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US postsecondary enrollments in Mandarin fall

Pīnyīn News - Fri, 03/09/2018 - 15:20

The last time I presented the figures for people studying Mandarin in U.S. colleges and universities, the strong but over-hyped growth of the first decade of the century had stalled.

In the newest figures, recently released by the Modern Language Association of America, the number of people in Chinese classes has fallen. Although the total enrollments in languages other than English fell 9.2% between fall 2013 and fall 2016 (the second-largest decline in the history of the MLA’s census), the decline in enrollments in Mandarin classes was significantly greater than that.

The MLA says the decline between 2013 and 2016 was 13.1 percent. The true amount is greater.

MLA’s table

As I mentioned above, the drop is even greater than given in the table, because, unless one looks carefully and beyond the MLA’s summaries, the MLA gives misleading figures for enrollments in ‘Chinese’ classes. (See the previous link to understand why my figures are different than those in the MLA table above. I’ve also excluded classes in literary Sinitic from this year’s compilation, so the figures are slightly different for some years than in my previous posts.)

So here are better figures, which combine those for classes labeled “Chinese” with those for classes labeled “Mandarin.” Not included in my figures are numbers for “Chinese, Classical” or “Chinese, Pre-modern” — or for Cantonese, Taiwanese, or additional Sinitic languages other than Mandarin.

The real decline from 2013 to 2016 is 14.3 percent, not 13.1 percent.

The highest growth between 2013 and 2016 was in Korean, which is now in eleventh place, having surpassed Ancient Greek, Biblical Hebrew, and Portuguese. Note, too, that enrollments in Japanese increased in the most recent survey.


MLA undercounts enrollments in ‘Chinese’ classes

Pīnyīn News - Fri, 03/09/2018 - 12:54

The Modern Language Association recently released its figures for enrollments in languages other than English in U.S. institutions of higher education.

The information that usually receives the most attention is summarized in the report’s Table 1:

Note that the figures for “Chinese” list 61,084 enrollments in the fall of 2013 and 53,069 in the fall of 2016, a decline of 13.1 percent. Those amounts, however, undercount enrollments in a usually small but important way.

As can be seen in the notes to the table above, “Arabic,” “Greek, Ancient,” and “Hebrew, Biblical” represent aggregate numbers — a sensible approach. In the case of “Chinese,” however, only what individual schools label as “Chinese” is summed under that category. The problem is that figures for what is labeled “Mandarin” are excluded. This makes no sense. The language usually labeled “Chinese” is Mandarin. Failure to include Mandarin under “Chinese” is simply wrong.

In Britain, “Chinese” sometimes is used to indicate Cantonese rather than Mandarin. But the figures from the MLA are for the United States.

Seven of the MLA’s reports on language enrollments give figures for Mandarin as separate from “Chinese”:

Separate figures for ‘Mandarin’ and ‘Chinese’ in MLA reports YEAR MANDARIN CHINESE PERCENT MISSING FROM ‘CHINESE’ TOTAL 2016 1,179 53,069 2.17 2016 (summer) 112 5,033 2.18 2013 913 61,084 1.47 2009 1,736 59,876 2.82 1974 40 10,576 0.38 1970 88 6,115 1.42 1960 1,126 679 62.38

As can be seen from the figures above, in most years when figures for both “Mandarin” and “Chinese” are given, the MLA’s figure for “Chinese” is missing least 2 percent of the total. That might not seem like much, but it’s enough to matter, especially to those who wish to compare enrollments across languages accurately. The problem will only grow larger if the word “Mandarin” comes to be used increasingly.

Thus, total enrollments for “Chinese” classes in 2016 were not 53,069 but no less than 54,248; and enrollments in 2013 were not 61,084 but no less than 61,997. That indicates a decline of 14.3 percent, not the 13.1 percent the MLA gives in its table.

The problem is ultimately rooted not in the MLA but in the sloppy use of terms related to Sinitic languages. In part because of this, I believe that schools — indeed everyone — would be better off calling Mandarin “Mandarin” and not “Chinese.” But until that admittedly unlikely adjustment comes to pass, the MLA should be careful to aggregate “Mandarin” and “Chinese” in its tables and figures comparing enrollments across the most popular languages.

