Mandarin Chinese is the most widely-spoken language in the world. In the past three decades learning Chinese has become popular because of increasing connections and communications between China and other parts of the world. In New Zealand, learning Chinese is viewed as a beneficial option for children living in the Pacific rim. NZ Chinese Language Week is a good opportunity to learn the language and gain insights into the culture. This year, NZ Chinese Language Week falls between 20 and 26 September. Let’s celebrate the event with fun activities.
Chinese language and fun activities 汉语趣味活动
Learning Chinese characters with paper cutting 剪纸学汉字
The first step of mastering Chinese language is to learn characters. It is believed that the Chinese character was invented by a legendary figure Cang Jie, 仓颉, a court historian of the powerful Yellow Emperor (2698–2598 BCE). Inspired by the patterns of tracks left behind by birds and other animals with their feet or claws, Cang Jie created Chinese writing with eight basic strokes. Cang Jie’s original pictography sounds interesting but would be hard to prove. The scientifically-proven evidence reveals that the earliest Chinese character were found on incised bones and shells from the Shang Dynasty (1200-1046 BC), which is known as Oracle Bone Script.
There are various ways of learning Chinese characters, but it is great fun to learn them through Chinese paper cutting.
Chinese paper cutting is a Chinese handicraft dating back to the sixth century. Not only do Chinese people use the handicraft to create beautiful flower patterns and cute animals but also Chinese characters as decorations in festivals or for rituals. For example, the characters of 春 spring and 福good fortune are frequently used as decorations during the Chinese Spring Festival or the Spring season. The characters of寿longevity is used to celebrate the birthday of elder people. The character of 喜happiness is most suitable for weddings. The characters of 平安 being safe and without mishap and 富贵great wealth and honour are used to give best wishes to others.
Learning Chinese with riddles 猜谜语，学汉字
Another fun activity of learning Chinese characters is solving Chinese riddles. Chinese riddles 谜语 have a long history and are used to exploit the meaning of Chinese characters with fun. Lantern riddles 灯谜 are written on lanterns and displayed during the Chinese Lantern Festival and the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival. These riddles can be written from words, poems, idioms and phrases. Word riddles 字谜 are particularly useful for people to learn characters formed with similar strokes. The following two examples give you a sense of these riddles.
Riddle 1: one plus one一加（+）一
Suggestion: A Chinese character
Answer: Chinese character 王 king
|One thousand strings of lace,||千条线|
|Ten thousand strings of lace,||万条线|
|Fall into the river and leave no trace.||落在河里看不见|
Suggestion: A natural phenomenon
Answer: rain 雨
Chinese poetry and idioms 诗歌成语
Learning traditional Chinese poetry will bring you to the next level of Chinese language proficiency and cultural competency. The lyric poetry has a high status in Chinese literature and is inter-related closely with Chinese painting and Chinese calligraphy. Various genres and forms of Chinese poetry have developed corresponding to dynastic eras such as Tang Shi poetry and Song Ci poetry. It is not easy to learn these Chinese poems as they have particular traditional forms. A newly-developed method in traditional poetry education is turning these poems into songs so that learners can learn these poems through singing. For example, the well-known Still Night’s Muse 静夜思 becomes engaging and meaningful after it has been adapted into song.
Chinese idiom 成语 is another Chinese language form for learners with a high level of proficiency. The idiomatic expression form usually consists of four Chinese characters, derived from ancient literature such as the Shijing 诗经 , well-known historical events or stories. Learning Chinese idioms with underpinning stories is effective. Knowing how to properly use a Chinese idiom in a particular situation will make you sound like a native Chinese speaker.
Spoken Chinese and Chinese calligraphy汉语口语和书法
Unlike English, Chinese writing is a logographic system with each character simultaneously encoding sounds and meaning at the level of the syllable. For a Chinese learner, it would be challenging to master both the spoken and written forms of Chinese characters which are so different from English. The Hanyu Pinyin 汉语拼音 system provides us with a great tool to learn spoken Chinese. It is represented with alphabetical letters which have pronunciations differing from those in English. The sound of a Chinese character is made with a combination of consonant and vowel letters with different pitches on the main vowel letter.
For Chinese learners, Chinese calligraphy is both an art form to appreciate and handwriting styles to practice. Over the past 3000 years, six script styles have been formed in Chinese calligraphy. The formation of six script styles is bound with religious activities, official records and private correspondences. For individuals, the practice of calligraphy is a way of self-expression and cultivation. To learn Chinese calligraphy a beginner can start with basics like holding a brush pen and practising major strokes from which Chinese characters are made.
To practice pronunciation, you can start with trying the most frequently-used phrases below for fun.
- 你好 Hello or How are you?
- 谢谢Thank you
- 再见 Goodbye
- 不客气 You are welcome
- 恭喜发财 Wishing you prosperity
- 新年快乐 Happy New Year
Building on your vocabulary for reading积累词汇量
As a language of characters, Chinese contains over 50,000 characters. Most dictionaries list about 5000 to 6000 characters. Don’t be overwhelmed by the huge amount of Chinese characters. You don’t need to know all the characters to be able to read. Many words are made up by two common characters. For example, 大（da) means big, 人 (ren) means people or human, and 大人 （da ren) means adult (big human).
|大||big||Da||大人 da ren (adult)|
|好||good||Hao||好人 hao ren（good person)|
|男||male||Nan||男人 nan ren (man)|
|人||human||Ren||人人 ren ( everybody )|
Similar to other languages, Chinese is more easily learnt when starting with basic characters. 100 characters will be a good volume to read easy sentences. There are two main types of Chinese characters, simplified Chinese and traditional Chinese. Simplified Chinese is used in China, Singapore and Malaysia while traditional Chinese is used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau and certain occasions in South Korea. Learners will find some similarities among two types of characters.
Amber Li, Anita Streat, Lucy Wu, Tianwen Fang, Hong Wang