed tonight,  you'd learn 10 more words? And maybe you'd revise yesterday's words too? Do you think, if getting a language-exchange partner would get you to your million dollars one year sooner, that you'd make the effort to find someone you could converse with?

Would you listen to more podcasts? Use flashcards more? Watch more Chinese-language movies?

Forgive me for being presumptious ... but of course you would!

What you do, and Why you do it

There are two aspects to achieving any goal: (1) the technique behind what you're learning, and (2) the motivation to keep on applying that technique.

The reality for most people, however, is they focus on the technique - and they ignore the requisite motivation. And then they fail. Bummer.


Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that you get all psyched up, banging your head against the wall, shouting, "Yes, dammit yes. I can do thisssssss!!"

But if you go back to the million dollars example, I think we all know that if there was enough resting on it, you'd find the time, you'd make the effort. And your excuses about how hard Chinese is, and how little time you have, would be forgotten as you work your brains out to get your reward.

But of course you don't need to have a million dollars at the finish line. Sadly, no-one has offered to pay me money once I'm fluent in Chinese - and yet here I am, 00:50 on a Monday night (uhm, Tuesday morning) blogging about learning Mandarin, thinking about what works and what doesn't work.

Make it happen

So spend a little time trying to work out why you're learning (or going to learn) Chinese.

But don't be lazy - don't wait for the inspiration. Try to create the inspiration. Get excited about travelling to China, or conversing with Chinese people in your local area.

And if you really think it's better to focus on learning, and to not worry about your motivations, then ask yourself .... who is going to become fluent first? Will it be the person who only has access to one podcast series, one textbook and one dictionary (but who has a million bucks resting on fluency)? Or will it be the person who had access to lots of podcasts, many textbooks, medical research papers into the optimal way to memorise lists  - but no real interest in becoming fluent?


So some of you are reading this post, rolling your eye-balls, and wondering if I've lost the plot. But others of you are (I hope) are going to take a little time to examine your own motivations.

If you're already learning Chinese, what got you motivated in the beginning? And what excites you now? Are there things you could do to re-ignite the flame?

And if you're new, take a moment to work out why you've set yourself the goal of learning Chinese. It really doesn't make a difference whether it's a dumb reason - if it fires you up, then use it.

Perhaps rate yourself on these questions, on a scale of 1-10 ...
  • Do you want to know another language?
  • Are you embarrassed about only knowing one language? (Or two, or ...)
  • Would you like to be able to impress the cute girl/guy in Accounting because you can speak their native tongue?
  • How about aiming to impress your friends by ordering in Chinese, at a Chinese restaurant?
  • Would you like to travel China, speaking to the locals in their own language?
  • Would you like to make more friends? (There is no shortage of awesome Chinese people wherever you look.)
  • Or would you like to move to China because of the opportunities that country offers, but you'd like to be different to all those people who go there and hang out in their little communities without learning the local language, even after several years? 
  • Is this just another challenge, because you're the kind of person who thrives off challenge and personal growth?

But don't take my word for it ...

Once you've read this post, there are two things you could do.
  1. Quickly learn some Chinese words. You might start off by reading one of my WordPacks, and find 3-5 words you don't know - and learn then. It won't take more than a couple of minutes.
  2. Do something else. 
If $1 million were resting on it, you'd do #1.  But I'm guessing you're probably going to opt for #2.

What more evidence do you need that - ultimately - motivation is everything?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Tasting your way around the world

I recently wrote an article for Mango Languages with the above title.

Please pop in and have a read, and make sure you leave a comment if you've had similar (or better) experiences.

To whet your appetite for the article, here's a picture of me eating a chicken head in Beijing  :-x