Book Review: 100层的房子

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Yi Bai Ceng De Fang Zi (100 Storey House)

The Hundred Storey House was and continues to be one of Ju’s favourite books. Originally written and illustrated by Toshio Iwai (2008), its Japanese title is “100-kai date no Ie”. There are a total of 3 books in this series, and we have them all! The second is 地下100层的房子 (The 100 Storey House Underground) and the third, 海底100层的房子  (The 100 Storey House Under The Sea).

Each story contains a marvellously original array of animals, one species for every ten floors. The protagonist is a different one in each book, and in this one, a boy named 多奇 (Duo Qi) received a strange letter inviting him to a magical “100 Storey House”.

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As he arrives at the mystical house, Duo Qi climbs the tower and finds a different family of animals living on every ten floors. The illustrations are vibrant and colourful, there aren’t so many words per page, so you can spend time on every page exploring the various activities each animal is doing, be it reading, cooking, eating or hard at work. Ju wanted me to read this book to him all the time, and after more than 3 years, we still read the books occasionally! Every page is so rich in illustrated content that we sometimes spent more than 5 minutes talking about the images. Aside from learning about animals in Chinese, our brains also got a good workout with many every day nouns, verbs and prepositions. So I have divided this lesson and review into 3 sets of content that you’ll find in the book: (1) Animals; (2) Everyday Objects (3) Doing Verbs (cook, eat, paint).

(1)  ANIMALS

Here are the inhabitants of the 100 Storey House:

Mice – 老鼠 (lao2* shu3)

Squirrels – 松鼠 (song1 shu3)

Frogs – 青蛙 (qing1 wa1)

Ladybirds – 瓢虫 (piao2 chong2)

Snakes – 蛇 (she2)

Bees – 蜜蜂 (mi4 feng1)

Woodpeckers – 啄木鸟 (zhuo2 mu4 niao3)

Bats – 蝙蝠 (bian1 fu3)

Snails – 蜗牛 (wo1 niu2)

Spiders – 蜘蛛 (zhi1 zhu1)

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“Is there anyone home?” Duo Qi waited a long time but no one answered. Duo Qui cautiously climbed up the stairs. Hmm, is this the home of mice?

(2) Everyday Objects 

Most of the text are sparse dialogue and very little description of the activities and things displayed. So the reader is encouraged to describe them in Chinese freely as the child pores over the colourful drawings. Over many readings, Ju learnt the following words:

Cheese 奶酪 – nai3 lao4

Kitchen 厨房- chu2 fang2

Books 书本 – shu1 ben3 (I used it with the classifier “ben3” to denote multiple books)

Treadmill 踏车 – ta4 che1

Bathtub 浴缸 – yu4 gang1

Washing maching 洗衣机 – xi3 yi1 ji1

TV 电视机  – dian4 shi4 ji1 (TV programmes are 电视节目 – dianshi jiemu)

Bed 床 – chuang2

Rocking chair 摇椅 – yao2 yi3

Ladder 梯子 – ti1 zi

Swing (the noun) 秋千 – qiu1 qian1 (the verb to swing is  荡秋千 – dang4 qiu1 qian1)

Umbrella 雨伞 – yu2* san3

Toilet 厕所 – ce4 suo3 (Colloquially, we use 马桶 – ma2* tong3 for “toilet bowl”)

Ice cream 冰激凌 / 冰淇淋 – bing1 ji1 lin2 or bing1 qi2 ling2 (there are more than 2 ways to say this in Chinese; I grew up using the second, and I’m not quite sure which is the Putonghua version. I also used 雪糕 (xue3 gao1) growing up.

Spaghetti 面条 – mian4 tiao2

Lift or elevator 电梯 – dian4 ti1

*This is the tone in actual speech, where 雨yu3 has to change to 雨yu2 when placed before san3. For other similar tone changes, I’ll include an asterisk.

