3rd crash in 2 months on my road to fluent mandarin

I was so far confident in my abilities to learn, at least the basics, of a new language. I guess that Mandarin opened my eyes on what I’m really worth. :wink:

My brain already crashed twice since I started (from zero) to learn mandarin. First on the tones, then on the vocabulary learning. I say my brain because it was a real fight with myself to solve these problems. When I try to speak mandarin, I have a little warning light turning on inside my head, saying “you’re doing something definitely not natural”. Reminds me of skydiving. :shock:
Anyway, I’m still not a master in pronounciation or vocabulary but I’ve manage to go past my problems. First (tones) by considering speaking and reading as “language + music”, then (vocabulary) by using flashcards (supermemo).

And now is time for the 3rd wall: sentence patterns.
What the #ell am I supposed to do with stuff like:
Subject + Auxiliary verb + ba3 + Object + Functive verb + Verb + Place word + Compound
??? :imp: ???
I just know from my teachers that this is “very important to speak good chinese”. Well, right now I feel like shoving this text book deep in their throat :smiling_imp:
I was happier when I just knew to say “meiyou” and “xiexie”. :frowning:

Any good advice on that particular problem? Is it time for me to try a language exchange? I don’t want to drop everything.


Yes, I quite agree, it’s often bizarre how they use non-existent English grammar terms to explain Chinese grammar to you in often bad English! :? Like their favorite term at my place of learning: “stative verb” I’ve had master level classes in the U.S. in English grammar, studied it for years, and never come across or used this term. Yes, it’s bizarre. I don’t know. I’ve looked at Caves and ESLite for a book to help with Chinese grammar, but could only find one that didn’t seem to be much help and was extremely academic and dry.

The human brain is designed to search for meaning in all new information it receives. It looks for patterns, and for ways to connect the new information with things or concepts it already knows. When you first start learning Chinese your brain treats almost everything you hear as irrelevant. Tones? Irrelevant except for revealing emotions. Hence it is difficult to remember new words, and especially their tones, as you can’t connect them to anything in your previous experience. There is no way, unless you use some memory trick, to anchor these things in your memeory. So, it all gets thrown into short term memory and ejected so to speak.

But of course tones are integral to Chinese. It takes time, therefore, and repeated exposure, and then more time before your brain starts to treat those tones as something worth remembering.

Ironlady has developed the great technique of anchoring tones in your memory using TPR. So far she seems pretty alone in this though. I bet you spent a month practising tones without any context? Just going over the tones time after time? Am I right?

As for your problems with sentence patterns, putit down to the adsurd way you are being taught? Have your teachers really written:

Subject + Auxiliary verb + ba3 + Object + Functive verb + Verb + Place word + Compound

and then expected you to memorize this and use it to make new sentences? If they have they are wasting your time.

If you need a strong understanding of grammar (as I do) to feel comfortable, expose yourself to as many examples of the constructin as possible. Try to get a feel or it. Try to feel that object being brought forward. Get a sense of what kind of sentences will use the ba construction. Try to do this inductively and then you could try to memorize a few sentences that exemplify that structure so you can match the written grammar rules to something real. You can also try to translate the sentences into “English” keeping the Chinese word order. “I want (ba3) car drive back to Taijung go.”

I never had much problem with the ba construction myself but I know most people do. Maybe it helps to have been an English major and been exposed to a lot of old poety where word order is manipulated in odd ways.

I hope Ironlady will pipe in with some more advice.

Taurus your French, yeah? That’s gotta make that grammar guff even crazier.

I found this book to be very helpful with basic sentence patterns:

Basic Chinese Grammar & Sentence Patterns (Text)


Slog on! Good luck.


that’s actually a good mnenomic for it. “wo xiang ba keben cha dao ta houlong limian”

that may not be the best translation but you get the idea.

for English grammar, i find stative verb to be a helpful term. stative verbs like “like want have…” as opposed to action verbs, you can’t use progressive tense etc.

Do the language exchange. (How do you expect to learn Chinese if not by chatting with Chinese speakers?)

