Chinese Language Tip #2: Word Association

by China Travel
Posted: January 14th, 2008 | Updated: May 6th, 2011 | Comments
Tip number two for learning Chinese. To the foreign learner of Chinese, there's something important to you should know. To the untrained ear (i.e. not consciously able to distinguish different tones), there are less than 400 unique sounds. Slap a tone mark on top and the number increases by 5 times at the most, bringing it to 2000. Not every bit of naked Pinyin can have all 4 tones, so the number is probably closer to 1500, truth be told (toneless Pinyin list). Consider how many unique and individual sounds your native lexicon requires of you, and Chinese will probably seem a bit more manageable. Oral Chinese actually requires very little of you. If you're prepared to not be too worried about your tones in the beginning, you can work your way up to a decent conversational level pretty quickly and let the tones come later. Once you've studied Chinese or been in China for a few months you'll have probably learned a word for most of the more common Pinyin sounds, be it someone's surname, the name of a city or a phrase you commonly use, like "zai lai yi ping pi jiu". You can then take these things you know and apply it to new words, thereby learning to remember a new word by word association. Example time. You probably know the word for happy (gaoxing), but not the word for sad. The reason probably being, that there is more than one and it's difficult to know which one to use. I'm not going to explain which one should be used where, that is perhaps best saved for another time, but how to remember the new word. Let's make that new word "beishang". How I'd remember this is simple: Beijing, Shanghai. The tones on both bei and shang are different from the tones in beishang, but the word is remembered nevertheless. If you need to take it a step further you can do a second round of association: the pollution in Beijing and Shanghai makes the residents sad. This is a little cumbersome, but the mind works pretty quick.
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