Category Archives: Language

A method for learning Chinese by watching TV

(This is mostly for my own reference, but I'll share it in case someone else finds it useful. By the way, the video I'm using for this post is 向往的生活2 episode 1. I'm a 黄磊 fan.)

The short version of what I do: I listen to short clips of audio from Chinese TV shows and practice listening. Hearing Chinese sounds is very difficult for me—much harder than reading, writing, etc.—so I'm trying to overcome it with more deliberate practice matching what I hear to what the actual sound is.

Programs/services used

This is all running on a 2011 MacBook Air, so it doesn't require anything really sophisticated.

Setup

  1. Find a video. This one is easy for me—I just notice what my wife is watching. I'm looking for videos that have Chinese subtitles, not English subtitles. The important issue here is not worrying about the meaning of words, sentences, or topics—in fact, I find that to be a distraction. I'm focusing solely on the link between listening and hearing. It's the hardest part of Chinese for me.
  2. Download mp3 audio from video. Use the YouTube to MP3 app. I put these in a folder in Dropbox (Language/Chinese/[show name]).
  3. Set up table. Here's a blank table. I put these in a folder on Google Drive (Language/Chinese/[show name]).

Action

  1. Open the mp3 file in Audacity. Usually takes a while to import the mp3, so later I'll save it as an Audacity project (.aup) and use that file.
  2. Select a range of audio to repeat. ⌘1 to zoom in, then select the range with the mouse. Usually I select less than 10 seconds at a time so I get to hear what's being said until it sinks in without being overwhelmed.
  3. Shift + Space to play the range on repeat.
  4. Listen and write the sounds that I hear in a notebook. If I know the character I'll write the character, but it's not important—the important thing is to correctly identify the sound.
  5. Select a new range and repeat.

After about a cumulative minute of video, I compare what I've written to the actual Chinese subtitles in the video.

Sometimes it's obvious and I recognize the character. Sometimes I can type the pinyin into Pleco or MDBG and see if what I heard matches a sensible word. Other times I have to switch to the Chinese handwriting keyboard on my phone and write the characters I don't know and let Pleco help me out.


There's a pattern to the colors: Black for what I hear; Red for corrections; Green for Hanzi; Blue for selected definitions (although no definitions shown here).

After I've figured out the correct sounds and characters, I'll store them in a table for later. (Example: 向往的生活2 #1) Sometimes I'll use that to later run longer ranges of the video and read along. Also, I'm saving the info for later when I want to study meaning, sentence structure, etc.

Extra step: New vocabulary gets used for another project, Chinese Word of the Day (@zhwotd).

Hindi: masculine and feminine, singular and plural

I've been mixing up masculine and feminine forms--in part, I think, because I learned Spanish before Hindi, and the -a ending in Spanish is feminine. In Hindi, it is masculine. To keep it all straight, these are the general forms (i.e., there are plenty of exceptions) for Hindi words.

Singular Plural
Masculine -आ (-ā) -ए (-e)
Feminine -ई (-ī) -इयाँ (-iyāṃ)

Water

Deepa Mehta, Water

As part of my language "training" I am watching one Hindi movie per week in 2010. This movie, like all of them via suggestion by a friend, was not what I expected. Pardon my ignorance: it wasn't a Bollywood movie, which is the de facto standard for Indian movies, as far I know. There was no singing, no dancing. It was quite serious, and that is fine with me. Go ahead and watch it if you're looking for a good movie, not just a good Indian movie.

Hindi: Fricative Consonants: श, ष, स, ह

The seventh and final group of consonants -- श, ष, स, ह -- is the fricative consonants (Wikipedia Fricative consonants). As an aerospace engineer, fricatives are easy for me to understand. Fricatives are formed by forcing the air from your lungs into a tight channel and causing turbulence in the air flow; it's like placing a model in a wind tunnel.


śa, /ɕ,ʃ/


ṣa, /ʂ/

श and ष are essentially two flavors of sh. श (śa) is a palatal consonant, so it should be articulated with the top of the tongue against the palate. ष (ṣa) is a cerebral consonant, so it should be articulated with the tip of the tongue placed against the palate, behind the location where श is articulated. So, for me, an American, it is a matter of getting the tongue placement right.


sa, /s/


ha, /h,ɦ/

स and ह are just like their English transliterated counterparts, sa and ha. They are very common letters, as well. The alphabetical order of the first five groups of consonants followed rows in the table below. However, the alphabetical order of the sixth and seventh groups follows the columns. Thus, the alphabetical order is: (labials) प, फ, ब, भ, म; (approximants) य, र, ल, व; (fricatives) श, ष, स, ह.

