I have not even completely grasped Spanish from my days in community college, with its irregular verbs and proper plural tense, and here I am trying to memorize the difference between “mother” and “horse” in Chinese – a subtle difference, it turns out, indicated not by what you say, but how you say it, the inflection. It’s like being married, when your words often mean less than how they sound. So it should be no surprise that the music in our voices is what truly matters when we try to speak Mandarin.
I recently began looking for Web sites with good insight into learning to speak basic Chinese. I found a few, and will continue searching, as I feel totally lost when I try to say anything I should know how to say before we head to Beijing. If anyone has a favorite online source of Mandarin wisdom, please send us a link. Here are a few to start with.
Peter Bower, a Bring Me Hope staff member who is learning to speak Chinese more seriously than most of the rest of us, directed me to what looks like the best single resource for the beginning Mandarin speaker, a Web site that helps you sound out Chinese words using the English alphabet. This system is called “Pinyin.”
Wikipedia has a decent spoken Chinese page that covers a lot of background, such as dialects. Much of the info here will not be useful to the Bring Me Hope summer traveler, but some will.
I also found what appears to be a comprehensive and easy-to-use Chinese-English dictionary. There may be a better one out there, but for now, this one will serve our purposes.
You can download flash cards and other helpful resources at a fourth site, www.mandarintools.com. This site is not as easy to navigate as the others, but it also has a dictionary and some other useful stuff.
— Tom Pfingsten