Top 10 Most Feared Questions for Chinese New Year

Laowai Chinese - Sat, 02/10/2018 - 08:44

Testing… 1, 2, 3… does this still work? Great! I still have a blog. Let me see if I can remember how to work this thing…

Walking through the Guangzhou subway the other day I saw this advertisement for real estate. it’s one of those priceless looks into Chinese culture that is so valuable because it’s Chinese people critiquing themselves.

Here’s a direct translation (with pinyin) and my commentary.

Billboard Title

xīn chūn shí lián wèn 新春十连问 = New Year’s 10 Connected Questions

My Commentary
  • Interesting they used the words “xīn chūn” for “New Year’s.” The other ways to say it are “xīn nián” 新年 and “chūn jié” 春节. I’m not entirely sure what the difference is besides combing both of them.
  • The “connected” bit means sort of “non-stop.” This is the cultural commentary. Young people heading home for the holidays are dreading the barrage and wèn huà 问话 from their family members about their economic, marital, and child-bearing progress. So this real estate company is trying to establish credibility with struggling, young workers by showing they sympathize with how NOT-fun it is to face these questions. “So why not let our real estate company help you answer at least one of them?” (the 2nd one in my list).
The (Dreaded) Questions
  1. nǐ jīn nián shōu rù duōshao a? 你今年收入多少啊?= What’s your yearly income this year?
  2. shénme shíhòu mǎi fáng a? 什么时候买房啊?= When will you by a house?
  3. mǎi chē le ma? 买车了吗?= Have you bought a car?
  4. shénme shíhòu jiéhūn a? 什么时候结婚啊? = When will you getting married?
  5. shénme shíhòu yào háizi a? 什么时候要孩子啊?= When do you want to have kids?
  6. shénme shíhòu shēng èr tāi a? 什么时候生二胎啊 = When will you have your 2nd child?
  7. shénme shíhòu jiǎn féi a? 什么时候减肥啊? = When will you lose weight?
  8. xīn nián méi qù guó wài wán ma? 新年没去国外玩吗?= You didn’t go travelling abroad for New Year’s?
My Commentary

I’m going to talk mostly about culture here.

Questions 1-3

  • You can see these are mostly about money. I’ve been asked all three of these by taxi drivers, so I can imagine that family members would be even more interested. It’s very common in China to talk openly about personal finances. But, as this billboard implies: just because it’s common doesn’t mean Chinese people enjoy it.
  • It’s commonly thought that men have to have their own house and car before getting married, so I put these questions at the top of the list.
  • The BIGGEST question on the billboard is question number one. Does that mean it’s the most feared of them all, or that it’s the most important for the remaining questions?

Questions 4-6

  • This is the order the questions will get asked. This billboard is implying that no matter what your current situation is (single, married, have one kid already) there is still one more dreaded question waiting for you.
  • Question 6: starting in 2016, the famous “One Child Policy” was officially updated to be the “Two Child Policy.” Hence, the chance to get asked about a second child. By just observing the Chinese mom’s around me, it seems like a whole bunch of families are making use of the new law!

Question 7

  • This is a hilarious and awkwardly realistic question to be asked by family members and friends. But again, just because talking openly about weight problems is common in China doesn’t mean they all enjoy it. Otherwise, why would it be on the “10 Dreaded Questions” list?

Question 8

  • There is an interesting tension in China: come home for the holidays vs. go travel for the holidays. With the growing popularity and status associated with “international” experience, I can imagine young people going home for the holidays and getting mixed messages about “nice to have you home but why aren’t you out traveling?”


  • I could only find 8 questions. Can anyone look at the picture and find the other 2…?

Gǒu Nián Kuài Lè! 狗年快乐! Happy Year of the Dog! 

Google commemorates Zhou Youguang

Pīnyīn News - Sun, 01/14/2018 - 08:13

Yesterday (January 13, 2018), Google marked the 112th birthday of Zhou Youguang, the father of Hanyu Pinyin, with one of its doodles. (Click the image to see the animated version.)

Google’s description didn’t note Zhou’s remarkable longevity. He lived to see his 111th birthday!