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(3)Prepositions & Doing Verbs

Playing the piano 弹钢琴 – tan2 gang1 qin2

Cooking / Preparing lunch or dinner 煮饭/准备晚餐 – zhu3 fan4/ zhun3 bei4 wan3 can1

Having a bath/shower 洗澡 / 冲凉 xi2* zao3 or chong1 liang2 (these two are interchangeable although chong1 liang2 is more colloquial and not standard Putonghua. Cantonese chong1 leong3 derives from this term)

Sleeping 睡觉 – shui4 jiao4

Watching television 看电视 – kan4 dian4 shi4

Reading 看书 – kan4 shu1

Brushing teeth 刷牙 – shua1 ya2

Playing on the swing 荡秋千 – dang4 qiu1 qian1

Painting the walls 粉刷 – fen3 shua1

Skipping rope 跳绳 – tiao4 sheng2

Exercising 运动 – yun4 dong4

Having a toothache 长虫牙 – zhang3 chong2 ya2

Dancing and playing music 跳舞 tiao4 wu3 / 弹奏 tan2 zou4 (a general term for playing any instrument)

Tending the flowers 种花 – zhong4 hua1

Playing on the slide 溜滑梯 – liu1 hua2 ti1

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Spoiler: when Duo Qi gets to the 100th floor, what does he find? His mystery host is the Spider Prince 蜘蛛王子 who invites him to peer into a giant telescope at the beautiful galaxies.

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Next time, I’ll bring you a rundown of the sequel, 地下100层的房子。

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Nursery Rhyme: 两只老虎

 

Since Ju was a toddler, I’ve sung Chinese nursery rhymes (the few that I remember) to him. We did it every night at bedtime and it became an easy habit to stick to as it became a nightly routine. He started speaking in phrases and short sentences at age 2 and could sing this very well-known nursery rhyme along with me. Here’s a translation:

Two Tigers 两只老虎

(if you go to a previous post on classifiers, you will remember that 只 (zhi1) is the classifier for animals in general)

两只老虎,两只老虎 – two tigers, two tigers

跑得快,跑得快 – running fast, running fast

一只没有耳朵 – one without an ear (or: one has no ear)

一只没有尾巴 – one without a tail (or: one has no tail)

真奇怪,真奇怪 – how strange, how strange

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Jing Ye Si 静夜思

Here is a very famous poem by the Tang dynasty poet, Li Bai. It’s called Jing Ye Si (Quiet Night Thoughts). Ju is now in grade 1 at school and he takes Chinese as his foreign language at native level. The class uses the national textbook from Mainland China. As a beginner, you might wonder if 6 year olds are ready to learn Tang classical poetry, but if you look at the individual characters, they are pretty basic and simple. Of course, if you would like a full analysis of the poem, you can get it elsewhere on the net, but for purposes of only reading and speaking, I’ve only included a video of Ju reading it here, as well as a breakdown of the vocabulary.

Jing Ye Si words

The words below the poem are taught to the kids, they are expected to learn to read them by sight eventually, without Pinyin.

And here you can play the video and listen to it – Ju reads it very fluently and concisely, we had a LOT of practise before making this video so rest assured!

The text        Literal translation of each word     

床前明月光 – bed, front, bright, moon, light

疑是地上霜 – suspect, is, ground, up, frost

举头望 明月 – raise, head, look at, bright, moon

低头思故乡 – lower, head, thoughts, story, home/village

Meaning: 

The bright moonlight at my bed, I suspect it is frost on the ground,

I raise my head to look at the moon, I lower it thinking of my hometown.

This is an excellent starting point for kids just learning to read, or for adult learners. The lyrical rhythm and the simple words are great practice for your tones and for memorising new words.

Please post any questions in the comments, and I will be happy to answer them =)

Happy learning!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lesson & Book Review: “Would You Rather”

This is the start of a new series where I review some of the Chinese books that Ju has read. I will also include excerpts and some quick tutorials on new vocabulary and grammar in Chinese.
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John Burningham is a prolific British author and illustrator and Ju has enjoyed a few of his books that are as imaginative as they are fascinating to read. This book, “Would You Rather” has been translated into Chinese, and is a marvellous story of all the plausibly incredible options that one could choose from. Would you rather live in a house covered in snow or entangled in a forest? An elephant drinking up your bathwater or an eagle snatching your dinner? There are so many pages of ludicrous “would you rather” choices that had Ju giggling in no time. The pictures deliver the imagery perfectly, and reinforces the rich new vocabulary for a young reader.

This story contains so many different concepts and opportunities to learn grammar in Chinese, but I shall present just two grammar rules:

(1) how to use “Would you rather”你喜欢…还是 and

(2) how to use Classifiers量词

Let’s start the lesson!

  1. Would You Rather   你喜欢…..还是

In this Chinese translation, the title你喜欢 (ni xi huan) translates literally to “You like” which on its own has no meaning in this context of a child imagining if he would rather eat a spider or a frog. Therefore, in Chinese, “rather” has to be denoted with the phrase (hai shi) which translates in English as “or”. So in Chinese, we would say “(Would) you like to ……or …..?” as there is no equivalent of “would you rather”. 

