Learning to Speak Chinese

Learning Chinese has definitely been a tough challenge thus far. One of the things that has become strongly clear to me is the way that we are going about learning Chinese. After talking to many students it seems that our method is slightly different.

What is the difference? We are not putting our focus, effort, and energy into the Characters but rather on speaking, pronunciation, tones, and language patterns.

Why? The family whom we are working under and whose language school we attend encourage this method. Through their own experience in learning Chinese they found that too much time was spent in the beginning stages for most learners and it hinders their speaking ability. Therefore, our school’s focus is on spoken Chinese and each class, 4 hours in length, is mainly spoken with the use of pinyin.

This method makes perfect sense to me since if follows the basic learning pattern of a child that is learning to speak. For example, my daughter who is two years old can talk your head off, though she knows nothing about reading and writing. She has been listening ever since she was born and started saying her first words several month after that. As her language develops she will learn to read and write. As an adult learning, we don’t have to follow this basic pattern, but it does seem advisable. We desire in a very child-like way to listen and speak then in due time read and write.

Two language books caught my attention when they seemed to agree with this method (as it doesn’t seem to be very common). They stated the following:

“Since characters are not phonetic and the emphasis of this or any other beginning course for adult learners is on speaking or communicating, character learning and writing are not given priority. To spend too much time on character writing at this stage would consume too much time that should be spent building a solid foundation in pronunciation and the basic sentence patterns used for various communicative functions. It is advisable that serious study of characters for adult students should follow a comfortable command of pronunciation, basic vocabulary, and basic sentence pattens. In spit of all this, you may find it very hard to resist learning some characters when you study the language. Feel free to pursue if you have the urge as long as you do not lose sight of the main goal at this stage.” [1]

“Those who are learning a language with a different set of symbols for it’s writing system … will need to use a phonetic writing system for a longer period of time. In this case, don’t learn the writing system until you have used the Learning Cycle four to six weeks or longer. By then, you will be comfortable with the different sounds, and it will not be difficult to learn the symbols as they are used.

If you are learning a Chinese language where the writing system represents ideas rather than sounds, then you will need to use a phonetic system of spelling for much longer period of time.” [2]

We are thankful to be working with a great family who has helped us get a proper understanding and basis for learning this language. Their language abilities are clear when you see them effectively communicating with those around them. Your continued prayers are appreciated as we are still in the early stages of our language acquisition.

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