The Secret To Learning Foreign Languages
Jul24

The Secret To Learning Foreign Languages

You lucky devils. Today I have decided to share with you all the one true secret that I believe is essential to learning a language. Sure, knowing this information alone won’t be enough to learn a language, but you also can’t learn one without knowing this rule. Surprisingly, it is quite logical when you think about it. However, I think that this secret is, unfortunately, largely absent from traditional language teaching in schools and the like, despite the fact that, unless they are native speakers, every language teacher knows this secret and would have had to consciously acknowledge it in order to learn the language that they teach to fluency. Yadda yadda yadda. You guys just want to know the secret, right? What is it, you ask? The overarching rule of successful language learning is that the process itself must be enjoyable. What is so frustrating about this rule is that it is extremely easy to forget. Chinese is my fourth language, and yet I often find myself getting frustrated at myself for forgetting characters, or for not learning as fast as I would have liked – but this is the worst thing you can do. The learning process must, above all, be fun and enjoyable – you can’t force yourself to learn a language. You may be able to mindlessly rote learn a few basic phrases, but to gain any substantial ability to communicate in a new language, the process itself must be enjoyable. I’m not trying to toot my own horn here, but people often say to me that I must have a gift for learning languages. I hate hearing this, because what the person saying that really means it that they think they aren’t gifted, and so they can’t learn a language. This is definitely up there in the biggest excuses potential language learners make. I always reply that I’m not any more gifted than anyone else. This isn’t false modesty, this is the truth. Really. The reason I’ve been, so far, relatively successful in my language learning comes down to these four things: Language learning is my hobby, not a chore. I’m not learning Chinese to get that big job promotion, or to impress people. I’m learning it because I absolutely love learning new languages and about the cultures of the people that speak it. Nothing gives me a bigger rush than speaking with someone from China about government corruption, the one-child policy or the growing divide between the ultra-rich and super-poor. Call me a nerd. I’m not fixated on the end result. Perfecting a language (if that is even possible) is actually a sad thought for me. That...

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Why Simplicity Is Almost Always Better Than Complexity
Jul17

Why Simplicity Is Almost Always Better Than Complexity

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Leonardo Da Vinci So it’s been a couple of crazy, jam-packed weeks for me since I finished semester. I’m on holidays from University for a month at the moment. Before I get into the nitty-gritty of this article, here’s a brief rundown of what I’ve been doing with myself (apart from learning Chinese). I’m gonna take the liberty and pretend like you all care, since, like, it’s my blog and I can write whatever I want! Working on my own business. Yep. In the coming weeks (hopefully), I’m going to be launching my own project dubbed ‘Write Fluently’, which will be an affordable essay and assignment editing service for international students, run by Australian University students with high levels of written and academic English. Although it is a for-profit endeavour, I’m not a heartless capitalist and so there will also be a program for motivated economically disadvantaged students to get their essays corrected for free.  Organising volunteering for AMEP (Adult Migrant English Program). Next semester I’m going to be volunteering with AMEP teaching English to immigrants. I was looking for a way that I could give back to the community (that sounds so cliché) and I think I’ve found it. I’m passionate about learning languages and I really think I could give the students some food for thought about how to take charge of their learning and about my own approach to language learning which is quite different to methods promoted in a traditional classroom environment. Opening a Crêperie with a friend. That’s right! I don’t think I mentioned this before, but for a year and a half I worked in a French Crêperie here in Melbourne so that I could hit two birds with one stone – making a bit of cash whilst also maintaining and improving my French (the staff were all French). My boss was an asshole, though, unfortunately, and so I left. Now, though, I’m the head crêpe chef of this new place that will be open soon! Anyway, back to the article. Simplicity Over Complexity As a background to this story, my parents are both University professors/lecturers, and both have a large number of international students in their courses (most of whom come from China, actually). It has come to my attention, mostly because of the test-corrections I’ve been doing as part of my preparation to launch my project, Write Fluently, that many English as a second language speakers have a strong tendency to use extremely complex language, when it is both appropriate and inappropriate to do so. In academic and other University level essay writing, it is more or...

