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Learn Chinese Insights Podcast Episode 006: Todd Blackhurst

Chinese Learn Online - Mon, 10/26/2015 - 05:36

In this episode, I interview Todd Blackhurst. Todd moved to Taiwan from Texas with his wife and 3 teenagers in 2013. Listen to find out:

  • What promoted Todd to move his whole family to Taiwan
  • How he prepared for the big move
  • The adjustments for the kids, now living in Taiwan
  • The comparisons between the local education (American school) and American education
  • What he would have done differently if he had come with younger kids
  • How living in Taiwan is different from coming as a visitor
  • The challenges an American family has living in Taiwan
  • The differences in how direct you communicate with other people in Taiwan versus America
  • What worked for Todd when it came to learning Chinese
  • Their long term plans and language investment in Taiwan
  • Why he recommends others travel as a family
  • An aspect he loves about living in Taiwan
  • The closeness of family in Taiwan

AP language exams and Chinese in U.S. high schools

Pīnyīn News - Sat, 10/24/2015 - 04:26

Today I’m continuing my look at the U.S. high school Advanced Placement foreign language exams, focusing especially on the AP exam in Chinese Language and Culture. (See also AP exams: using highest and lowest scores to look at the case of Chinese.)In the graphs below, “Chinese” is the first column on the left.

The first and obvious point from graphing the numbers of high school students from the class of 2015 who took an AP foreign language exam is the dominance of Spanish. Combined, the exams for Spanish Language and Spanish Literature outnumber all of the other language exams put together … times three.

Now let’s look at the figures above broken down into the grade during which people took the exam. As you can see, there’s something different about when people take the Chinese exam. For all other foreign languages, most people take the exam their senior year. But the Chinese Language and Culture exam is most often taken by juniors.

That’s a little lopsided. So let’s take Spanish and Spanish Lit. out of the mix so we can compare the other languages more easily.

In just a few years Chinese has grown to be the third-most popular AP foreign language exam, behind Spanish and French. OK: way, way behind Spanish and about half of the number that French has. And Chinese comes in fourth if you count Spanish Literature. Still, Chinese now has more test takers than German. And it has more than Latin, Italian, and Japanese put together. But — you knew there’d be a but — the numbers for the AP Chinese Language and Culture exam are relatively large because most of the people who take it already know the language and didn’t learn it in an AP class. That is reflected in the charts above showing when people took the exam. (Note that Spanish also has a relatively high number of juniors taking the exam.)

The closest measure we have for native speakers and others with a much higher level of exposure to the language in question than other students is what students indicate themselves to the College Board on their answer sheets. Here’s how the College Board defines a “standard” student: They “generally receive most of their foreign language training in U.S. schools. They did not indicate on their answer sheet that they regularly speak or hear the foreign language of the exam, or that they have lived for one month or more in a country where the language is spoken.”

Here are the numbers for “standard” students in 2015 across various languages.

In this, Chinese drops from third place to fifth, behind Spanish, French, Latin (which is without a question on the standard group), and German, but still ahead of Italian and Japanese. When all test-takers are considered, AP exams in French outnumber those in Chinese by a little less than 2:1, which sounds very impressive (and, to some degree, it is). But when only the standard groups are considered, AP exams in French outnumber those in Chinese by more than 7:1.

Later in this series, we’ll look further at both the standard group and those not in it.

Pinyin fonts: Fortunata and Fortunatus

Pīnyīn News - Fri, 10/23/2015 - 11:48

Today’s Pinyin-friendly fonts are Fortunata, which doesn’t quite close the counters of some letters (e.g., a, o, e, p, d), and the somewhat more recent Fortunatus, which does.

Balint Erdosi (I’m sorry to omit the diacritics for now) of Hungary created both of these, which are available as donationware.

Emoji, language, and translation

Pīnyīn News - Thu, 10/22/2015 - 11:57

A couple of days ago the New York Times ran a small piece, “How Emojis Find Their Way to Phones.” It contains the sort of nonsense about Chinese characters and language that often sets me off.

Fortunately, Victor Mair quickly posted something on this. J. Marshall Unger (Ideogram: Chinese Characters and the Myth of Disembodied Meaning, The Fifth Generation Fallacy, and Literacy and Script Reform in Occupation Japan) and S. Robert Ramsey (The Languages of China) quickly followed. But since those are in the comments to a Language Log post and thus may not be seen as much as they should be, I thought I’d link to them here.

