How can I learn Mandarin?

August 29, 2013

Another blog post in my back-to-school special!  If you’re trying to learn Mandarin, try McGraw Hill’s Chinese Pronunciation with CD-ROM.  In my experience as a non-native speaker of Mandarin, the hardest thing is the different tones.  Chinese is a tonal language, so it’s really important to get the tones right, and this book is wonderful for that.

I’ve also found The First 100 Chinese Characters by Alison Laurence Matthews (and the follow up The Second 100 Chinese Characters) to be extremely helpful in learning to write Chinese characters.  These books are great, because they are indexed well (in Chinese and in English), and they show stroke order stroke by stroke with directional arrows (instead of just a character with numbers next to it, which I’m not that crazy about).  There is one character per page, and several common words made from each one.  I love these books, and I refer to them ALL THE TIME.  I love them.  Seriously.

100 Chinese Character Books

I love these books for learning characters

Sample

This is how the first book deals with the polite form of “you,” which has 4 more strokes than the common form.

You can’t beat actually using the language in terms of trying to learn it.  I am shameless in my attempts to speak Mandarin (as bad as my accent is, and as limited as my vocabulary and understanding is).  Just talking to people is great, as is checking out youtube videos of people who speak Mandarin wonderfully, as well as people who are just learning.  Also, most Chinese television (that I’ve seen, anyway) is subtitled, and I love to watch it to see if I can pick out characters and actually match them with speech (quite challenging!).

Another great book to get more of a broad overview of the language from the personal anecdotes of a non-native learner is Dreaming in Chinese by Deborah Fallows.  It’s a short little book that I found very quick and easy (and enjoyable) to read.

Lastly, a great way to learn any language is to actually take a class and/or visit a country that uses it, but you didn’t expect me to start out with something that obvious, right?

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Reference books for back to school?

August 28, 2013

Is it back to school time ALREADY?  (I’m trying to pretend I wasn’t counting the days.)  Here are my suggestions for dictionaries for students.

For children younger than fourth grade, I recommend The Scholastic Dictionary of Spelling.  There are no definitions, and it’s a smallish book (the paperback version is 272 pages / 15.25 oz) which is less intimidating than some of the bigger reference books out there and gets children used to looking up words.  There are wonderful sections on “How to look up a word if you don’t know how to spell it,” “A dozen and one spelling rules,” “Memory tricks,” and more.  I highly recommend it.

Scholastic Spelling Dictionary

I recommend this for children younger than fourth grade.

For children fourth grade and older, I recommend Webster’s Student’s Dictionary.  It says on the cover that it’s “written for ages 10-14,” and that it’s for “Middle School Students,” but I actually like using this dictionary myself!  It’s very well organized, has a lot of extra information (such as word histories, idiomatic phrases, biographical info on important people, and more), provides context for word usage, and the pages are (thankfully) less crowded and hard-to-read than a regular adult dictionary.  It’s a hardcover book just over 1000 pages and weighs about 4.5 lbs, so it’s a chore for smaller kids to get out and use (make sure it’s already on a desk for easy access).  I highly recommend this dictionary as well.  My son is not the kind of child to even want to use a dictionary, let alone look up words unprompted (uncoerced), but even he read a few of the extra side notes on certain words!  (A great example is on page 299 – the word history of the word “Eureka.”  Fascinating!)

Webster's Student Dictionary

This is a great dictionary for middle schoolers, but I think fourth graders can benefit from it, too. I even like to use it myself!

Student dictionary

You can kind of see how the information is organized.


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