One bit of the description is misleading: “[Hanyu Pinyin] bridged multiple Chinese dialects with its shared designations of sound.” First, what are commonly referred to as “dialects” are actually separate languages (e.g., Cantonese, Hakka, Hoklo). Second, Hanyu Pinyin is designed for modern standard Mandarin, not for other languages, though it could be used as the basis for writing systems for Sinitic languages other than Mandarin; this did not happen on a wide scale, however, because the government of the People’s Republic of China has worked to suppress Sinitic languages other than Mandarin — to say nothing of the languages of Tibetans and other minorities.

A few points are noteworthy about the sketches, specifically the inclusion of Gǔgē, the Mandarin name for Google, written in zhuyin fuhao (a.k.a. bopomofo) (ㄍㄨˇㄍㄜ) and Gwoyeu Romatzyh (guuge) — the doubled vowel indicates third tone.

It’s also interesting that the doodle was shown on Google in Japan, China, and Singapore, but not in Taiwan, where Hanyu Pinyin is official but generally used on street signs rather than in personal names.

Thanks to Alex for the tip.

Pinyin-friendly display faces at Google Fonts

Pīnyīn News - Sat, 01/13/2018 - 08:19

As of January 9, 2018, Google Fonts had 848 font families, 183 of which are display faces. Of those, the following 20 can handle Hanyu Pinyin with tone marks.

Pinyin-friendly handwriting faces at Google Fonts

Pīnyīn News - Fri, 01/12/2018 - 11:51

As of January 9, 2018, Google Fonts had 848 font families, 80 of which are handwriting faces. Of those, just 3 can handle Hanyu Pinyin with tone marks.

  • Dekko (Caveat: Although Dekko handles some seldom-seen diacritics, it doesn’t deal well with curved apostrophes or quotation marks, so use it with caution.)
  • Itim
  • Sriracha

Pinyin-friendly monospace faces at Google Fonts

Pīnyīn News - Thu, 01/11/2018 - 11:17

As of January 9, 2018, Google Fonts had 848 font families, 7 of which are monospace faces. Of those, 4 can handle Hanyu Pinyin with tone marks.

Pinyin-friendly sans serif faces at Google Fonts

Pīnyīn News - Wed, 01/10/2018 - 12:03

As of January 9, 2018, Google Fonts had 848 font families, 134 of which are sans serif faces. Of those, 22 can handle Hanyu Pinyin with tone marks.

Pinyin-friendly serif faces at Google Fonts

Pīnyīn News - Tue, 01/09/2018 - 12:14

As of January 9, 2018, Google Fonts had 848 font families, 114 of which are serif faces. Of those, the following 22 can handle Hanyu Pinyin with tone marks.

More Americans studying in Japan

Pīnyīn News - Sat, 01/06/2018 - 09:13

The number of U.S. students studying abroad in Japan is continuing to increase, having recovered from a sharp decline in the 2010–20111 school year.

This is in contrast to the situation in China, which has been seeing fewer and fewer U.S. students.

I’m not sure what accounts for the sharp drop in 2010–2011. It occurred before the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

source: IEE Open Doors Study Abroad Destinations

China attracting fewer and fewer U.S. study-abroad students

Pīnyīn News - Wed, 01/03/2018 - 11:16

China is continuing to decline as a destination for U.S. study-abroad students, slipping from fifth place to sixth (behind Britain, Spain, Italy, France, and Germany; with Ireland, Australia, Costa Rica, and Japan completing the top ten).

This likely indicates that the craze for learning Mandarin has already peaked. Greater awareness of the unhealthy levels of pollution in China may also be a factor.

Note: The dip in the 2002–2003 school year was a result of worries about the outbreak of SARS.

Meanwhile, almost all other parts of East Asia saw increases in 2015–2016 over 2014–2015:

Destination Students in 2014-15 Students in 2015-16 % Change China 12,790 11,688 -8.6 Hong Kong 1,508 1,612 6.9 Japan 6,053 7,145 18.0 Macau 3 4 33.3 Mongolia 71 71 0.0 South Korea 3,520 3,622 2.9 Taiwan 880 980 11.4


Additional reading:

How to add tone marks to Pinyin automatically, sort of

Pīnyīn News - Fri, 06/30/2017 - 16:12

There are plenty of ways to type Hanyu Pinyin with tone marks. These usually involve typing the tone number after the vowel in question or entering a series of special keystrokes to produce the tone mark.

