Did/is anyone learn/learning any Chinese before going to China?
If so, which would be the best choice: Cantonese or Mandarin?
I'm pretty good at picking up languages, so I thought that when I finish my Spanish course (November), I'd enrol in Cantonese or Mandarin, but I want to know which one would be best, or most useful to me.
Any clues?
Mandarin is the most widely spoken/understood language in China, but there are many variations of it depending upon which part of China you happen to be in. Your child may come from a Cantonese-speaking or Mandarin-speaking part, or they may come from a part with a dialect variant of one of the two... and your child may be referred at such a young age that he or she doesn't even understand much of anything no matter what is spoken. If you want to learn the language though, Mandarin is definitely the most widely understood language in China and would be your safest bet.
Thanks for the info, pb86. I was mostly after which language would serve me best in China, and you gave me that info, so thanks!
Honestly, learning any language is not a waste. However, after hearing countless stories of one learning Mandarin and needing Cantonese and vice versus, we have decided to forgo learning either. We will try to learn the basics though.
I am taking a beginner chinese language course in Mandarin. There is no guarantee that my child will speak Mandarin but I definitely think having a basic foundation will help when in China. It is also another nice way to spend the time while waiting.
My agency usually had referrals from Guangdong Province, so before going to China, I took a Cantonese class. When I was in Guangzhou, a group of highschool kids came up to me and wanted to talk. One of them asked me if my daughter's father was Chinese. That was an interesting question! I said yes (I'm single) and then she asked (assuming I married Chinese) if I could speak Chinese. So I counted to 10 in Cantonese. they loved it!
When my daughter was 3, she started Saturday Mandarin play and learn classes and I took an adult class at the same time for about a year.
I would suggest learning Mandarin because you can use it more widely in China. However if you start with Cantonese, Mandarin would be easier to switch to (Cantonese has 6 tones, Mandarin only 4).
I found I learned alot about Chinese culture and history by taking the language classes. Saying a few words (counting to 10, Thank you, hello, good-bye) also made traveling in a foreign country less stressful.
Mandarin is the official language of China. It is the language taught in the schools and used by government offices. As a result, if you know Mandarin, you can probably converse with anyone who has been through the Chinese school system in the past few decades, even if his/her "at home" language is not Mandarin.
The Chinese language is divided into approximately ten subgroups -- scholars organize them differently, which is why I say "approximately" -- and each subgroup may be comprised of hundreds of dialects. There are said to be almost 1,000 dialects of Chinese. In some cases, the dialects are further divided into subdialects, which may be unique to a town or city.
If you are a speaker of one dialect in a subgroup, you can usually understand speakers of other dialects in the same subgroup, but you usually will not be able to understand speakers of dialects in another subgroup.
In other words, if you speak the Guangzhou dialect of Yue (Cantonese), you will probably be able to understand speakers of the Foshan dialect of Yue. However, you will not be able to understand a speaker of the Beijing dialect of Mandarin, unless you went to the Chinese schools and learned Mandarin there.
Since most people who speak Cantonese also speak Mandarin, if they went to school, while most people who speak Mandarin DON'T speak Cantonese, it would probably be best for you to learn Mandarin.
Also, you should recognize that many of our children will come from places where a dialect of Yue/Cantonese is NOT the home language. As an example, my daughter is from Xiamen in Fujian province. Cantonese is not spoken there. The home dialect is a variant of Southern Min. Various Min dialects are spoken throughout the area, as well as in Taiwan.
Old people in Xiamen probably speak the dialect exclusively, but younger people who have been to school most likely speak both Southern Min and Mandarin. They would not speak Cantonese unless they once lived there or if they have relatives from there.
Going to China? The safetest suggestion is to take Mandarin, if you can pick one language at a time. :-)
These are two SPOKEN styles/dialects of Chinese language. As an official spoken “dialect”, Mandarin is widely used in Mainland China, Taiwan area and Singapore. Cantonese is specifically for Hong Kong and some overseas Chinese communities.
One of the most important questions that many new potential Chinese learners may ask themselves is: Should I learn Mandarin or Cantonese?
