Spoken Chinese

China Changchun International Film Festival 中国长春国际电影节

Approved by the State Council of China, the Changchun Film Festival is an international film festival recognized by the International Federation of Film Producers Associations (国际电影制片人联合会 guójì diànyǐng zhìpiànrén liánhéhuì). Activities during the event include the appraisal of films, the exhibition of Chinese and foreign films, the trade fair of films and scripts, a review exhibition of renowned artists, seminars and celebration parties.

Origin of the Nianyefan 年夜饭的由来

“年夜饭”是辞年俗称,就是在除夕吃丰盛的晚餐,也被称做“团年饭”、“合家欢”、“分岁酒”、“守岁酒”、“辞岁酒”等。自晋朝以来辞岁之风就很盛行,当天夜里骨肉团聚,儿孙绕膝,灯红酒绿,共话团圆,一起守岁。西晋周处的《风土志》说:“除夕夜,围炉而坐,达旦不寐,谓之守岁。”许多诗人都有吟咏守岁的诗句。孟浩然写道:“续明催画烛,守岁接长筵。”杜甫也曾有:“守岁阿戎家,椒盘以颂花。”的佳句,把守岁的乐趣写得活灵活现。 Nianyefan (Dinner on the Spring Festival’s Eve) is also called “Unity Year Dinner,” “Family Unity Dinner,” “Year Division Dinner,” “Keeping Year Feast,” and “Feast to Bid Farewell to the Old Year.” People usually have a big dinner on the eve of the Spring Festival every year to bid farewell to the old year and usher in the new year. This custom became very popular during the Jin Dynasty. At that night, all the family members reunite, children run around the knees of their parents and the whole family talks about reunion against the background of beautiful lanterns while drinking wine. After the dinner, all the family members wait for the new year to come. According to Local Custom, compiled by Zhou Chu in the Western Jin Dynasty, “On the Spring Festival’s eve, all the family members sit around a stove and keep awake all night long. This is called Shousui (keeping the year).” Many poets have verses on shousui. Meng Haoran wrote, “Burning candles until early the next day, we just stay awake and have dinner.” Du Fu also said, “I stayed in Arong’s home on the eve of the Spring Festival. The dishes are just like flowers.” These verses vividly depict the fun of shousui. 江南每年吃年夜饭的时候,家家户户都要把大门关起来,不能大声说话,不能敲击碗筷。吃完年饭后,就要将桌子的碗筷收拾干净,再打开大门,这叫做闭门生财,开门大吉。这规矩习俗据说是为了哄骗铁拐李而传下来的。 In regions south of the Yangtze River, when people begin to have nianyefan, or New Year's dinner, they often close their front doors and speak in low voices. No one is allowed to knock on bowls or chopsticks. After dinner, they clear away all the bowls and chopsticks before opening the door. This custom is said to be used to cheat Tieguai Li, one of China’s most famous Taoist gods. 原来吃年饭的时候,家家户户都是开着大门的。玉皇大帝想了解民间疾苦,于是派铁拐李在此时下凡查看。铁拐李是个跛脚叫花仙。因此便在人间吃年饭的时候,提着篮子跛着脚沿街到各家乞讨。讨完饭,他把讨来的东西提给玉皇大帝看,谁家穷,谁家富,一看就知道了。据此,富的,玉皇大帝便命令有关神仙让他一年遭几次灾,不要太富;穷的,则让他发几次财,不要太穷了。这事儿慢慢传到了人间,有一户人家,比别人都奸,很快想到了应对之策。吃年饭时,把大门关得紧紧的,家人谁也不准大声说话,等铁拐李来讨饭时,他家年饭已经吃过,打开大门时,桌上空空荡荡的,无以施舍给铁拐李,铁拐李一看,这家够穷了,连年饭都吃不起,于是在他家门口放上几个元宝就走了。这下,这户人家便发了,但没有不透风的墙,别家也看出了他家发财的原因,便都跟着学起来。谁知道铁拐李见家家都关着门吃年饭,便知人们已经知道了他的任务,就不再到人间来讨饭察贫富了。可是关着大门吃年饭的习惯,却从此流传下来。 Previously, every family had nianyefan with their doors open. The heavenly Jade Emperor wanted to learn about people’s livelihood. He sent Tieguai Li to descend to the world to have a look. Tieguai Li took the form of a crippled beggar. He held his basket and begged for food door-to-door at the time when people were having nianyefan. After that, he showed the Jade Emperor what he received from each family, so the Jade Emperor could know who was rich and who was poor. For the rich families, the Jade Emperor would ask immortals to punish them so as to make them a little poorer; for the poor families, the Jade Emperor would give them some opportunities to make money so that they could be a little bit richer. Eventually, the common people learned of this. There was a clever man who had a brilliant plan. While having nianyefan, he closed his door tightly and forbade his family members to speak loudly. When Tieguai Li came to his family to beg for food, he had finished eating and opened the door. The table was empty and he had nothing for Tieguai Li. Seeing this, Tieguai Li thought this family must be very poor and they could not afford to have nianyefan. So, he left some treasures on the doorway and left. Then, the family became very rich. But he could not keep the secret and other families also followed the practice, hoping to get rich. When Tieguai Li returned, he saw all the families closed their doors and had learned of his work. He did not come back again. But the custom of closing the front door and clandestinely eating nianyefan was handed down from generation to generation.

