Through the Ears of Chinese

Ever wonder of another way to think about the world? Learning a new language allows you to.

Learning Chinese, specifically, will teach you that the language allows people to identify more than just words associated to objects, but also descriptions as well.

For example, Chinese people regard animals such as the Koala as a “no tail bear” or a hippo as a “river horse”. Using such descriptions would the equivalent of saying “black bear” in English; only Chinese uses such descriptions in many other regards.

Ever hear of the Great Wall of China? The Chinese do think of it as being great in some ways, but actually the literal translation of it is “long wall/ 长城”. Additionally, there is Beijing, literally meaning the “North Capital” or Shanghai “Above the Sea”, which point to very useful ways of thinking about locations and the characteristics associated with the places.

How about going to a restaurant and trying to order something spicy? In English, speakers are confined to saying things such as “I want it just a little bit spicy, or really spicy or somewhere it between.” It’s hard to describe the level of spiciness to the person taking our order, but in Chinese there is 小辣 (little spicy) ,中辣 (medium spicy) and 大辣 (big/very spicy). The Chinese way is also a lot quicker to say as the phrases express certain levels or measurements rather than an opinion or emotion.

However, Chinese isn’t always perfect. There isn’t a 100% known standard for what is just a little spicy or very spicy, but it comes close. You can also say you make big money in English similar to Chinese(赚大钱)or spent a little bit of money on something(这是小钱)but there isn’t really a way to describe something priced in the middle.

And lets not forget the word “world”, which to most English speakers is just a name. In Chinese it is also just a name in a manner of speaking (地球)or but it could literally be translated as “earth ball” or “ground ball,” giving the listener a more direct explanation of the object. It’s a good thing though that for baseball an extra character (面)or “surface” was added to differentiate a ground ball (地面球)versus “the world ball.”

Each language has its own methods of identifying certain characteristics, emotions etc. of things, places, people or events, but Chinese is one of those languages that allow listeners to have a more direct understanding of the object rather than just an associated name. Some people argue that Chinese speakers only think of their words in the same way say English speakers do. However, if you have ever taken a Chinese class you will know that is not how the language is taught and instead is very graphic, with meaning and story like, thus making it a fascinating language to learn.

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