[你喜欢….] 你住的地方  [Would you like….] your home

淹水…..下雪….还是在丛林里?  to flood, to snow OR to be in a jungle?

你喜欢….大象喝光你的洗澡水  Would you like an elephant to drink up your bathwater

老鹰抢走你的晚餐 an eagle to snatch your dinner

小猪穿上你的衣服 a little pig to wear your clothes

还是河马睡在你的床上 OR a hippo to sleep in your bed?

2. Classifiers 量词 

Let’s face it, learning Chinese classifiers is about as appealing as learning German cases, or genders. In fact classifiers are as annoying as genders, they make very little logical sense, unlike singularity/plurality, which means a beginner (and all children) has to simply learn them by heart. Ouch! But there ARE a few rules to help you remember which classifier to use with which noun. 

[For the un initiated, classifiers refer to the word that describes or classifies the noun which you wish to use. It’s like an English article (a, an, the) pumped on steroids. You would say “a fish” in English but 一条鱼 (yi tiao yu) in Chinese. Literally it means “one classified fish”, the classifier being 条.  So every noun in the world of Chinese torments you with its own classifier: one classified ball, one classified egg. But hold up! Sometimes it starts to make sense if you compare it to a collective noun like “a pack of wolves” which translates to 一群狼 (one pack wolf), or “a piece of cake”,一块蛋糕 (one piece/slice cake). 

Lovely language. Let’s start!

Translation: Would you rather be chased by…..

一只螃蟹   A crab – note that只 (Zhi) is commonly used to classify animals: birds, large predators, farm animals, insects, domesticated animals like rabbits and dogs. There are exceptions of course, there always are!

一头野牛。A cow or buffalo – here’s the exception, 头 (Tou), which classifies also elephants and I presume all manner of livestock that come in a herd.头 literally means “head” so an easy tip to remember is to consider the size of the animal’s head. Don’t mistake this for a rule governing all big-headed cattle and livestock! Sheep, goats and pigs remain只, go figure.

一群狼  A pack of wolves – here the word 群 (Qun) is less a classifier of wolves as it is a collective noun for the pack. Just like, a pride of lions, a school of fish.

一条龙/鱼 A dragon or fish -条 (Tiao) can be used to classify animals (mythical ones included!) that glide or have an elongated body type like a dragon, snake or fish. Many sea creatures are 条 and so is a rope, a piece of string, and a river. It’s logical when applied to things that give a sense of length and movement. The exception is hair! A strand translates to “gen”, as in 一根头发. I can only imagine that things as fine as hair gets its own classifier.

一个球 A ball – 个(Ge), the most commonly used and misused classifier in Chinese! I can’t blame foreign students who grab at 个 when they just don’t know or remember the right classifier.个 classifies a person (specific and general), objects that don’t have the other classifiers, but there are in fact so few of these, that you’re better off using个 as an exception rather than a norm if you’ve planned on taking classifiers seriously. I need to add that some nouns are classified differently in different parts of the world. In China, you would say一个鸡蛋 (an egg) but where I am from — Singapore — we classify it as 一粒 (Li), which is more commonly used for things of ultra tiny sizes, like a grain of sand or rice.

一朵花 A flower -朵 (Duo) is always used to classify flowers and buds, just as Ke is the classifier for all manners of trees and plants.

The list goes on and on…..

So we have now talked about how to say “Would you rather” in Chinese and how to use Classifiers. In the next post, I will continue with the vocabulary in the book which makes for a really nice way to shore up the kids’ Chinese vocabulary: shelters for animals (kennel, coop, tank, cage) and musical instruments as well as how to play with said instruments! (in Chinese, blow a trumpet, play the piano).

I hope you enjoyed this post and found it useful for your learning and teaching.

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Fun with Chinese Numbers

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We’re back! It has been almost one year since my last post, and it’s been a crazy year. We have moved continents, from Asia to Europe and now we live in the Belgian capital. In terms of Ju’s speech development, a LOT has happened, and I have so much to report. But first, a little update on his Chinese.

Ju loves numbers now. It’s a fairly recently development, this obsession with numbers, it started when we got to Brussels and the street trams became a permanent feature of Ju’s every day life. Before age 3, he noticed all the numbers on the buses, but didn’t really make a real connection with numbers, since he was merely recognising the same ones on the same buses on our street. 10, 14, 12, 155….