But some consider that too much mafan, or perhaps are unsure of which tones are correct. (Heads up, students learning Mandarin! This post will be useful.) So occasionally I’m asked this question:

Is there a way to type in Hanyu Pinyin and have the correct tone marks appear automatically — even without typing tone numbers or pressing additional keys? Oh, and for free too, please.

The answer is a qualified yes.

Google Translate’s Pinyin function has come a long way since its inauspicious beginning about eight years ago. For quite some time it has even offered a way to add tone marks automatically, though few people know of this function, which could still use a great deal of improvement.

To get Google Translate to produce Pinyin with tone marks as you enter text in toneless Pinyin, first you need to set the system to translate from “Chinese” to “Chinese (Traditional)” or from “Chinese” to “Chinese (Simplified)”.

Enter your text in the box and Pinyin with tone marks will appear below the box on the right.

(Click any image to enlarge it.)

Alas, there are some problems with the system.

A lot of perfectly normal things that are essential to proper writing in Hanyu Pinyin will cause Google Translate to break. So when adding your text, do not use any of the following:

  • capital letters
  • the letter ü (use “v” instead)
  • more than 160 characters (including spaces and punctuation) at a time
Up to 160 characters is fine

But more than 160 characters will break the function that adds tone marks to Pinyin

The following are optional in terms of getting Google Translate to give you good results, though they are not optional in properly written Pinyin:

  • apostrophes
  • spaces
  • punctuation

A second significant problem is that the system doesn’t deal well with proper nouns, failing both word parsing and capitalization, though at least it seems to recognize that proper nouns are units, even if Google Translate doesn’t write them correctly.

So although Google Translate won’t handle everything for you, it can nevertheless be a useful tool for including tone marks in Hanyu Pinyin.

Attitudes in Hong Kong toward Mandarin and Cantonese

Pīnyīn News - Thu, 06/29/2017 - 10:13

About a year and a half ago, when I last posted on a recurring poll of what people in Hong Kong think of Mandarin and Cantonese (as well as other “icons” relevant to Hong Kong) I predicted that “the next survey will show aversion to Mandarin surpassing affection for and pride in that language.”

As of the 2016 survey, aversion to Mandarin was at 17.7 percent of the population, whereas affection for and pride in Putonghua, as the survey labels it, were at 20.1 percent and 17.8 percent, respectively. So I was wrong.

Nevertheless, Mandarin certainly isn’t winning any popularity contests in Hong Kong these days. Although the levels of those averse to Mandarin and those proud of it are now just about equal, among Hong Kongers pride in Mandarin is lower than pride in any other surveyed item. Affection toward Mandarin was similarly lower, avoiding the bottom spot only because the Chinese army came in less than one point lower.

Attitudes in Hong Kong toward Mandarin and Cantonese, 2012-2016

Detail of the above chart, 2012-2016

Generally speaking, positive feelings for Cantonese are higher — usually much higher — than positive feelings for other Hong Kong icons, while negative feelings about Cantonese are much lower than for most other icons. On the other hand, feelings for Mandarin are more highly negative and less strongly positive than for most other icons.

sources and further reading:


Pīnyīn News - Tue, 04/25/2017 - 11:57

Today I’d like to talk about a sign at a stand that sells guabao, a quintessential Taiwanese snack.

I took my own photo, but it didn’t make the guabao look particularly appetizing, so I’m using a public-domain image instead so you can see what one looks like if you don’t already know. But when I buy one I have them leave off the cilantro/xiāngcài. I hate that stuff.

Here’s the sign.



(NT$50 is about US$1.50.)