The Language Log post itself is on Emoji Dick, which is billed as a translation of Moby Dick into emoji. As long as I’m writing, I might as well offer up a sample for you. See if you can determine the original English.

Did you try “Call me Ishmael”? Sorry. That’s not it. But if you guessed that I would choose the passage from Moby Dick that mentions Taiwan, give yourself bonus points.

Here’s what the above emoji supposedly translate:

Hereby the casks are sought to be kept damply tight; while by the changed character of the withdrawn water, the mariners readily detect any serious leakage in the precious cargo.

Now, from the South and West the Pequod was drawing nigh to Formosa and the Bashee Isles, between which lies one of the tropical outlets from the China waters into the Pacific.

Ah, of course. It’s all so clear now.

The next time you hear someone use “pictorial language,” “ideographs,” or the like in all seriousness, perhaps ask them for their own English translation of the above string of images.

Actually, Emoji Dick screwed this up some, as part belongs to the main text and part to a footnote.

Sinica - Tu Youyou and the Nobel Prize

Popup Chinese Lessons - Wed, 10/21/2015 - 11:14

This week on Sinica, we are delighted to present a show on Tu Youyou, the Chinese scientist who recently shared a Nobel Prize in Medicine for her discovery of the anti-malaria compound artemisinin, thus making her the first citizen of the People's Republic of China to receive the Nobel Prize in the natural sciences. [standalone mp3 file]

Pinyin font: Arca

Pīnyīn News - Tue, 10/20/2015 - 12:05

Today’s Pinyin-friendly font is another display face: Arca Dashed, by Ricardo Marcin and Erica Jung. It has a papercut style.

The other members of the Arca family, which users may find a bit more serviceable, are commercial.

AP exams: using highest and lowest scores to look at the case of Chinese

Pīnyīn News - Mon, 10/19/2015 - 15:00

The results of the Advanced Placement exams from the College Board can give us an idea of what’s going on with the teaching of Mandarin Chinese in U.S. high schools.

As the charts below demonstrate, there’s something very different about the scores for the AP exam in Chinese Language and Culture compared with the scores for just about everything else.

The tests are graded on a five-point scale, with a 5 being the top score. Generally, a 3 is considered a pass, though some universities choose to give or deny credit based on different scores.

The first chart shows the percentage of of test takers who received a score of just 1 (lowest) on their respective AP exams. The median of the figures below for the percentage of test takers who received the lowest score is 18.2. The figure for Chinese (in green, at 3.2) is just 0.18 times that. Studio Art Drawing and Studio Art 2-D Design are at about the same level here as Chinese Language and Culture. But everything else is at least twice that — in most cases many times that.

AP Exams Taken by the Class of 2013 During High School: Percent of Exams with the Lowest Score

(click any chart to enlarge it)

So, relatively speaking, almost no one received the lowest score on the AP Chinese Language and Culture exam.

What about the highest score? The median of the figures below for the percentage of test takers who received the highest score (of 5) on their respective AP exams is 13.9. The figure for Chinese is 5.0 times that.

AP Exams Taken by the Class of 2013 During High School: Percent of Exams with the Highest Score

Finally, below is a chart putting the differences into greater perspective. It shows the ratio of highest scores to lowest scores on various AP exams.

The median of the figures below for the ratio of highest scores to lowest scores on the AP exams is 0.8. The figure for Chinese is 27.1 times that.

As is obvious from the image below, nothing else is even close.

AP Exams Taken by the Class of 2013 During High School: Ratio of Highest Scores to Lowest Scores

The reason for this massive difference is that the Advanced Placement exam for Chinese Language and Culture is taken mainly by native speakers and others who generally have not had to learn most of their Mandarin in their high school AP classes. This doesn’t bode well for newcomers to the language who want to learn. But as lopsided as the situation is, things are improving. More on that in later posts.

source: The 10th Annual AP Report to the Nation, February 11, 2014

See also Results of US AP exams: first year for Mandarin, Japanese, Pinyin News, February 14, 2008.

Learn Chinese Insights Podcast Episode 005: Brad Saap

Chinese Learn Online - Mon, 10/19/2015 - 02:20

In this episode, I interview Brad Sapp. Brad spent 13 years in China working in trade companies in Beijing and Qingdao. He currently lives in Toronto, where he continues to actively engage with Chinese clients.