Stop Nasal Approximant Fricative
Unvoiced Voiced Unvoiced Voiced
Unaspirated Aspirated Unaspirated Aspirated Unaspirated Aspirated
Guttural
ka
/k/

kha
/kh/

ga
/g/

gha
/gh/

ṅa
/ŋ/

ha
/h,ɦ/
Palatal
ca
/c,ʧ/

cha
/chh/

ja
/ɟ,ʤ/

jha
hh/

ña
/ɲ/

ya
/j/

śa
/ɕ,ʃ/
Cerebral
ṭa
/ʈ/

ṭha
h/

ḍa
/ɖ/

ḍha
h/

ṇa
/ɳ/

ra
/r/

ṣa
/ʂ/
Dental
ta
/t̪/

tha
/t̪h/

da
/d̪/

dha
/d̪h/

na
/n/

la
/l/

sa
/s/
Labial
pa
/p/

pha
/ph/

ba
/b/

bha
/bh/

ma
/m/

va
/ʋ/

I am archiving this information about the alphabet on the Hindi page: kirkkittell.com/language/hindi. More information from Wikipedia:

Hindi: Approximant Consonants: य, र, ल, व

The sixth group of consonants -- य, र, ल, व -- is the approximant consonants (Wikipedia Approximant consonants). The approximants sound similar to their corresponding English consonants, as shown in the transliterations below. Approximants are special because they resemble vowels -- a sort of middle sound between vowels and consonants.


ya, /j/


ra, /r/


la, /l/


va, /ʋ/

The alphabetical order of the previous five groups of consonants followed rows in the table below. However, the alphabetical order of the sixth and seventh groups follows the columns. Thus, the alphabetical order is: (labials) प, फ, ब, भ, म; (approximants) य, र, ल, व; (fricatives) श, ष, स, ह.

Stop Nasal Approximant Fricative
Unvoiced Voiced Unvoiced Voiced
Unaspirated Aspirated Unaspirated Aspirated Unaspirated Aspirated
Guttural
ka
/k/

kha
/kh/

ga
/g/

gha
/gh/

ṅa
/ŋ/

ha
/h,ɦ/
Palatal
ca
/c,ʧ/

cha
/chh/

ja
/ɟ,ʤ/

jha
hh/

ña
/ɲ/

ya
/j/

śa
/ɕ,ʃ/
Cerebral
ṭa
/ʈ/

ṭha
h/


ḍa
/ɖ/


ḍha
h/

ṇa
/ɳ/

ra
/r/

ṣa
/ʂ/
Dental
ta
/t̪/

tha
/t̪h/

da
/d̪/

dha
/d̪h/

na
/n/

la
/l/

sa
/s/
Labial
pa
/p/

pha
/ph/

ba
/b/

bha
/bh/

ma
/m/

va
/ʋ/

I am archiving this information about the alphabet on the Hindi page: kirkkittell.com/language/hindi. More information from Wikipedia:

Hindi: Labial Consonants: प, फ, ब, भ, म

The fifth consonants -- प, फ, ब, भ, म -- are labial consonants (Wikipedia Labial consonants). Labial consonants are articulated with the lips. Labial consonants are easy to say because they are analogous with sounds in the English language. This group of five consonants corresponds with p, b, and m in English. The trick is saying प and फ, ब and भ, with the proper aspiration. Even if it is easy for me to create the sounds, I have to concentrate on not aspirating प and ब because my innate tendency is to aspirate everything.


pa, /p/


pha, /ph/

प is said with no aspiration, फ is said with aspiration.


ba, /b/


bha, /bh/

ब is said with no aspiration, भ is said with aspiration.


ma, /m/

म is a nasal consonant that sounds like the m in milk.

  Stop Nasal Approximant Fricative
  Unvoiced Voiced Unvoiced Voiced
  Unaspirated Aspirated Unaspirated Aspirated Unaspirated Aspirated
Guttural
ka
/k/

kha
/kh/

ga
/g/

gha
/gh/
ṅa
/ŋ/
   
ha

/h,ɦ/
Palatal
ca
/c,ʧ/

cha
/chh/

ja
/ɟ,ʤ/

jha
hh/

ña
/ɲ/

ya
/j/

śa
/ɕ,ʃ/
 
Cerebral
ṭa
/ʈ/

ṭha
h/

ḍa
/ɖ/

ḍha
h/

ṇa
/ɳ/

ra
/r/

ṣa
/ʂ/
 
Dental
ta
/t̪/

tha
/t̪h/

da
/d̪/

dha
/d̪h/

na
/n/

la
/l/

sa
/s/
 
Labial
pa
/p/

pha
/ph/

ba
/b/

bha
/bh/

ma
/m/

va
/ʋ/
   

I am archiving this information about the alphabet on the Hindi page: kirkkittell.com/language/hindi. More information from Wikipedia:

