More About Learning Chinese

More About Learning Chinese

Probably the main stumbling block for Americans in learning spoken Chinese is the tone system. Most people probably find that, whereas the pin yin system is easy to learn, there is "no place" in our minds to put the tones.

What do they mean when they say that?

It is quite common for people to make such statements as "My mind just isn't cut out for math" (or physics, or languages, or etc.).

What that actually means is that they have not begun to grasp the particular subject implicitly. There is nothing like that in their "tacit knowledge" structure. It is "Greek" (or Chinese) to them.

In trying to learn the Chinese tones, they have used their tacit knowledge of English to help them remember the pin yin system. But there is nothing like the Chinese tones in the English language.

Thus the tones (not the handful of tones themselves, but which tone goes with which word) cannot be learned "explicitly". They MUST be learned "implicitly" (unconsciously).

In fact, an English speaker can easily do this, just as a small child in China learns the tones, by putting all his explicit knowledge out of his mind for the moment and listening with "new ears". Young children of either culture have an advantage because they have not yet either learned either the English or the pin yin writing system!

The pin yin system is not an aid to learning spoken Chinese. It is a hindrance. The problem is that when one listens to spoken Chinese, he sees the written (pin yin) word in his mind.

The trick to learning spoken Chinese is to stop oneself from recognizing anything about the spoken word. This includes the written word. The spoken word is not the written word. It is itself, and it includes its tone. Just say "Shh!" to keep the conscious mind from recognizing the individual word in any way.

(It is interesting that when one blocks his conscious mind from recognizing the spoken word, he also blocks it from "seeing" the written word in his mind. This is just more evidence that the "Shh Tract" is an all-encompassing learning tract).

In this manner of listening to the spoken word, one is always (falsely) quite certain that he is not going to remember anything! The cognitive unconscious learns from its own angles and at its own speed. It is mysterious and uncontrollable. It builds itself up, more or less gradually. But it can learn anything.

So the way people usually try to learn the tones is backwards. If one will first listen and learn the words, together with their tones, "implicitly" (unconsciously), the tones will become part of the "tacit knowledge" stored in the cognitive unconscious, and the conscious mind can then look and observe "at a glance" how the tone is made and the rules or patterns under which the tones are used in different circumstances. The trick is in (unconsciously) acquiring the tacit knowledge. That is the whole battle.