This year, upon turning 3, he’s been reading out numbers he sees on the street. “Number 6!” he shouts at the tram stop. “Where? Where?” I ask haplessly as I gaze around at the buildings around us. He spots numbers on trams and buses, and sometimes on the buildings. “What is that number?”

Lately, he’s taken to asking “What number is 8 and 7?”

“87”

“What number is 3 and 4?”

“34”

He can count quite confidently from 1 to 20 in German, Chinese and English, and to 100 if he isn’t expected to get the 40, 50 or 60 right.

But a most recent game he’s discovered is with his plastic toy numbers. He’s realised that if you put 4 or 5 numbers together, like in the picture above, you get also a number! And he got the biggest kick out of “444444” one day and made his Oma repeat “Vier hunderd, Vier und viertig tausend, vier hunderd, vier und viertig” all day.

Yesterday morning, my Chinese was put to the test. “Mama what is this number?” Ju had assembled 113,626. I frowned at the number, Chinese gets dicey when you hit 5 digits.

“Shi yi qian….” (Eleven thousand…..)

Oops, that wasn’t right.

“Shi yi wan, san qian, liu bai, er shi liu.” (110,000 + 3000 + 600 +26)

In Mandarin Chinese, we use the word “wan” for every 10,000. This system would drive anyone but native Chinese speakers nuts. If 90,000 is “9 wan”, and 100,000 is “10 wan”, then what’s 1,000,000? Yep, “100 wan” (Yi Bai Wan).

And what’s 1 .5 million?

150 wan (Yi bai wu shi wan)

So how do I read the Chinese number when Ju gives me “1529877”?

Here’s a trick I use: In Chinese, no matter how large the number, if you split the last four apart, you can make a good guess with the first few:

152, 9877 is

152 wan, 9 qian 8 bai, 7 shi 7 because the last 4 digits don’t ever gang up behind some weird rule to mess up your mind. It’s always something “wan” and then thousand, hundred and tens.  (qian, bai, shi)

It gets worse.

We don’t have “million” in Chinese, but the word “Yi”. Which is 100 million.

1 Yi = 100 million

So 10 Yi = 1000 million, or 1 billion

If this doesn’t put you off Chinese numbers, I don’t know what will.

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Everyday Chinese With Children 1

I find myself at a loss every day on one Chinese word or another! One morning, as he picked up Daniel’s belt and gestured to me “what is this!”, I started my response with: “Yeah! 这是爸爸的…..”And I trailed off because I couldn’t for the world find the right word for “belt”. 

Good grief. So I made a list of all the words I have had to look up so far, words that I found I had to use almost every day when we encountered these things and Ju wanted to know what they were.

Belt                皮带 (pi dai)

Fountain         喷泉 (pen quan)

Watering can   喷壶 (pen hu) or 喷水壶 (pen shui hu)
Kettle             水壶 (shui hu) it seems every contraption that stores or spurts water is a 壶 of some sort.
Fire hydrant    消防栓 (xiao fang quan)

Paramedic       护理员 or 护士 (nurse) I have lots of trouble with this one because we simply to not use this word on a regular basis, but there’s always the paramedic in Ju’s picture books….
Crane             吊 车 (diao che) Took me a long time to look this one up, but there’s a godawful construction site next to our building and every day as we get out or into the car, he sees the crane.
Drums            鼓 (gu)

Xylophone      木琴 (mu qin) Didn’t know this one because modern day xylophones aren’t made of wood! (木)

Corn              玉米(yu mi) We never eat this, so I was stumped when I tried to describe Ju’s toy corn on the corb!

Stove / oven   炉子 (lu zi) or 火炉 (huo lu – gas stove) Ju spent an hour on the wooden stove at the play area at a restaurant on Sunday. We have ordered his very own from Amazon and I shall have to beef up the next few months on Chinese kitchen/cooking nouns.

Shovel/spade   铲 (chan)
Mop                     拖把 (tuo ba) I should buy him a mini-mop since I can never remember this one.

Bucket           桶 (tong)

Pot / Pan        锅 (guo) Don’t ask me why we don’t differentiate pots and pans. Frying pan could also be called 锅 (chao guo, chao3 means to fry)
Sink               洗涤槽 (xi di cao) or No way on earth I would have ever known this word!

