Learning Large Numbers in Chinese with Real Estate Ads

How are Large Numbers in Chinese Different?

Chinese numbers can be annoying for language students. The numbers for 1-100 seem easy enough. Twenty (二十) is literally “two ten” and thirty (三十) is literally “three ten” and so on. It is the large numbers that give students trouble. In English, one million is 1,000,000 but in Chinese we write it as 100万, which is more like “one hundred ten thousand.”

For students, thinking one million as “one hundred times ten thousand” can seem like… a lot of math. This can be especially distressing for students who chose to study Mandarin Chinese because they want a challenge that is not a STEM class. So do students have to do multiplication problems with large numbers just to use numbers in Chinese? No they don’t. Just like any other aspect of language, students will be able to use the correct words as long as they have heard and read enough input that includes those numbers. Students can learn anything with enough repetition.

Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

Even though students can learn anything (when it comes to language) with enough repetition, we still have what Stephen Krashen calls the affective filter. As mentioned in an earlier post, high levels of anxiety, embarrassment, etc. can raise students affective filters and make it more difficult for students to learn. When students first encounter large numbers the Chinese way, they often resist because they are different to how we write large numbers in English. Giving students lots of input that included large numbers in context is one way to lessen the natural feelings of anxiety about Chinese numbers.

Getting Input with Real Estate Advertisements from Chinese Cities

The key to language acquisition is comprehensible input. Comprehensible input is language that students hear/read and (crucially) understand. For adult students, one way to give students a lot of input that includes large numbers is through…. real estate advertisements! Looking at real estate ads, we see the “easy” numbers. For example, the apartment is on the 16th floor, and it is 80 square meters. Ads also have large numbers for the prices. If you look at real estate ads for Shanghai or Beijing you are guaranteed to see prices that are in the millions and tens of millions (RMB).

Real estate ads are also a way to use authentic resources (authres) in the classroom. They are short so the students do not get overwhelmed. They are also a good spring board for further cultural discussions. Buying a home is very important in both American and Chinese cultures. But there are differences in the age of first time home buyers, living arrangements and what people value in a home.

photo of Chinese real estate ads
This could be a basis of a discussion on buying a home in China vs the US

Conclusion

As with everything else in language learning, students learn through getting input in a meaningful context. When we focus on creating meaning and using repetition, students can acquire anything. Even something as annoying as large numbers in Chinese!

 

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Chinese paper cutting, or how to incorporate culture into language classes

Making Culture Level and Age Appropriate

Most language educators agree that it is important to include at least some component of culture in a language class. Chinese culture is of course, very rich. Chinese civilization has a long history from which to draw. It is also true however, that we have to do what works with our students. Adult students can sit through (and enjoy!) a 45-minute presentation on gift-giving in China, but that would be a disaster for lower elementary students. Culture lessons need to be appropriate for their audience.

Chinese Paper Cutting with a Halloween Theme

When holidays come around, it can be a nice time to work in more culture to the material. However, the calendar does not always cooperate. Chinese Valentine’s Day (七夕) can be a good story for kids, but it occurs in summer when we are out of class. Likewise, there is a big yawning gap for major Chinese holidays between Mid-Autumn Festival (typically in September) and Chinese New Year (late January-February). To channel the holiday enthusiasm and include more Chinese culture in the curriculum, this year I combined Halloween with Chinese paper cutting.

photo of CHinese paper cutting activity
Example of Pumpkin Chinese Paper Cutting

Chinese paper cutting is a traditional handicraft. Generally, paper cuttings are just used for decoration in China. Halloween is not “a thing” in China really, but I do have a book of paper cutting designs that are meant for kids. In it are plenty of paper cuttings that fit a Halloween theme.

As long as the kids understand that Halloween is not really a Chinese holiday, then I think that doing Chinese paper cutting for a special class on or near Halloween works. We can cover at least one aspect of culture (a traditional handicraft) while also recognizing that kids are usually bouncing off the walls around Halloween. We probably won’t be able to cover as much material as we do normally, so it is good to channel that energy to something else.

photo of Chinese paper cut bat
It’s a bat!