Why Chinese Is So Hard

There is truth in this linguistic yarn; Chinese does deserve its reputation for heartbreaking difficulty. Those who undertake to study the language for any other reason than the sheer joy of it will always be frustrated by the abysmal ratio of effort to effect. Those who are actually attracted to the language precisely because of its daunting complexity and difficulty will never be disappointed. Whatever the reason they started, every single person who has undertaken to study Chinese sooner or later asks themselves "Why in the world am I doing this?" Those who can still remember their original goals will wisely abandon the attempt then and there, since nothing could be worth all that tedious struggle. Those who merely say "I've come this far -- I can't stop now" will have some chance of succeeding, since they have the kind of mindless doggedness and lack of sensible overall perspective that it takes.这些可不完全是在说笑话,中文那令人心痛的难度是名副其实的。所有那些试图学习这门语言的人们,除了纯粹以此为乐的,都会对学习中极低的投入产出比感到沮丧。那些实际上正是被这门语言吓人的复杂和难度吸引的家伙,则绝不会失望。不管原因为何,所有中文学习者早晚都会问自己这个问题“我到底为啥在干这个?”还能记着自己初衷的人会明智的选择立刻放弃,因为没有什么值得付出如此多的痛苦挣扎。而对自己回答说“事已至此,无路可退”的人呢,则有机会成功,因为他们拥有学习中文必需的素质——不见黄河不死心的死钻牛角尖精神。 The first question any thoughtful person might ask when reading the title of this essay is, "Hard for whom?" A reasonable question. After all, Chinese people seem to learn it just fine. When little Chinese kids go through the "terrible twos", it's Chinese they use to drive their parents crazy, and in a few years the same kids are actually using those impossibly complicated Chinese characters to scribble love notes and shopping lists. So what do I mean by "hard"? Since I know at the outset that the whole tone of this document is going to involve a lot of whining and complaining, I may as well come right out and say exactly what I mean. I mean hard for me, a native English speaker trying to learn Chinese as an adult, going through the whole process with the textbooks, the tapes, the conversation partners, etc., the whole torturous rigmarole. I mean hard for me -- and, of course, for the many other Westerners who have spent years of their lives bashing their heads against the Great Wall of Chinese.看到这篇文章的标题,任何有头脑的人第一个问题都会是“难,是对谁而言?”问的有理。说到底,中国人看起来学的还挺顺当的。当中国小孩儿经历那“狗都嫌的两岁”时,他们用的是中文来把父母们逼疯。几年之后,同样这些孩子就已经在用复杂得不可思议的汉字来歪歪斜斜地写情书和购物清单了。所以我说的“难”到底是什么意思?既然我早就知道本文的语调将充满牢骚和抱怨,那我最好还是说清楚自己到底是什么意思。我的意思是,对我来说很难,一个以英语为母语,试图学习中文的成年人。他会经历教科书、磁带、语伴等等这一整套折磨人的繁琐过程。我的“难”是说的对我自己,呃——当然还对很多其他西方人,那些花费了经年累月,在中文的长城上撞到头大的人们(译者:原文“Chinese”同时表示“中文”和“中国的”)。 If this were as far as I went, my statement would be a pretty empty one. Of course Chinese is hard for me. After all, any foreign language is hard for a non-native, right? Well, sort of. Not all foreign languages are equally difficult for any learner. It depends on which language you're coming from. A French person can usually learn Italian faster than an American, and an average American could probably master German a lot faster than an average Japanese, and so on. So part of what I'm contending is that Chinese is hard compared to ... well, compared to almost any other language you might care to tackle. What I mean is that Chinese is not only hard for us (English speakers), but it's also hard in absolute terms. Which means that Chinese is also hard for them, for Chinese people.如果我要说的只有这些,那这些话相当空洞。中文对我来说当然难喽。毕竟,任何外语对非母语人士都很难,对不对?这个嘛,差不多是这样。不过不是所有的外语对任何学生的难度都是一样的。它取决于你自己的母语。一个法国人学意大利语往往比美国人快,而一个普通美国人掌握德语则多半比一个普通日本人快得多,如此而已。所以我所谈论的部分观点是指中文很难,相对于……反正相对于你有可能想学的几乎其他任何语言。我的意思是中文不但对我们(英语人士)来说难,它在绝对意义上也是难的。这意味着对于中国人来说,中文也很难。 Everyone's heard the supposed fact that if you take the English idiom "It's Greek to me" and search for equivalent idioms in all the world's languages to arrive at a consensus as to which language is the hardest, the results of such a linguistic survey is that Chinese easily wins as the canonical incomprehensible language. (For example, the French have the expression "C'est du chinois", "It's Chinese", i.e., "It's incomprehensible". Other languages have similar sayings.) So then the question arises: What do the Chinese themselves consider to be an impossibly hard language? You then look for the corresponding phrase in Chinese, and you find Gēn tiānshū yíyàng 跟天书一样 meaning "It's like heavenly script."大家都听过这个公认的说法,那就是如果你考虑英语中的“It's Greek to me”(译者注:原意是“这对我就像希腊文”,引申为“难以理解”。),然后在全世界的语言中寻找一个与之相对应的习语,从而得到一个关于哪个语言最难的共识。那这样一个语言调查的结果将是中文轻松获得最难解语言的称号。(比如,法语就有这种表达“C'est du chinois”,意为“这是中文”,亦即“这是神马我不懂”。其他语言有类似说法。)那么问题来了,中国人自己认为什么才是最不可能学会的困难语言呢?你在中文中寻找类似的习语,然后你找到了——“跟天书一样” Okay, having explained a bit of what I mean by the word, I return to my original question: Why is Chinese so damn hard?OK,解释了一下我的措辞含义之后,让我回到最初的问题:为什么中文这么TM难?

5 Mistakes I made when I started learning Chinese

I’ve been studying Mandarin at University for about two years and 3 months. The mistakes I made, might not be mine particularly, but perhaps the way our course is structured. However, these mistakes can be applied to anyone starting to learn Mandarin. These “mistakes” are not necessarily bad, but it’s part of  my current shortcomings in Mandarin that I still struggle with. Perhaps you can learn from me and try to fill those gaps earlier on.