Top tips for westerners learning Asian languages
Monday, 26th October 2009
It seems to me that Western languages have a lot of similarities.
Italian and Spanish seem to have the same core verbs and even French sounds somewhat related. Maybe this is why these three languages, plus Portuguese, are all lumped together in what is described as the Romance Languages; they are all connected.
I also hear that German, Dutch and English have similarities. One main thing that presses upon me is that Eastern languages, such as those spoken in Asia, seem very different than then those in the West.
One major difference is that some Asian languages incorporate tones into the spoken word. In Vietnamese, for example, there are five tones plus one mid-level non-tone. One word may have 6 different meanings depending on the tone that is used. “Pho”, which means “noodle”, can also mean “street”, if said in a different tone. The northern part of the country speaks the tones differently, so one helpful hint if you are attempting to learn Vietnamese, is to choose the region you would first like to concentrate on and then study those tones.
Western students learning Vietnamese may have to learn all the different tones, but at least they can still use the Latin alphabet, just as one uses it for the Romance languages. All of the other countries in this Asian region use ideographic characters.
The Mandarin language, for example, uses tones for speaking plus characters for writing. A helpful way to learn conversational Mandarin is to study Pinyin, the phonetic, or spelled sound of the word. “Jiu” is Pinyin for “nine”. After mastering Pinyin, you could concentrate on writing the actual character for “jiu”. The Mandarin characters all have origins and interconnections. When a Westerner begins to learn how to draw the character, they will also learn the history and culture of the Chinese people.
For Westerners, know that when learning an Asian language, with so many different elements to Western languages, the best tip one can give is to have patience – and at least acquiring any portion of the language is better than learning none.