Chinese Paper Cutting with Other Holidays and Festivals

This year, with some of my kiddos, we made Chinese paper cuttings of bats, pumpkins and spiders. This same idea, of combining Chinese paper cutting with the non-Chinese holiday of Halloween could work with other holidays. My book of paper cutting ideas for kids has Christmas trees and presents designs (if your school observes Christmas). It also has ears of corn, pumpkins and apples that could tie into Thanksgiving… and many more possibilities.

It is a challenge to incorporate culture into a language class in a way that is age and language level appropriate. Do you have any additional ideas for how to do it? Share in the comments!

photo of Chinese paper cutting book
Paper Cutting Book for Kids

 

Interested in learning more about Mandarin Chinese classes at Lotus Chinese Learning? Get in touch via the contact page!

Story Listening with Mid-Autumn Festival

What is Mid-Autumn Festival?

This year (2018), Mid-Autumn festival falls on September 24. For Mid-Autumn Festival, we gather with our families, looks at the moon, and eat mooncakes. Mooncakes are the fruitcakes of Chine: a holiday-oriented dessert that some people love and some people love to hate. In China, companies give boxes of mooncakes as gifts to their employees. Even when I was a student, one year the university gave all the foreign students boxes of mooncakes (probably because we paid so much more in tuition than our Chinese counterparts:)). Like many traditional festivals in China, Mid-Autumn Festival has an associated legend. The legend of Chang’e, like many other traditional stories, can be a good basis for story listening.

photo of mooncakes from Mid-Autumn Festival
Mooncakes! Pictured are the popular Guangdong-style mooncakes. There are many other varieties available in China.

What is story listening?

In story listening, a teacher tells the class a story (often a legend or folktale), using pictures, gestures, and sometimes translation to help the students understand the story. The goal is for the students to fully understand the story. It is not necessary for them to be able to retell it in the target language, although that may be part of some lesson plans. Critics of story listening say that it is too teacher-centered. While the teacher usually does stand at the front of class and talk to the students, everything she does is oriented to their level. It is actually completely student-oriented.

The Legend of Chang’e and Houyi

A teacher can modify the telling of the legend of Chang’e and Houyi for students of various levels. One challenge for story listening is helping students keep track of the characters. Chang’e and Houyi are the main characters of the legend of Mid-Autumn Festival. I pre-print out illustrations of them to help with the story telling. Houyi is supposed to be a man of exceptional strength, so a photo of a muscly guy helps get the point across. There are several other characters that may be included in the telling of the legend, but to keep things simple for beginner students, I leave them out. There is something remembering names in a second language that is difficult. Having the character illustrations with the name illustrations really helps students keep track of who is who.

photo of white board from story listening lesson on Mid-Autumn Festival
Pictures of the characters help students keep track of who is in the story

Formative Assessment with Story Listening

After I tell the story, I want to make sure that the students understand pretty much everything that I said. There is a very easy way to do this. I just ask the students to repeat the story back to me in English. Lots of people believe that in a good language classrooms, students should use English as little as possible. I believe that classroom time is precious and students should get as much input as possible. Efforts to completely stamp out the use of English are misguided, however. Simply put, it is easier to ban English (or any other L1) than it is to ensure quality teaching. Furthermore, the goal for beginners is not to have them speaking Mandarin Chinese all the time. They can’t do it anyway. Rather, the goal is for them to understand everything that they hear. An easy, fast, an straightforward way to check for this is to have them summarize the story in English. If there are mistakes in the summary, then I know that I have not told the story in the best way for their level.

Teaching Culture with Story Listening

Story listening is great for teaching language, but it is also great for teaching culture. Folktales are great source material for story listening. Chinese culture certainly has many to choose from. Sometimes when traditional holidays roll around, the students are just not ready (either in terms of their language ability or their maturity) to listen to a folktale in Chinese. This is especially true for younger students. If one of the goals of a program is teaching about culture, it can be perfectly time to take a break from the language component and just focus on the culture. There are many books available in English that teach students about Mid-Autumn Festival. Teachers can use them to do a quick segment in English on that aspect of the culture.

