1 year ago




CHINESE BLOCKBUSTER I had a fighting chance to better remember the pronunciation of the characters I was studying! This system allowed me to differentiate between similarly sounding initials (like the ‘c’ sound and the ‘z’ sound above), a frequent source of confusion for Chinese learners because some of them sound almost the same to our ears but they are in fact quite different. To learn characters well, you need to be able to make the difference and know which pinyin sound a character belongs to. Some of you may point out that they wish to learn Chinese, not German or the other romance languages. Firstly, most ‘sound words’ defined in this book (i.e. a single word, an expression or part of an expression that sounds like the pinyin we are trying to remember) are in English. Secondly, just consider learning a few simple words in another language as an additional bonus. It is fun and useful, the words selected are very simple and you may know them already. And it gives us access to a greater stock of images and meanings we can pick from 8 . I invite you to consult Appendix 1: Chinese Initials and Finals where you will find two tables describing the approximate sound of each initial and final in pinyin and how they are reproduced using the five European languages. The approach in this book is to assign a sound word to each of these unique syllables, along with its tone. Part of this sound word, let’s call it the ‘sound part,’ stands for the Chinese pronunciation of the character under study. Sound words are designed to create an image in your mind that will become part of a story and will help you remember the proper pronunciation and tone of a character. Chinese sounds are reproduced in a variety of ways and the sound words selected may sometimes remain rough approximations in the case of sounds that are ‘very Chinese.’ Your brain won’t mind, though, because it will know after a while that a sound word is used to represent a specific pinyin and not another. “Fine,” you might say, “but how do I know if a sound word is for a first, a second, a third or a fourth tone? And which part of the sound word should I focus on?” Here is how I solved this problem: • One-syllable sound words beginning with the sound part are used for the first tone. • Two-syllables sound words beginning with the sound part are used for the second tone. • Sound words with three or more syllables beginning with the sound part are used for the third tone. • Since four-syllable words are hard to come by, sound words ending with the sound part or having the sound part anywhere except at the beginning are used for the fourth tone. 8 When in doubt about the pronunciation of a foreign sound word, I invite you to visit Forvo (, the pronunciation dictionary online. It is a fantastic tool where you can hear native people pronounce a word in their language and it’s free. 8 八

A NEW APPROACH TO YOUR RESCUE • The neutral tone is treated as a fourth tone as far as its sound word is concerned. It is important to realize that what I mean by one syllable, two syllables and three syllables is not the actual number of grammatical syllables a word contains, but the number of pronounced syllables it has. For example, the English verb ‘choke’ has two grammatical syllables but is pronounced as a one-syllable word. It would therefore represent a first tone. On the other hand, Germans are known to pronounce all the syllables of their words. For example, the word ‘Zeuge,’ meaning ‘witness,’ is pronounced zeu-ge (with the ‘ge’ syllable clearly heard) and is used for a second tone. As an example, here are the sound words selected for pinyin fa, ji and peng. The sound part of each sound word is double-underlined. Pinyin First tone Second tone Third tone Fourth tone fa Fax Fallen Faraday Sofa ji Jeep Jitters Jigsaw puzzle Fiji peng Punk Penguin Penghulu Alpenglow As the example for peng demonstrates, the spelling of the sound word does not have to match the pinyin spelling. It just needs to sound like it. ‘Punk’ is not spelled like ‘peng,’ but the pronunciation is similar. I have attempted to select sound words that are a good phonetic representation of their Chinese counterparts, although they are not always a perfect match. This book uses many conventions for the creation of sound words. For instance, since there are not many European words containing the letters ‘ao,’ this combination is often replaced by ‘ar’ since it sounds similar. For example, for pinyin bao, we have: Pinyin First tone Second tone Third tone Fourth tone bao Bar Barber Barbarians Fubar Many of these conventions are described in Appendix 2: Special Sound Mnemonics, which provides a listing of special sound words that have been selected to be a good representation of the pinyin sound they stand for. And as in any rule, there are exceptions. Appendix 2 will help you understand those few exceptions and how they are addressed. MNEMONICS A working memory is based on associations. Most of what you learned in life, even if you do not realize it, is done by way of mnemonics and connections between ideas and thoughts. You associate the new concept you are trying to 九 9

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