My personal opinion on grammar (and pronunciation etc.) is that you’ll probably be most successful learning it from use. Pointedly studying grammar (as much as you may, like me, enjoy it and find it useful) has always seemed to me like trying to take a short-cut into the language. I think you can improve your Mandarin by taking this short-cut, but since the short-cut is rougher and steeper as well as quicker, you’ve got to be a bit careful about how you hike it.

(1) Memorizing grammatical formulae is probably not a good idea. Any decent mathematician or logician will tell you that memorizing formulae, theorems, and whatnot, while this may be useful, is far less so than developing the ability to see and create patterns within the system or language you’re working with. How do you develop this ability? Exposure to the language. Playing with the formulae and theorems others give you. Looking at good examples and analyses without getting stuck at the level of only decoding and reencoding Chinese grammar but not actualy playing with it day-to-day.

A good step in this direction is the book Mandarin Chinese: A Functional Reference Grammar by Charles N. Li and Sandra A. Thompson. Lots of good examples and straightforward explanations.

(2) Pay attention to the grammar points that matter: those that are significantly different from what you’re used to. Of the ‘ba’ construction that you posted, the better part of the construction is not so structurally different from English. Take John’s example.

Wo xiang ba keben cha dao ta houlong limian
(I would-like OBJ-text shove arrive his/her throat inside)
I would like to shove the text into his throat

From the perspective of an English speaker, only two elements of this sentence obviously beg for analysis. Focus on these and leave the rest until you bump into a particular difficulty.

(1) The object marker ‘ba’

Using ‘ba’ allows you to draw attention to the object and mark it out as particular. Rather than writing

Wo xiang cha keben dao ta houlong limian
I would like to shove a text into his throat

you indicate a specific textbook (one that is being, or could be, grabbed; ‘ba’ means something like ‘to grab’) by using ‘ba’.

Wo xiang ba keben cha dao ta houlong limian
I would like to shove this text into his throat

The workings of this piece of grammar are simple. You move the object of a verb out from behind the verb and place it in front the the verb, adding ‘ba’. The meaning, if not apparent above, can be illustrated by a similar construction in English.

I would like to take this text and shove it into his throat

In fact, ‘ba’ originally meant something not so much different from ‘take’, and the Chinese word for take, ‘na’, can also be used in the same way as ‘ba’.

(2) Locatives

Prepositional phrases in English take the form of a preposition followed by a noun phrase. Hence ‘onto the table’, ‘into his throat’, ‘under the bridge’. In Chinese, one uses ‘dao’ (arrive, to) or ‘zai’ (exists) followed by a noun or noun phrase followed by a position word. Hence ‘dao zhuozi shang’ (onto the table), ‘dao ta houlong limian’ (into his throat), ‘zai daqiao xiamian’ (under the bridge).

You don’t need to have studied Chinese grammar previously to figure these patterns out. Seeing a few Chinese sentences translated into a language you know well ought to give you enough information to puzzle out what’s going on, and this puzzling out on your own may well wok better than memorizing and trying to reproduce certain patterns. By all means, take a look at the patterns, write example sentences. Just don’t get hung up on them to the point where learning Chinese isn’t fun anymore. And if you bump into a particular piece of grammar that you can’t wrap your head around, ignore it for a while, concentrate on things that do make sense, and then return to it when your Chinese is a bit better. If your Chinese teacher doesn’t like this jumping about or can’t find a way to teach the language to your needs, find a new teacher or supplment that teacher with an effective language exchange partner.

Finally, for fun, see if you can spot the pattern in this sentence.

Qing ni xian tiao zai zhuozi shang, zai zai zhuozi shang tiao.
Please first jump onto the desk and then jump on top of the desk.

Oh guys, come on. They make everything so complicated.

“Ba” means “grab that sucker and…”

“ba shu fang zai zhuozi shang” “Grab that sucker book and put it on the table.”

“ba shu sai jin laoshi de houlong.” “Grab that sucker book and stuff it into the teacher’s throat.”

And so on.

My students use the “ba” construction from DAY 1 and they have no problem whatsoever with it.

You need to hear Chinese that you can understand. If you can arrange that (easier said than done!) your brain will do the rest. Language classes these days, for the most part, merely prevent your brain from doing its job, by stuffing it full of facts ABOUT Chinese, not simple, understandable, correct Chinese.

I might have a class going later this month…are you in Taipei??