Hindi: Dental Consonants: त, थ, द, ध, न

The fourth five consonants -- त, थ, द, ध, न -- are dental consonants (Wikipedia Dental consonants). Just like it sounds, the dental consonants are related to your teeth. Dental consonants represent half of the strange d's and t's, cerebral consonants are the other half. Of course, by strange, I mean strange to me. The dental consonants are articulated by placing the tip of your tongue against the back of your teeth, whereas the cerebral consonants are made with the tip of the tongue against the roof of your mouth. Comparing the dental unaspirated ta, त, with the cerebral unaspirated ṭa, ट, is that ट sounds deeper and rounder than त.


ta, /t̪/


tha, /t̪h/

त is said with no aspiration, थ is said with aspiration.


da, /d̪/


dha, /d̪h/

द is said with no aspiration, ध is said with aspiration.


na, /n/

न is the most common nasal consonant.

  Stop Nasal Approximant Fricative
  Unvoiced Voiced Unvoiced Voiced
  Unaspirated Aspirated Unaspirated Aspirated Unaspirated Aspirated
Guttural
ka
/k/

kha
/kh/

ga
/g/

gha
/gh/

ṅa
/ŋ/
   
ha
/h,ɦ/
Palatal
ca
/c,ʧ/

cha
/chh/

ja
/ɟ,ʤ/

jha
hh/

ña
/ɲ/

ya
/j/

śa
/ɕ,ʃ/
 
Cerebral
ṭa
/ʈ/

ṭha
h/

ḍa
/ɖ/

ḍha
h/

ṇa
/ɳ/

ra
/r/

ṣa
/ʂ/
 
Dental
ta
/t̪/

tha
/t̪h/

da
/d̪/

dha
/d̪h/

na
/n/

la
/l/

sa
/s/
 
Labial
pa
/p/

pha
/ph/

ba
/b/

bha
/bh/

ma
/m/

va
/ʋ/
   

I am archiving this information about the alphabet on the Hindi page: kirkkittell.com/language/hindi. More information from Wikipedia:

Hindi: Cerebral Consonants: ट, ठ, ड, ढ, ण

The third five consonants -- ट, ठ, ड, ढ, ण -- are cerebral consonants (Wikipedia Cerebral consonants). Apparently, in most phonetic systems, these are known as retroflex consonants, but in this and other languages in the region they are called cerebral consonants. From my point of view, as an American, cerebral consonants require tongue placement similar to the palatal consonants. In palatal consonants, such as /j/, the flat part fo the tongue presses against the hard palate on the roof of your mouth. In cerebral consonants, from this position in articulating a palatal consonant, the tip of the tongue touches the roof of the mouth behind the point where palatal consonants are articulated. (I may be wrong -- comments are welcome.)

The cerebral and dental d's and t's take some getting used to. I grew up with one d and one t in written English and no distinction between any of the different d's and t's in spoken English. But, in Hindi, there are four each: unaspirated cerebral; aspirated cerebral; unaspirated dental; aspirated dental.


ṭa, /ʈ/


ṭha, /ʈh/

ट is said with no aspiration, ठ is said with aspiration.


ḍa, /ɖ/


ḍha, /ɖh/

ड is said with no aspiration, ढ is said with aspiration.


ṇa, /ɳ/

ण is the first common nasal consonant, i.e., you'll tend to see this one more than the previous two (ङ and ञ).

Stop Nasal Approximant Fricative
Unvoiced Voiced Unvoiced Voiced
Unaspirated Aspirated Unaspirated Aspirated Unaspirated Aspirated
Guttural
ka
/k/

kha
/kh/

ga
/g/

gha
/gh/
ṅa
/ŋ/

ha

/h,ɦ/
Palatal
ca
/c,ʧ/

cha
/chh/

ja
/ɟ,ʤ/

jha
hh/

ña
/ɲ/

ya
/j/

śa
/ɕ,ʃ/
Cerebral
ṭa
/ʈ/

ṭha
h/

ḍa
/ɖ/

ḍha
h/

ṇa
/ɳ/

ra
/r/

ṣa
/ʂ/
Dental
ta
/t̪/

tha
/t̪h/

da
/d̪/

dha
/d̪h/

na
/n/

la
/l/

sa
/s/
Labial
pa
/p/

pha
/ph/

ba
/b/

bha
/bh/

ma
/m/

va
/ʋ/

I am archiving this information about the alphabet on the Hindi page: kirkkittell.com/language/hindi. More information from Wikipedia: