I get depressed when learning Chinese

…when I find a word that I already know several homonyms for (I mean same tone too)


I’m still depressed that I couldn’t read thru a short novel nor a newspaper column because there’s 20 to 30 percent of characters I couldn’t fathom.


You probably mean a character that has the same tone and the same proununciation.

Languages arenn’t characters, they’re words. Usually a word has two syllables in Chinese (not always, but very, very often). So, if you concentrate on words, not syllables (despite what your teachers stress! it’s traditional) you won’t find very many homophones at all.

Take a look at the Lanbridge Pinyin Chinese-English dictionary. It’s arranged by Pinyin without regard to tones (although the tones are marked). This way, you can see that there are darn few real homophones (words, not characters, that have exactly the same tone and pronunciation for both syllables).

It’s useful to have some idea what individual characters mean, but IMHO for a foreigner wanting to have a working knowledge of Chinese, it’s much more useful to focus on words, not characters. Individual character knowledge is more useful if you get to the higher levels of reading, and are reading kind of “original” pieces of writing, where authors use more flexibility in combining characters to express their exact meaning. Sometimes they may create combinations that are not found in a standard dictionary, but a native speaker can understand what they mean (usually!)

In learning any language, I try to focus on words, and work from the most frequent words. I often refer to a frequency table of the most common English words, throwing out words that are purely function words in English, and concentrating on concepts and words that I want to be able to express and understand in the language. I’m doing this now in Tagalog and I’m pleasantly surprised at how much I can express after just a week and a half. But of course I’m not chained down by 5,000 years of glorious Filipino culture in terms of the teaching method being used. :smiley:

Good advice above; but you also ought to remember that the better part of learning a language – whatever methods and however good the teachers – is patience. Full stop. Go and get yourself a firm foundation in Chinese, if you’ve not got one already, by taking classes for a semester or working your way through the grammar and vocab in a basic textbook; and then use the language. In a few years you’ll be more or less fluent; then it’s just expanding the vocabulary and polishing your apples.

The other thing you ought to do is figure out just why you want to learn Chinese. If you’re learning it for fun but are not enjoying study, find a cuter or more effective or more entertaining or whatever polishes those apples teacher; or better yet, find something that is fun for you. If you’re learning it for a specific purpose (and really do need to learn it), first figure out just what you do and don’t need to be able to say in Mandarin, and then find the best methods and teachers for you and give it the time and respect it deserves. And by all means, ignore what you do not need to know.

Finally, take heart. You’ll eventually get past the studying phase and enter the learning as you go phase. It takes about a year of actively studying (10-20 hours a week of textbooks and teachers and/or girlfriends and hiking buddies) to attain fluency. Not perfect or pretty fluency, but a functional command of the language. Then you’ll find that there are no texts at your level and the best studying methods are writing emails, reading novels, and chatting with friends.

Hmmm… sounds sweet but as far for me as the next inhabited planet as I started to learn Mandarin 2 weeks ago and got depressed 3 times at least since! :?

I think Ironlady is right. Anyone knows where to find a list of chinese words classified by frequency of use? All I could get is a character frequency list on zhongwen.com


There is one available at the “Lucky Bookstore” (I still love that name!) at Shita. It’s a blue cover. I can’t remember the actual name of the book, but it’s there with all the “Chinese for foreigners” book. I’ve got a copy somewhere but I can’t remember if it’s here or in the States just now.

Just remember, just because it’s Chinese doesn’t mean you have to learn it the Chinese way, if that’s not the best way for you. But then again I’m a known maverick in these things. :shock:

Hey Ironlady,
first, thanks for your answer and then speaking about your personal method, did you have a look at the e-mail I’ve sent you?
I’m not kidding, I’d really like to know more about your teaching technics!


I’m not teaching right now outside of the class for mostly migrant workers (although anyone could show up, no problem) at Fujen’s chapel at 11:30 every 1st and 3rd Sunday of the month. Kind of getting tired of a lot of things lately, so am doing more of my own stuff.

No wonder you picked up tagalog fast ironlady… those migrant workers is a very hospitable community. I also picked up my tagalog in their midst.