The sign uses some Taiwanese, specifically “a刈包.” If the whole thing were in romanized Taiwanese, it would be

Su-pâng ê

To̍k-ka kháu-bī
50 îⁿ

But parts of that are unidiomatic, as Taiwanese expert Michael Cannings informs me. (Alas, my Taiwanese sucks.) So this is a sign in both Taiwanese and Mandarin, which isn’t particularly surprising given that guabao is a Taiwanese food but most people in northern Taiwan use Mandarin most of the time. (I’m using the spelling “guabao” rather than “koah-pau” in most of this post because this is a Pinyin site.)

Something about this sign did surprise me a lot. Can you guess?

  • It’s not the use of a Roman letter — I should probably say “English letter” in this case, since here the letter is meant to be pronounced much like the “A” in “ABC” — though regular readers know that’s certainly more than enough to get me interested.
  • It’s not that the sign has “刈包” rather than “割包” for guabao. In searches restricted to .tw domains, Google returns 181,000 results for “刈包” and just 41,900 results for “割包”, even though Taiwan’s Ministry of Education prefers the latter form. Even on government Web pages “刈包” beats “割包” by a ratio of more than two to one.
  • It’s not the style in which “刈包” is written by hand, though I kinda like that.
  • And it’s not even that “a” was used instead of a different Roman letter: “ê”.

What seems to me most distinctive about this sign is that the Roman letter appears in lowercase rather than as “A”.

A single letter being used to represent a Sinitic morpheme in a text otherwise in Chinese characters is almost always written in upper case, e.g., A菜, 宮保G丁, K書. (Oh, that reminds me: I really need to answer that e-mail message about K. Sorry, Steven.)

In other words, if a sign is going to have the Roman letter “a” stand in for the Taiwanese possessive particle (the equivalent of Mandarin’s de/的), I would expect in this particular case for the sign to have “私房A” rather than “私房a”. I’m pleased by the use of lowercase; capital letters should be mainly for proper nouns and the beginnings of sentences.

It’s probably a one-off. But just in case I’ll be on the lookout to see if there’s a trend toward greater use of lowercase.

The text also presents a challenge: How should this be written in Pinyin? The last part (獨家口味 / 50元) is easy, because it’s just straight modern standard Mandarin:

dújiā kǒuwèi
50 yuán

But what to do with this?


Probably this:

Sīfáng ê

Most Common Taiwanese Given Names

Pīnyīn News - Sun, 04/23/2017 - 06:39

Below are the most common given names for Taiwanese, as of June 2016. For the numbers of people with any of these given names, see the graph below. Note that there are more Taiwanese with even the tenth-most-popular name for girls than the most popular name for boys.

If you would like a chart of such names for Taiwanese in their twenties and thirties (specifically, those born 1976–1994), see Common Taiwanese given names. For the most common family names in Taiwan, see Taiwan personal names: a frequency list.

For the most likely spelling, bastardized Wade-Giles is given.

Most popular given names for Taiwanese males No. Hanzi Pinyin Spelling Likely Used by Someone with This Name 1 家豪 Jiāháo Chia-hao 2 志明 Zhìmíng Chih-ming 3 俊傑 Jùnjié Chun-chieh 4 建宏 Jiànhóng Chien-hung 5 俊宏 Jùnhóng Chun-hung 6 志豪 Zhìháo Chih-hao 7 志偉 Zhìwěi Chih-wei 8 文雄 Wénxióng Wen-hsiung 9 金龍 Jīnlóng Chin-lung 10 志強 Zhìqiáng Chih-chiang Most popular given names for Taiwanese females No. Hanzi Pinyin Spelling Likely Used by Someone with This Name 1 淑芬 Shūfēn Shu-fen 2 淑惠 Shūhuì Shu-hui 3 美玲 Měilíng Mei-ling 4 雅婷 Yǎtíng Ya-ting 5 美惠 Měihuì Mei-hua 6 麗華 Lìhuá Li-hua 7 淑娟 Shūjuān Shu-chuan 8 淑貞 Shūzhēn Shu-chen 9 怡君 Yíjūn Yi-chun 10 淑華 Shūhuá Shu-hua

Note: Although I refer to these as “Taiwanese” names, I give the Mandarin forms (since Hanyu Pinyin is a system for writing Mandarin), not names in Hoklo/Hokkien (the language often referred to as Taiwanese).

Source: ROC Ministry of the Interior.