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Culture: On Living as a Chinese-Australian, and the ‘Dualistic Identity’ Phenomenon

Hey guys!  Today is a special day, marking not only the first guest post to be published on this blog, but also the first culture piece, written by my good friend Ian Liu, with whom I study Law at University. His article provides an interesting and unique insight into life as a young immigrant and coming to terms with having a ‘double identity’. Enjoy! ———————————————————————————- Hello, dear readers, I am Ian Liu, a first generation Chinese immigrant who settled in Australia at the age of 7. Having being born in China, but having grown up and educated in Australia, my Chinese learning journey is distinctive in many ways, whether it be compared to the Australian Born Chinese contingent or the learners who have no background in China whatsoever. My identity and belonging has always been a hotly debated topic. Am I Australian? Am I Chinese? In Australia I am considered Chinese, whilst in China I am considered Australian. The political discourse and policies of Australia are set to preserving the “true blue Aussie culture”, with clear nation state sovereignty at play, exemplified in the recent asylum seeker issue. One term I hear often is “if you don’t love Australia then go back to where you come from”. We as a society fail to realise that migrants exhibit an ambivalent discourse towards their adopted homeland as well as their origin countries, and that just because a certain individual does not like one element of the country it does not prevent them from embracing all the other underlying expectations. I know many migrants who are more “Australian” in many ways than the stereotypical blonde haired blue eyed Australian surfer. Migrants are often forced to do 3D (dirty, dangerous, demeaning) jobs due to language barriers and lack of experience, contributing to the secondary labour-intensive sector of the economy. Many jobs would be non-existent if it were not for the immigrants, who stimulate the economy through their additions to the workforce, as well as bringing with them the direct creation of new jobs. The commonly held belief that immigrants take the jobs of locals is ridiculous, with no empirical evidence to back it up at all. Whilst many will claim that multiculturalism is prevalent within Australian society, in that the presence of communities from all parts of the world creates an acceptance of all forms of culture and ethnicity, all of these separate cultures must also assimilate into the dominant Anglo-Saxon culture in order to be recognised as Australian, exemplified through mechanisms such as the citizenship test, and the emphasis on the importance of English. For those not familiar with these government policies...

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Beginners: Chinese Tones Explained With Their English Equivalent
Jul01

Beginners: Chinese Tones Explained With Their English Equivalent

One of the most daunting aspects of the Chinese language are its tones. And, sure, if you explain them like most native speakers or self-impressed successful learners do, they definitely sound it! You may hear people say “in Chinese, if you change the way you say a word slightly, the meaning can change dramatically!”. Unfortunately, its statements like those that deter many people from learning about this great language and China’s long and rich history. But really, it’s just something that takes getting used to. And, like in all languages, where there is a hard concept to get your head around, there will also be easier ones. Chinese makes up for the difficulty of tones with the simplicity of its grammar compared to, say, European languages. In Chinese, the reason for having tones is quite simple – there are far fewer variations in sounds (about 400) than in most other languages (such as English, which has approximately 12 000), and so tones are used to distinguish otherwise identical ones. Pretty cool, huh? So, What Do They Sound Like?  Firstly, tones are not a completely alien concept for English speakers. In fact, we have them in English! They are just more subtle, and have slightly different meanings. However, the basic idea is the same. Thinking about the English equivalents of tones are a great way of wrapping your head around their use in Chinese. The First Tone – ‘mā’ – is indicated by the ¯ on top of the final. This one is the most difficult to explain, but it is kind of like the sound you may make when you get a fright (‘āh!’). It is a high sound that is distinguishable because it is a constant pitch that does not fluctuate like the others. The Second Tone – ‘má’ – the rising tone, is indicated by the ´ on top of the final. Fortunately, this one is easy to explain! In English, we use this tone, known as the ‘upwards inflection’, on the last word of a sentence when we want to make it a question. Read ‘are you cold?’ out loud. The rising sound of ‘cold’ is the same as the rising tone in Chinese. So, má sounds like you’re saying ‘ma?’. Get it? Good. The Third Tone – mǎ – the low or dipping tone, sounds a lot like when you say ‘Mum!’ when she asks you to do the dishes, except, it dips down slightly lower than we would in English. The Fourth Tone – mà – sounds like when you’re in class at school, and you’re trying to call somebody’s name without the teacher hearing....

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