Listen to this podcast to learn:

- How Brad landed up in China
– His approach to learning Chinese
– His take on learning characters and writing
– What it was like to work for a Chinese company
– The advantage to being able to speak Chinese
– The business culture differences with Chinese companies
– How he dealt with Chinese staff who didn’t speak English
– How he uses Chinese outside of China
– The perspective of Chinese immigrants in Canada
– How learning Chinese compares to other languages

Pinyin font: Noto

Pīnyīn News - Fri, 10/16/2015 - 10:36

I shouldn’t go too long without mentioning Google’s ambitious Noto project, which offers both serif and sans-serif versions: Noto Serif and Noto Sans.

When text is rendered by a computer, sometimes there will be characters in the text that can not be displayed, because no font that supports them is available to the computer. When this occurs, small boxes are shown to represent the characters. We call those small boxes “tofu,” and we want to remove tofu from the Web. This is how the Noto font families got their name.

Noto helps to make the web more beautiful across platforms for all languages. Currently, Noto covers over 30 scripts, and will cover all of Unicode in the future. This is the Sans Latin, Greek and Cyrillic family. It has Regular, Bold, Italic and Bold Italic styles and is hinted. It is derived from Droid, and like Droid it has a serif sister family, Noto Serif.

Noto fonts for many other languages are available as web fonts from the Google Web Fonts Early Access page.

Noto fonts are intended to be visually harmonious across multiple languages, with compatible heights and stroke thicknesses.

(Emphasis added.)

And it’s free, of course.

Number of Chinese majors in U.S. universities holding steady

Pīnyīn News - Thu, 10/15/2015 - 10:47

In 2013, a total of 706 U.S. students majoring in Chinese graduated, a gain of just 6 students over the previous year. In addition, Japanese as a major continues to attract significantly more students than Mandarin.

By way of contrast, in 2013 a total of 12,703 U.S. students graduated with degrees in Spanish.

Despite the strong growth of interest in Mandarin over the past two decades or so, only 2.34% of all students in U.S. universities majoring in a foreign language are majoring in Chinese, so the percentage of Mandarin majors among students overall is tiny indeed.

The numbers are for graduating seniors in those years.

Source: Data on Second Majors in Language and Literature, 2001–13, MLA Office of Research, Web publication, February 2015

Diing Dong

Pīnyīn News - Wed, 10/14/2015 - 11:15

A doubled vowel is a sure sign of the Gwoyeu Romatzyh romanization system — except when it’s a sign of someone wrongly omitting an apostrophe in Hanyu Pinyin or simply making a typo. But today’s example is certainly Gwoyeu Romatzyh, as, oddly enough, the side of a coach bus is one of the most likely places in Taiwan to spot an example of that romanization system. I’m seeing it less and less as the years go by, though, which saddens me.

Here, however, is a nice example that looks fairly new. I took the photo along Taidong’s lovely coastline a couple of weeks ago.

Diing Dong Bus (Pinyin: Ding3 Dong1; lit. ancient three-legged round cauldron, east)

Note, too, the mixing of Mandarin and English (rather than the loanword form of bashi), and those hideously misplaced g’s.

China down slightly as destination for U.S. study abroad students

Pīnyīn News - Tue, 10/13/2015 - 13:59

Rapid growth in U.S. students going to China to study has not been seen since around 2008. In fact, in the most recent school year for which we have data (2012–2013), the total fell to 14,413, down slightly from the 14,887 U.S. students studying in China during the 2011–2012 school year.


Meanwhile, the number of students from China studying in the United States is back on the rise.

Note, the chart below is not of the absolute number of Chinese students in the United States but of the ratio of Chinese students in the United States to U.S. students in China — just because I thought it might be more interesting. If you’d like to the see the numbers for the former, then check the source document.

China is the leading place of origin for students coming to the United States, with Chinese students comprising 31% of international students in the United States. They’re about evenly divided between undergrad and grad students.

Source: Open Doors Fact Sheet: China.

Growth in US postsecondary Mandarin enrollments stalls

Pīnyīn News - Mon, 10/12/2015 - 14:55

Back in 2008 I took a close look at U.S. post-secondary enrollments in foreign languages and the position of Mandarin. I’ve recently been examining the latest figures (for which there is still a lag of a couple years).

I’ve included data for all available years, other than 1969 and a couple years in the early 1970s because the numbers were calculated differently then.