If your goal is to be widely understood, you should learn Mandarin because Mandarin can be understood even in Hong Kong, Macau and Canton (the main regions who still speak Cantonese), and more and more Cantonese speakers are learning Mandarin nowadays. If you really want to be able to connect with people from Hong Kong, Macau, and Canton, you can still consider learning Cantonese. But you should still know that Cantonese is often seen as more difficult. Its use of “tones” can be even more challenging to western speakers than Mandarin.
It’s easier to find people to teach you Mandarin, including some of your Chinese friends who have learned “proper Mandarin”, and who may be able to teach you the language step-by-step; More Mandarin learning materials are available from all sorts of sources and at a variety of levels; With the current economic growth of China, it’s likely that Mandarin will be a key language of the future.
A link for you if you are interested in learning about the difference between these "two languages":
By the way, just because you learned Spanish easily does not mean that either Mandarin or Cantonese will be easy for you. Mandarin, Cantonese, and other Chinese dialects are tonal, which means that you have to master more than the actual words and grammar.
If you say a syllable with a rising tone, it will mean something totally different from that syllable said with a falling tone. People often joke about the fact that, if you say "ma" in one way, it means "mother", but if you say it in a different way, it means "horse". So if you don't want to call your nice new Chinese mother-in-law a horse, you'd better say the word with the right tones. English and most Western languages are not tonal, and Americans often have great difficulty hearing and repeating the tones of Chinese, certain other Asian languages, and certain African languages, among others. I remember that, while taking a linguistics course once, we had an exam proctor who entered the room, said his name, and asked each of us to repeat it. When the first person did so, he put his hands up to his face and pretended to be shocked. He told her that she had just said an extremely dirty word. He was from an African country, and the language of his tribal group was tonal. Even though she repeated the actual syllables of his name correctly, she used the wrong tones.
As linguistics students, we learned a valuable lesson from the proctor -- that even we, who knew a lot about languages, could really mess up when confronted with a tonal language, because our native language, and most of the languages we studied in school, are not tonal.
Mandarin is usually considered to have five distinct tones. Cantonese is traditionally considered to have nine tones, but the version spoken in Hong Kong has six, while the version spoken in Guangzhou is often said to have seven tones. All in all, Chinese is extremely difficult for a Westerner to learn. If you are preparing to travel to adopt in a year or so, you probably won't have enough time to learn the language well enough to converse or transact business in China, unless you enroll in a total immersion course. However, you may be able to learn enough to read a sign, as both Mandarin and Cantonese are written with the same characters, and to use a few polite phrases.
Of course, politics enters even subjects like the written language. If you want to learn Chinese characters in the U.S., you will want to study with a teacher who teaches Simplified Chinese, which is the official form of writing in mainland China. People in Taiwan, and in some other Chinese-speaking areas, use Traditional Chinese, which has some differences. If you decide to send your child to a Chinese school in the U.S., for weekend instruction, you may find that some of the schools emphasize Traditional Chinese writing, while others emphasize Simplified Chinese, and that debates over which a given school will use can get a bit heated and political. When the subject comes up, politely excuse yourself and go elsewhere! The people will not just be talking about language, but about the whole history of tension between China and Taiwan.
On your adoption trip, however, you probably can get by without knowing any version of Chinese. You will have a guide to get you to your appointments and take you sightseeing. Also, remember that Hong Kong was under British rule for 100 years, and was returned to China in 1997, so you will find many people who understand English there. On the mainland, you may also find people who speak English in Westernized cities like Guangzhou and Beijing. And if you have a good guide, he/she can help you understand what your new child is saying, and convey your responses to the child.
Even if you know some Chinese, remember that there's a big difference between the version of Chinese you learned in school and the way Chinese children speak. It's basically similar to what happens in English. Adults may learn the word "bowel movement", in terms of how they should explain a health issue to a doctor, but a little child may refer to the same subject as "poo-poo". Also, remember that the speech of a young child, or a child who has had a problem like cleft palate, may not be clear. While you might understand the speech of an American toddler, knowing that it is common for American young children to substitute "w" for "r" (as in "wose" for "rose") or "s" for "sh" (as in "Saron" instead of "Sharon"), you probably won't know the most common pronunciation problems that Chinese children tend to have.)