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Lesson Transcript

Amber: Hey everybody, welcome to ChineseClass101.com. This is the first in our All About Chinese series. This lesson is All About Chinese Lesson 1 – The Top Five Reasons to Study Chinese. And I am Amber, your friendly neighborhood non-Chinese guide to everything Chinese.
Victor: Hi, I’m Victor and with Amber I’ll bear part of my Chinese soul with you in this lesson.
Amber: Yes, that’s right. This lesson is all about your home and native land, Victor.
Victor: Kind of yours too, Amber.
Amber: Yeah, I mean, I’m sort of more like a wanna-be Chinese person, I think.
Victor: Yeah, so we’ll let you be.
Amber: Yeah, but there’s already so many Chinese people already. Come on, Victor, can you really afford to add more honorary members?
Victor: Well, we do have so many already, so I guess one doesn’t hurt. But I think there should be some kind of initiation rite of passage, at least.
Amber: Yeah, I know, like eating chicken feet or something?
Victor: Definitely.
Amber: Yeah, well, there’s no way I can get in if that’s what I have to do.
Victor: Well, unfortunately you can speak Chinese, so you can impersonate a Chinese person anyway.
Amber: Yeah, and Chinese is such a beautiful language. I mean, some of us maybe we’ve heard it only in the context of like a crowded Chinese restaurant and we don’t think it sounds that soft or beautiful, but I think it’s really a beautiful language.
Victor: Yeah, I agree. I think it’s really a beautiful language.
Amber: Yeah, and it has an ancient history and a very intriguing culture to match. We can definitely attest to that.
Victor: Yeah.

Lesson focus

Amber: So today we’re going to teach you all about Chinese. Obviously you’re interested in learning Chinese if you’ve come to a Chinese language podcast. So, Victor, what is it about this language anyway? It’s like one of the world’s most ancient languages that’s still spoken today and survived through the ages.
Victor: Yes, about one fifth of the world’s population, over one billion people, speak Chinese.
Amber: Yes, and I looked it up, actually it’s approximately 1.176 billion speakers, which makes for a lot of good conversation if you can learn.
Victor: Right. And Chinese is everywhere.
Amber: So tell me, Victor, where have you spoken Chinese in your life besides China. You are from China…
Victor: Right.
Amber: But…
Victor: Pretty much everywhere I have been, to be honest. I mean, I hear Chinese in every country that I’ve been to.
Amber: Yeah, and actually one of fun things about knowing Chinese too, because you do hear it practically everywhere, doesn’t matter if you’re in Africa, you can find Chinese people, Canada, America…
Victor: All over Europe.
Amber: Yeah, and my favorite thing was lately I overheard some Chinese people speaking Chinese, and they were in a store, comparing which girl was the prettiest and which girl was the prettiest and which girl was the ugliest. Little did they know I was listening, and I was not the prettiest.
Victor: Well, Chinese immigrants and visitors are really everywhere in the world so it’s a language that you don’t even need to travel to use. Yes, another thing that Chinese are very proud is the written language.
Amber: Yeah, which a lot of people feel is somewhat of an art. But, personally, I feel that it’s so hard that written language. Can’t they make it a little easier? I mean, the Koreans did, the Japanese did.
Victor: Right. They already kind of did. Traditional Chinese characters have gone through simplification methods over the years.
Amber: Yeah, I mean that is true. A lot of the characters in simplified Chinese have a lot fewer strokes. There’s two different kinds of characters in use today, actually, traditional and simplified.
Victor: Right.
Amber: Depending where you are.
Victor: Well, you know that China is the only country in the world whose literature has been written in one language for more than 3000 consecutive years.
Amber: Wow, so when does that takes us back to?
Victor: About 1200 B.C.
Amber: Yeah, and so a lot of us that haven’t been to China, our frame of reference for Chinese is maybe Chinese restaurants. Yeah, so what’s amazing about that is that if you were at a restaurant 3000 years ago, you would know what they were serving you by the characters. Maybe not by what you saw on the plate, but you could read the menu if there were such a thing 2000 years ago.
Victor: In the past, the manner people would communicate with written language as the regional dialects were very distinct and people couldn’t understand each other.
Amber: So no wonder there’s tens of thousands of characters. There’s a lot of things to write about, all that history.