[quote=“00Scott”]Finally, for fun, see if you can spot the pattern in this sentence.

Qing ni xian tiao zai zhuozi shang, zai zai zhuozi shang tiao.
Please first jump onto the desk and then jump on top of the desk.[/quote]

Er…for teaching, I wouldn’t muddy the waters so much. Using “dao4” for the first as a goal of motion would make things much clearer. In teaching, the idea is not to show how much the teacher knows, but to make the students understand. If that means speaking simple Chinese, so be it. (I’m not saying you personally are trying to show off here, but only commenting that many teachers seem to glory in being native speakers and watching people struggle.)

Sure. I agree. But I also get the most growth in my own grammar grappling from playing with words and solving puzzles and searching out murky roots in less than clear water. And, in studying, this seems a pretty good tactic (in conjunction with simple, and later more complex, examples given by a teacher or text).

[Edit: Oh, yeah, and if I can’t show my cruddy Chinese off now and then, what the sai-ru-ta-laoshi-de-houlong is it good for anyway?! :laughing:]

ahhhh, sai ru.

I think that you don’t want to overdo your expectations. It takes time to get used to learning a new language which is so different from English.

I have been studying Mandarin for thirty years and I find that I am gradually getting used to it. In particular, I don’t find the tones as troublesome as I did when I started studying during my third year of university studies (Univ. of Penn., Philadelphia, Pa.) I also do a lot of writing and I find that that helps me to become accustomed to the Chinese grammar in a contextual and natural sort of way.

A book that I have found useful is “A Reference Grammar of Mandarin Chinese for English Speakers” by Chauncey Chu (one of my professors back at Univ. of Florida). Pick a grammar pattern, try making some senteneces, and then go out and find some situations where you can use it … and keep using it as much as possible until it becomes second nature. Once you’ve gotten all of the basic grammar structures down, then start working on expanding your vocabulary. For the tones, try taking Ironlady’s course … she’s the expert! Also, demand that your Taiwanese friends correct you … one of the biggest problems and frustrations I have here is that my Taiwanese friends (and even teachers) rarely correct my grammar or pronunciation … their philosophy is that if you understand, that’s all that matters. Unfortunately, I don’t agree with that, and it’s a pain in the rear end to get them to fix your mistakes. I also agree with Hartzell, that writing helps a lot … my grammar and vocabulary has improved a lot with writing practice (and reading). But anyway, everyone has a different method that works for them … try lots of different things, and find what works for you.

Wow, thanks for the feedback and books references.

I’m just taken aback by my teachers method: one week plus of pronounciation, 1 month and a half of vocabulary and suddenly loads of grammar and sentence patterns.
15 lessons is a long time before being able to answer “for how long have you been in taiwan?”. We all know that’s one of the first questions locals ask us.
So, it was not only a problem with the ba3 structure, I rant about that one because it was the last I learnt at that time. Still, some of the explanations I read here about ba3 are far better than those of my teachers or book. Thanks! :smiley:

For the language exchange, I thought it was a little early until now. I don’t want “my victim” just to be a rehearsal assistant of my lessons.
I think that I can chat enough now, so I’ll go for it. I’m sure that it will be better than buying stuff I don’t need (eg stamps) for the sake of using newly acquired vocabulary. :unamused:
And since I’m not in Taipei and then unable to try Ironlady’s method, I’ll have to “keep swimming” and hope I go somewhere. :wink:

I’m not a native english speaker. My book always compare grammar pattern to english Do you think I should write comparison directly with french? Or since my chinese grammar must become natural it doesn’t matter if I go there through english or french?
And does anyone understand my question? :wink:




Just curious to know where you are? Generally if you’d prefer. Are there not good good French Chinese books grammar books?

Actually the second point is probably irrelevant. I tend to think grammar explanations are not nearly as useful as grammar patterns. But I suspect that’s just me . . . and my grammar sucks, tones are shite … . I’ll stop!


Really? I learned this in high school. In English the stative verb is “to be” (along with “like”, “want”, etc.). A stative verb describes a “state”, rather than an action. But maybe the terminology has changed in recent years…

English is my first language but I also know French. French contains some sounds that are useful when learning Chinese and sometimes Chinese is in French word order.