Gwoyeu Romatzyh in the wild

Pīnyīn News - Mon, 04/10/2017 - 14:29

Although Gwoyeu Romatzyh was technically the ROC’s official romanization system for most of the twentieth century (through 1986), it’s very seldom seen in Taiwan. The most common place for it to appear is on the side of coach buses. But here’s an example of Guoyeu Romatzyh on a shipping box for thousand-year-old eggs:


Guoyeu Romatzyh is often most easily identified by the doubled vowel in most (but not all) third-tone syllables. But this example doesn’t have any of those. The y indicates second tone (except when it doesn’t). And the doubled final n is a marker of fourth tone. (Have I ever mentioned that Gwoyeu Romatzyh often reminds me of “The Name Game“?)

In Hanyu Pinyin, songhua pyidann is sōnghuā pídàn.

Another technical point, this photo wasn’t taken in Taiwan proper but rather on Kinmen (金門), which provides an example of a romanization system older than Gwoyeu Romatzyh, older than Wade-Giles even. It’s postal romanization, which I regard as too mixed up to properly be called a system. In Hanyu Pinyin, Kinmen is Jinmen. The island is also known as Quemoy.

Learn Chinese Insights Podcast Episode 039: Caleb Shetland

Chinese Learn Online - Mon, 09/19/2016 - 12:37

In this episode, I interview Caleb Shetland, an American now working in Taipei as a firmware engineer.

Listen to find out:

- His experience learning Chinese at a US college
– What approach he wishes he had used instead, to learn characters
– When he realized that learning Mandarin would be useful for his engineering career
– How he thinks Mandarin compares in difficulty versus other languages
– His experience traveling overseas for the first time to Beijing
– His experience as a foreign student at a Chinese campus
– His struggle trying to find a job as an expat engineer in Taiwan
– His initial experience working in an office environment in Taiwan
– What it was like being the only foreigner in a large multi-national company
– The benefit of being a foreign engineer in Taiwan
– The demand for expats in the local tech industry
– The importance of co-ops and internships

Learn Chinese Insights Podcast Episode 038: Alex Trup

Chinese Learn Online - Thu, 09/01/2016 - 09:29

In this episode I interview Alex Trup, a Brit now working in Digital Marketing in Taipei, Taiwan.

Listen to find out:

- About his experience learning Chinese in the UK
– How he went from China to Taiwan
– His experience as a foreigner in a Taiwanese working environment
– Why he likes Taipei compared to other cities he’s lived in
– His experience as a new father in a mixed cultural relationship
– His approach to raising his child in a bilingual environment
– What he would have done differently if he was to learn Chinese from the start
– His advice for a westerner looking for a job in Taiwan or China
– How he got the job at his current company as one of its first expat hires

Learn Chinese Insights Podcast Episode 037: XiaoFei

Chinese Learn Online - Mon, 08/22/2016 - 12:14

In this episode I interview Xiao Fei, an American blogger now living in Taiwan.

Listen to find out:

- His experience trying to get a degree at a local Taiwanese university
– Why he switched out of the Chinese program to an English one
– His experience living in China
– Why he finds his current university program more manageable
– How and why he started a blog about waterfalls in Taiwan (Facebook)
– His long term plans in Taiwan
– What he would do differently if he was to learn Chinese again
– Why he thinks writing is a valuable skill to learn
– Why he’s proud of his sloppy writing
– His opinion on telling jokes in Chinese

Learn Chinese Insights Podcast Episode 036: Keoni Everington

Chinese Learn Online - Wed, 08/10/2016 - 05:06

In this episode I interview Keoni Everington, an American now working in the media business in Taiwan.

Listen to find out:

- What got him interested in learning Chinese 20 years ago
– What it was like learning Chinese in Ohio
– How he benefited from guanxi early on
– What it was like moving from Ohio to Beijing in 1994
– How he overcame the difficult living conditions back then
– All the different jobs he had along the way, and how he progressed through them
– His secret to getting jobs that he may not be directly qualified for
– The advantages and disadvantages between working for Chinese companies versus western ones
– What he wishes he had done differently career wise
– What he recommends more foreigners do to expand their career paths
– An alternate approach you could use to work at a specific company

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