Victor: Right, but please don’t be scared of… though there are so many Chinese characters, when you learn the language, you’ll find that there are only about 400 syllables or individual word sounds in Chinese.
Amber: Yeah, and what happens is, it sounds surprising to most people, cause they think of all these thousands of Chinese characters. But what happens is the Chinese word or syllables each character will combine, and then these combined words are the words that form thousands of other words. Now, on top of the 400 sounds of Chinese, you can also layer the four tones of Chinese, so that makes more words as well.
Victor: Yeah, Chinese is very special and it’s its own class altogether.
Amber: And besides, Mandarin Chinese, which most of us know as the language of China, there are also – how many dialects, Victor? – there’s like thousands of diale-..
Victor: Right, there are lots. Many, many…
Amber: Yeah, so even if you go into China into different, even different cities, towns even, will have their own sort of version of a dialect.
Victor: That’s right. But most people in China speak Mandarin, so if you’re a beginner, don’t worry. As long as you learn the Mandarin, you’ll be fine.
Amber: Yeah, it kind of unites everybody. Ok, so now we’re going to hear about the motherland, Victor. You’re the resident expert, you have to tell us all about the motherland.
Victor: Right. China and Chinese has about 5000 years of history.
Amber: Yeah, and I have to say that that is probably one of the top five most common thing that you will hear a Chinese person say. Like, you guys love bragging about that.
Victor: Right, because we’re taught that in elementary school. So from the day one we’re taught to be Chinese, you should know your history, cultural…
Amber: But the thing is, I feel it keeps getting longer. Do you guys exaggerate it a little? I thought the first time someone said it to me, they said 3000 years, then they said 4000, now it’s up to 5,000. It’s only been like three years.
Victor: I think real civilization is like 2000 to 3000, but human history can be traced back to 5000 years.
Amber: Ok, Victor, there may be a lot of Chinese people up in arms from that scene that you just made.
Victor: No, I’m still, I’m still very proud of Chinese, just trying to get the numbers right.
Amber: You just want to be an exaggerator. Ok, well, I think that you guys definitely do get bragging rights for that, no matter where there was 3000 or 5000. I mean, the culture is still very intact and very strong.
Victor: Yeah. And, you know, for Chinese people really think or they used to think they are really the center of the world.
Amber: So that’s interesting because a lot of people… If you don’t know what the word for China is – Victor, what is the word for “China” in Chinese?
Victor: It’s 中国 and it means “the central kingdom” or “the middle kingdom”.
Amber: Yes, because 中 means “center” or “middle”, 国 means “country”.
Victor: The country, the nation.
Amber: So like “center of the world”.
Victor: So here’s a little story that I learned from when I was in school, in China, is that the Forbidden City, the Royal Palace, was actually right in the center of the old Beijing city.
Amber: Right.
Victor: So geographical center. The building where the Emperor conducted the business was right in the middle, and his seat was right in the geographical center of that building.
Amber: Wow.
Victor: So there’s a strong sense of things need to be where they need to be. So the Emperor, being the most important figure, had the central position.
Amber: And China being the center of the world.
Victor: Exactly.
Amber: Thinks everything was as it should.
Victor: Right, I guess they kind of imply that they thought they were in the center of the world, but…
Amber: Well that explains a lot.
Victor: I don’t think they still think that any more, but still they are proud of their culture, definitely.
Amber: Yeah, and it gives a lot of insight into the reason for the nationalism of the Chinese people and their strong cultural identity. Because even Chinese people that move away from China, maybe they think that they Chinatown's the center of the new city (inaudible 00:07:10) so on and so on. But yeah, they really keep their culture intact.
Victor: Yeah, definitely.
Amber: Now, speaking of Chinese people being everywhere, where is Chinese spoken besides China? Most people know, well, we’re talked about how we can hear it everywhere. So how about, Victor, for you, I mean that probably leads to a lot of different accents. I know that probably even myself, I'm not native Chinese speaker, but I can hear, as soon as someone opens their mouth, generally you can tell they’re from somewhere. Can you tell, the second you hear, where they’re from? Maybe they’re second, third or even fourth generation Chinese, and so they’re influence by maybe the local languages, the grammar, pronunciation will evolve.
Victor: Right, definitely.