These represent the total enrollments for courses labeled “Mandarin” or some form of “Chinese” (including “classical” but excluding modern languages such as Cantonese, Taiwanese, etc.). Failure to add the sometimes separately categorized “Mandarin” to the figures for “Chinese” would produce the wrong results.

As can be seen in the graph below, over the most recent period (2009–2013) growth in enrollments in Mandarin in U.S. universities basically came to a halt, increasing just 0.6 percent. I do not expect a return to the dramatic increases common before 2009.


Click to enlarge.

Learn Chinese Insights Podcast Episode 004: Edward Greve

Chinese Learn Online - Mon, 10/12/2015 - 03:15

In this episode, I interview Edward Greve. Edward is an American who has lived in Taiwan for the past 8 years. He initially started as an English teacher and is now doing a master’s degree in Applied Linguistics.

Listen to find out:

  • What brought Edward to Taiwan in the first place
  • What process he took to learn Chinese on the side
  • His standard process to learn a new language
  • His stance on learning characters from the very beginning
  • The difference between learning simplified versus traditional characters
  • Who he practiced speaking with
  • His take on learning Taiwanese and other local dialects
  • What he’s doing now with computational linguistics
  • How learning Chinese compares to learning other languages like Italian, Dutch, French, German, Thai and Indonesian
  • About the scripts used in different Chinese dialects like Taiwanese and Cantonese
  • The importance of being able to express yourself through written Chinese
  • The advantages of being able to speak Mandarin while living in a Chinese community

Milk Shop

Pīnyīn News - Thu, 10/08/2015 - 05:10

Here’s another in my series of photos of English with Chinese character(istic)s, that is Chinese characters being used to write English (sort of). I want to stress that these aren’t loan words, just an approximate phonetic rendering of the English.

Today’s entry — which was taken a few weeks ago in Xinzhu (usually spelled “Hsinchu”), Taiwan — is Mi2ke4 Xia4 (lit. “lost guest summer”).

Pinyin font: Promocyja

Pīnyīn News - Mon, 10/05/2015 - 15:26

Here’s a public-domain script font: Promocyja.

Learn Chinese Insights Podcast Episode 003: Aaron Posehn

Chinese Learn Online - Mon, 10/05/2015 - 03:51

In this episode, I interview Aaron Posehn. He’s a Canadian, with a degree in Asian studies, who moved to Taiwan to work as an editor.

Listen to find out:

  • How Aaron got interested in Chinese culture
  • What it was like to be the only non Asian in a Chinese class of 300
  • About his first trip to China and Mongolia
  • Why learning Chinese alone isn’t enough to work in a Chinese company
  • About Aaron’s Chinease book and website.
  • What it’s like to be living in Taipei and interacting with others in Chinese
  • What he would do differently, if he was to learn Chinese again

 

Sinica - Edmund Backhouse in the Long View of History

Popup Chinese Lessons - Sat, 10/03/2015 - 06:14

Edmund Backhouse, the 20th century Sinologist, long-time Beijing resident, and occasional con-artist, is perhaps best known for his incendiary memoirs, which not only distorted Western understanding of Chinese history for more than 50 years, but also included what in retrospect can only be seen as patently fictitious stories of erotic encounters between the British Baronet and the Empress Dowager Cixi.

This week on Sinica, we are delighted to be joined by Derek Sandhaus of Earnshaw Books, who has recently produced an abridged edition of Backhouse's memoirs for the Hong Kong publishing house. As an expert on the facts and fictions of Edmund Backhouse, Derek joins us for a discussion of what is real and less-than-real in Backhouse's deathbed reminiscences, and what we can and should learn about Qing-era China from his memoirs. [standalone mp3 download]

PRC’s official rules for Pinyin: 2012 revision — in traditional Chinese characters

Pīnyīn News - Fri, 10/02/2015 - 04:59

Last week I put online China’s official rules for Hanyu Pinyin, the 2012 revision (GB/T 16159-2012). I’ve now made a traditional-Chinese-character version of those rules for Pinyin.

Eventually I’ll also issue versions in Pinyin and English.


(Note: The image above is of course Photoshopped. I altered the cover of the PRC standard simply to provide an illustration in traditional Chinese characters for this post.)

Pinyin font: Chispa

Pīnyīn News - Thu, 10/01/2015 - 10:39

Today’s Pinyin-friendly font is Chispa, by Joan Alegret of La Tipomatica. It’s freeware.

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