More on Story Listening

Making illustrations to go with stories

Story listening and culture

 

The Dialects of China

photo of Shanghai pudong skyline
If you are in Shanghai, you will hear a lot of Shanghaiese, but perhaps not a lot of Mandarin. The locals heavily favor their own dialect.

There is not just one Chinese Language

Summer is almost here and many students of Mandarin Chinese will go to China or Taiwan to do a summer intensive language course. It is quite common for students to step off of the plane and then feel disappointed that they cannot understand any of the local Chinese people. Perhaps these students do not understand Mandarin Chinese as well as they thought they did. Just as likely though, there is another culprit: dialects.

Most students arrive on their first day of Mandarin class knowing that there is a difference between Mandarin and Cantonese. There are actually many, many different dialects spoken in China. We use the English word Mandarin generally as a translation of  the word 普通话 (Putonghua), the official language of the People’s Republic of China. 国语 (Guoyu) and 汉语 (Hanyu) can also be translated as Mandarin. Mandarin or Putonghua is the official language of China and Taiwan*, but in reality every city has its own dialect.

They are Not Just Dialects of Standard Chinese

The word dialect is actually a very misleading term when we talk about the spoken languages of China. It implies that there is mutual intelligibility between the different dialects, and this is very often not the case. A better term is topolect. A long discussion of what a topolect is and why we should use that term instead of the word dialect is here. In short, a topolect is a language of a particular region of China.  Every city or area you go to has its own topolect. Some of the more well-known ones are Sichuanese, Shanghaiese, Hakka, and Cantonese.

Some of these topolects are more closely related to each other than others, but they are not necessarily dialects of Mandarin. They could be just as different from each other as English and Spanish. In theory, all educated people in China speak Mandarin as well as their native topolect. Especially outside the big cities however, this is not always the case. If travelers who are proficient in Mandarin have trouble in China, it is often because they  are speaking to people who do not speak Mandarin fluently.

Keep the Topolects in Mind as You Travel

Even in big cities, proficient Mandarin speakers might have some trouble. Shanghai and Chengdu are two popular cities for foreign travelers. Local Shanghaiese love their local topolect. They speak it at every opportunity, even if it irritates their fellow countrymen and women. Chengdu loves Sichuanese so much that they even discussed making it one of the languages for announcements in their metro system.

The many topolects of China can make life difficult for any traveler in the country, even if they are Chinese themselves. Keep in mind that if your Mandarin skills are not getting you as far as you would like, it might be because those around you are not speaking it!

Have you had any frustrating experiences because of the many topolects (dialects) of China? Share in the comments!

*Taiwanese usually use the term Guoyu

Mandarin Chinese for Business

photo of business card
Bring your business cards to China!

Is Mandarin Ability Necessary to do Business in China?

Last week’s post was about Mandarin Chinese for travel, this week’s topic is Mandarin for business. Just as knowing some of the language can enrich a trip to China or Taiwan, it can also help business interactions. There is nothing wrong with relying on a trusted translator to get around a business transaction in China. Knowing some of the language, however, can help deepen relationships between non-Chinese who wish to do business in China and their local counterparts. A little bit of language ability often goes a long way in China. Just be sure to get too far out of your depth!

Key Words to Know

你好 ni3hao3 (hello) is a phrase that will take you very far in China, especially if you pronounce it correctly. There are actually very few visitors to China that can pronounce 你好 with the correct tones. Locals really do notice when a foreign visitor gets them right. Often students of Chinese learn the phrase 认识呢很高兴 (nice to meet you), but in practice, most native speakers just say 你好 when they meet a new person.

名片 ming2pian4 (business card). In some ways China is much more high-tech than the US. People pay for the lunch, rent a bike, and pay their bills with their phones. They scan QR codes to do almost anything. For business however, the paper business card is still king. It is certainly helpful to know what someone is talking about when they ask for your “名片.”

Numbers. Anyone who travels to China or Taiwan for work will want to take some time off to go shopping. Knowing how to say the numbers in Mandarin Chinese will make this experience infinitely more pleasant and enjoyable. As a bonus, knowing the numbers will come in handy if you decide to take up a more serious study of the language.

If you are interested in learning Mandarin Chinese to prepare for a business trip to China, please use the contact page to get in touch.