Amber: Now, what about within China? Now, within China there is crazy variation in accent as well. You’re from Northern China, right, Victor?
Victor: Right, yeah.
Amber: Ok, so what’s the difference between the Northern accent, say, and the more Southern accent? Generalities here?
Victor: I think northern speakers of Chinese curl their tongue a lot more, so the sound is thicker and more resonant.
Amber: Can you give us an example of that? [inaudible 00:08:11] have you here.
Victor: Lots of people will say 去哪儿 (qù nǎr), you know, the R is very famous Beijing signature sounds.
Amber: Yes, whereas in Shanghai, they would say 去哪里 (qù nǎlǐ), right?
Victor: Right, they did. Like in Beijing, you probably say 没事儿 (méishìr).
Amber: 事儿 (shìr).
Victor: Yeah, 事儿 (shìr), the R in the end.
Amber: And also the SH sounds a bit thicker for the northern dialect. And the ZH sounds… in Shanghai it’s a lot lighter the sort of Z, C, and no R sound. Well, you know, I first learned Chinese in Taiwan, and there is definitely an accent there as well because the second I moved to the mainland, the second I opened my mouth to speak Chinese, I literally said two words and people would be like – we were talking about accent is so strong. All I would say was like 你好 (nǐ hǎo) and they we’re like, “Oh, my god. You just came from Taiwan, didn’t you?”
Victor: Yeah, that’s very distinct, definitely.
Amber: And it was true. Ok, now, we talked a bit before about there’s two different forms of writing. So the mainland of China uses a simplified form of the Chinese characters.
Victor: And in Taiwan, they use the traditional form of written Chinese characters.
Amber: Yeah, which have a lot more strokes.
Victor: Right, exactly.
Amber: Another difference too is that in Taiwan I noticed there’s different terms used for different things. Cause, you know, China language has kind of evolved a little bit in the past 50 years and there’s a lot of new words because of the internet and things, so in this case, different areas you also will hear maybe certain terminology is different. Ok, Victor, so now we’ve gotten to the climax of this lovely podcast, because we are going to learn the top five reasons to learn this wonderful language.
Victor: Right, we’ll do it the David Letterman style. Instead of ten, we’ll just have five today.
Amber: Ok, let’s start with number five. Top five reasons to learn this language, Chinese. Number five: Chinese is the language of nearly one quarter of the world’s population. Speakers of Chinese are spread throughout the globe. There are Chinese people everywhere.
Victor: At number four, unlike most languages, Chinese has a unique writing system, which provides visual comprehensibility and is considered by some to be an art form.
Amber: By some. Some of us just hate writing. We think it’s a big hassle. Ok. Number three: Chinese grammar is easy. You do not have to conjugate verbs.
Victor: Yay. That makes things a lot easier. Kind of compensates for the writing system.
Amber: Could have been number one… lazy student that I am.
Victor: Ok, so number two: when you learn Chinese, you also learn how the Chinese think. Logical, pragmatic, you are learning so much more than just language. Plus, there’s all that cool tai chi and Buddha zen stuff.
Amber: Just like you, Victor, I too can become logical and pragmatic? Promise? It is not a money back guarantee, by the way. And number one…
Victor: And the number one reason you should learn Chinese, drumroll please, you can get rich.
Amber: Real- really?
Victor: You know, China has one of the fastest growing economy in the world, so with all these exchange with the West, there’re a lot of opportunities for people who can speak English and other languages and Chinese. So there’s definitely a lot of opportunities in different fields.
Amber: There’s so many interesting opportunities that can arise when you do do business with Chinese people, cause you get to learn how the Chinese do business, which is fun, involves a lot of drinking 白酒 (báijiǔ).
Victor: Right.
Amber: And singing karaoke.
Victor: Yes.
Amber: Ok. This is big. Yeah, and, you know, there are a lot of jobs, too, for people who speak Chinese, whether in China or outside of China. There’s things like international relations, IT, tourism, education, translation, all that kind of stuff.
Victor: Yay. That’s great.


Amber: So that about does it for our first All About Chinese Lesson – The Top Five Reasons To Learn Chinese. Now, we’re pretty sure the whole world’s going to learn Chinese after listening to this podcast, because we know the whole world is probably listening to this podcast. So make sure you visit us at the website…
Victor: ChineseClass101.com