China is a rapidly expanding country, and so Chinese has become an important language over the past few years. It is now needed not only in the business sector, by companies trying to establish partnerships in China, but also in the legal and social sectors. For example, there are many Chinese immigrants here in the UK. Some have come here to work and some to study. However, like anyone in a new country, they sometimes need help in hospitals or with paperwork.
Chinese is very different from the European languages we usually think of, such as French, German and Spanish. One of the main differences is that in European languages every sign corresponds to one or more sounds. So, if we see ‘T’, our brain processes the sound attached to that sign. However, in Chinese, every sign represents a word, so there are far more signs to be learnt than those of the alphabet.
Even looking up words in the dictionary is quite a remarkable experience. A friend of mine who studies Chinese once showed me. In a few words, when you see a sign, you have to understand what the radical of the word is, which is a kind of root sign. Once you have identified that, you then have to count the remaining strokes, because the same radical and a different number of strokes actually represents 2 different words. Isn’t it amazing?
Pronunciation is very interesting too. The Chinese language has so called ‘tones’. This means that changes in the intonation of vowels mean different things. Unfortunately, I still seem to have quite an unrefined ear for that, and every time a native speaker of Chinese tries to mark the difference between them, [...]