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My Brush with German (and how it’s brushing up now)

LANGUAGE BY ACCIDENT

With the exception of those who are true linguists (people whose life obsession is to learn as many languages as they are interested in) none of us choose the language(s) we speak. In a monolinguistic society like Germany, France or the the UK (I exclude the new immigrants) and China (I mean the dialects in addition to Putonghua), people speak the language they grow up with and they learn a foreign one or two, as in Western Europe, but they are mostly dominant in only their mother tongue since the opportunity to use the second or third languages is rare given the monocultural envionment. In smaller nations such as the Nordic countries or Holland, people are more bilingual given that linguistic cultural imports (like movies and music) are consumed in their original form, i.e. not translated into the native language. That’s why on a holiday, you’re more likely to encounter a Swede who speaks fluent English than a German or French one.
What about Singapore? Or the handful of tiny nation-states scattered across the Pacific that also use English in addition to their native languages? We’re a quirk, a flash in the plan if you will. English is not considered our native language despite it being the lingua franca, the official working language and the first language taught in schools here with the mother tongues being called the “second language” (in the 90s, “second language” was dropped in favour of the term “mother tongue” to denote Chinese, Malay and Tamil for political reasons). I suspect it has a lot more to do with history, race and ethnicity rather than which language Singaporeans are strongest in. But I digress. This is not an essay about why English is our native language.
I would restate again that people do not choose the languages they speak and learn. It’s a happenstance of birthplace, the education system and which world economy is currently dominating the airwaves. In the 20th century, it was America and Britain and for a decade or two, Japan. Today, it’s China. If your child is learning French in school, you would not have a long wait before someone asks you why he isn’t learning Chinese. Then again, there are many folks who are schooling and nurturing their kids in their own native tongue for the sole reason of passing on their heritage and this is completely reasonable too. In fact, if I were to take the extreme economic-advantage position, there would be no reason to put Julien through the torture of German verbs. I jest of course, no offence meant to Germans, I would be the first to tell you how insane it is to memorize thousands of Chinese words. The point remains that languages are living things, they’re not some physics or math theorems you should master. Languages are tools of communication and a window on culture. There are no better or worse languages, but there are languages that can give you an advantage depending on where you happen to be and what you have chosen to do.

WHY NOT GERMAN?

I am asked constantly why I don’t speak German, or why I have never learnt it. The short answer would be: no time. The long answer is more interesting I hope. I am bilingual, so I’ve always been able to juggle two languages and make the code-switching in everyday life, since my parents speak different languages with me. I spoke a smattering of Cantonese as well, my mother’s native dialect and the only tongue my maternal grandparents spoke. I loved the idea of French (note: I loved the idea of speaking it and being in France, not necessarily the French way of life, which I knew nothing about when I first learnt it) and so I studied it in university for two years. At age 19, any language feels great to learn, and French was fun. And as with any foreign language, it just gets harder and harder if there aren’t environmental conditions to support its acquisition. So by my third year, without native speaking French friends or actually having to live in France for at least a year, it was pretty much au revoir to francais for me. I retained the basic structure of French grammar (which doesn’t go beyond the present, past, future and imperfect tense) and some vocabulary to this day, but for lack of use, it’s as good as Greek. So with 4 languages under my belt (each at different levels of proficiency), I did not approach German with as much enthusiasm as I would have expected of myself when I met my German husband at age 29.
I dabbled in a few classes of Spanish after graduating, and even a bit of the local Hokkien dialect. But I couldn’t see the point in acquiring a language I didn’t need. Language acquisition takes time, effort, practice and committment. On top of these, you need to use the language or you may as well learn Advanced Calculus. I’ve heard people complaining about foreigners who write English well or have excellent English language grades on paper but in person, they can hardly string a sentence together. So you see, while I was in university with all the time in the world to study and learn, it was no problem picking up a new language. In my late 20s, the motivation to put myself through the rigours of homework, practice and more practice (which I wouldn’t get with Daniel anyway) didn’t exist and the prospect of this seemed like a waste of my precious Saturday afternoons.
I’m not picking fault at the process of language acquisition, I am stating the facts of it and what is entailed in language acquisition. Julien is picking up 3 languages at the most amazing pace, but he is 26 months old and he has no other job to do but to listen to us talk to him all day. He isn’t even required to answer us in full grammatically correct sentences! How great would it be if you went to German class every day from 8am to 8pm and all you had to do was play with stuff and not have to talk to your teacher? I’d take this class in a heart beat. Furthermore, I didn’t live in Germany and I didn’t have to speak to Daniel’s parents but for a few weeks in the year when they visited Singapore or we visited them. Of course I made the effort: I bought books, a CD, a dictionary and I prepared before each trip. This was more for social reasons than anything else. And I was more than a little pleased when people in Germany complimented my German with each passing year. It was encouraging and no one gave me a hard time for bad grammar and tenses or my broken Germanglish. And trust me when I say it matters to many learners how others perceive the way they speak the language, I have heard Germans tell me they are simply too shy or embarassed to speak to me in English even though their English is probably a lot better than my German.
THE WAY JULIEN LEARNS LANGUAGES
In 2011 I gave birth to Julien and the world of social exchanges became transformed. There came a new person in all our lives and for the most part, life became tenfold richer and more full – of excitement and excrement. Suddenly, there were more things to talk about with the Germans, more reasons to interact and visit cross-continent. When I first met Daniel’s parents in 2008, I started to email his Mum, because this was the only way to communicate with her (with an online translator, bless Microsoft Bing Translator, anything is possible). We kept up the weekly conversation and today, I still paste her emails into a translator. Technology is convenient, but it doesn’t help you acquire a language.
Now I am learning German (organically) along with my son, but nowhere at the rate that Julien is learning it. A child’s mind is like a supercomputer. A billion neurons are firing every 3 seconds in his first 5 years of life. That’s his job: to learn. Our adult brains will never acquire language the way a child’s brain does until he is age 7. In a nutshell, Julien is learning German completely differently from the way I am: he is using both sides of his brain. Scientists discovered that in early childhood, the language center of the brain (located in left hemisphere) isn’t formed yet, so a child processes language with his entire brain – the parts responsible for learning language and producing it is more diffused across both hemispheres. MRI imaging found that as we get older, the brain begins to specialise so that only one part in the left hemisphere takes over the work of understanding and producing language.

This explains why 33-year-old me finds it a terrible chore to remember genders and cases in German while Julien will most likely take to it “naturally”.

When I say “organically”, I mean without the intervention of a teacher or a structured classroom curriculum. The problem with picking up a language through informal interaction is you would never learn the rules of its grammatical structure and syntax. You would be confined also to the parameters of the conversations you have. This way has been great for me, don’t get me wrong, more words and phrases stick than if I had had to memorise it in a whole semester of language class. But the biggest obstacle is usage. Passive/receptive language acquisition, like what Julien is doing now, precludes the active component of speech. It is only when I have had to structure a sentence that I realise how handicapped I am.
Last year, I started German lessons at the Singapore Goethe Institut. I was not in the beginners’ class, since my test score let me skip 3 levels. My acquisition has leaped exponentially for the following reasons:
1) I had to do homework (which means daily or almost daily revision, which is necessary)
2) I had to speak German in class
3) I had a teacher who explains things and gives me the rules
Rules of grammar are for me like the roadmap to someplace I need to get. I just need it. I must say GI has a good program structure and the methods are effective. We get out of our tiny classroom at least 2-3 times each lesson to the break area and practise with one another the lesson, be it asking and answering questions on the Dativ prepositions or the Warum/Weil agreements. Using the language makes ALL the difference, and in this I have a small advantage because of my family circumstances. Daniel and I still spoke no German with each other, but he helped with my homework and whenever I had a question on Why This Particular German Rule is So Annoying. So far, Daniel has agreed with me more oftenthan not that it IS annoying.
My experience with German has been largely positive, despite my bellyaching. The pronunciation is easy enough, I get plenty of practice if I just go online for lessons, and I have access to German speakers. The pace is much slower than French, which aids comprehension and conversation by 500%. I’m going at it really slowly, as I have no personal goal to master it in a year. After all, ignorance still comes in handy when you are not in any mood to join in the conversation in German!
For me, languages are the most interesting thing in the world. They are puzzles and when you get them, they become such handy tools. And starting on my fifth, I can say that multilingualism isn’t just some lofty hobby, it can and should be normal. Our brains are capable of so much more, and looking at the state of our “bilingual education”, I would guess that something just isn’t being done right at the level of acquisition. If schools would help their students learn Chinese or Tamil the way I am learning German now, as a foreign lamguage, I am certain it would benefit a lot more children. If they hang on to the belief that Chinese is a “mother tongue” for Chinese kids, then the thousands of Chinese tuition schools will continue to reap millions of dollars each year.

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