Guest student blog: When Chinese culture meets language

Guest student blog: When Chinese culture meets language

This week I'm pleased to introduce Selene, a student of Chinese who kindly wrote a blog post on her experience of learning Chinese and being in China. There are some great tips here and some interesting facts about Chinese characters! 

 

When Chinese culture meets language 

Last month I finally decided that it was time to depart. I found a language course in Shanghai and… I took the flight! I have looked forward to my China adventure for so long! I got prepared by studying Chinese, reading the news and books about the economy and the culture, and trying to watch some Chinese TV Series. 

After all this preparation, I was really excited stepping out off my flight. Now I look around and everything is Chinese! The signs, the conversations, the television, the annoying commercial music from every supermarket… I love it!

Obviously, when you are so immersed in a Chinese environment, you have endless opportunities to improve your language skills, from eavesdropping in the subway to changing dollars in the bank (it takes at least 45 minutes! I warned you).

Anyway, you can stay in China for ages, but the external environment will never be enough to learn the language without studying. Attend a Chinese class, watch some videos (like on www.chinesewithmike.com - he is wonderful), or buy a book, but study at least one hour a day. 

I was very lucky, as I found a great Chinese language school in Shanghai, Hutong School, and so I was able to attend 4 hours of lessons every day with a fantastic teacher who unveiled lots and lots of funny things about this great language.

The part that I prefer is when Chinese culture meets words. For example, the ideogram for “house”, jia 家, is composed by a roof and a pig underneath; this is due to the fact that in ancient China it was usual to keep animals inside or near the house, as dogs and other domesticated animals. Or for example, the character composed by a roof and a woman underneath means “quietness”, ān 安. And, yes, there are also some that are not so fancy, as two women one near the other that means “quarrel”, nuán 奻.

Sometimes the habits of Chinese people really need to be explained to foreigners. Have you ever seen the character Fu, 福, for fortune and lucky, placed upside down? This can be explained as when someone points out that the character is upside down “福倒了”, it sounds exactly like “福到了” that means “the fortune has arrived!”

Yes, it’s true. And in your daily life here, you will find lots of clues about the level of superstition in Chinese culture. It goes beyond any expectations.

The number 8 is considered to bring luck, because the word for 8八, bā, sounds similar to the word for wealth, 发, fā. For this reason, Chinese people care about the figures in their phone number and in their car plates, and sometimes there are crazy auctions for selling these “lucky numbers”. In 2003 Sichuan Airlines even invested CN¥2.33 million in the phone number 8888 8888.

On the other hand, you will find that some buildings don’t have a fourth floor, suddenly you go from the 3rd floor to the 5th. This has to do with the fact that ‘four’, 四, sì, sounds like 死, sǐ, death. 

Sounds crazy? You will find this and much more in China, and to tell the truth… it is really interesting, and fun. Don’t miss it! 

If you’re looking for somewhere to study Chinese in China, I can recommend the Hutong School (www.hutong-school.com). Like me, you might never want to go home.

Selene Lombardi

Chinese language lover and poor skilled speaker

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