Watching Chinese TV for language learning

So I’m sitting on the couch about five minutes into an episode of this one show that’s supposedly the Chinese equivalent of Friends (爱情公寓) when Jessica, who’s sitting opposite where she can hear the dialogue but can’t see the screen, suddenly says, “Hey! I know that scene! They’re totally ripping that off!” Turns out this show isn’t just a similar; it actually copied parts of the script and story from the original Friends so blatantly that Chinese viewers complained on social media and the producers apologized.

american_Friends
(So does that make it extra Chinese?)
chinese_friends

I’ve never even seen a full episode of the original Friends, but it’s really popular in China for learning English — the dialogue is simple, filled with digestible one-or-two-liners, and the canned laughter tells you how to understand the context (funny, sad, touching, etc.). That’s what we need, only in Chinese: something that’s easy to follow because it’s simple nearly to the point of stupid. We’re not aiming for challenging content; we’re aiming for lots of content. (And the reality of it is, nearly any Chinese TV show is challenging; you’ll need intermediate/upper-intermediate Chinese to even attempt to follow most mainstream Chinese media.)

In addition to Googling through the language study blogs, I asked on Weixin what TV series we should watch for language learning. Here’s what the first 26 responses suggested: 人民的民义(x8)、西游记(x3)、琅琊榜(x2)、欢乐颂(x2)、大宅门伪装者父母爱情芈月传甄嬛传三国一仆二主大头儿子,小头爸爸小别离我爱我家康熙王朝神探狄仁杰海尔弟兄

At different language levels, you need to study in different ways. I’m in the middle of revamping my study routine — much in the spirit of what Hacking Chinese describes here — and part of that is regularly consuming more Chinese content.

Are there any Chinese TV shows you’ve actually found helpful to your language study?

We haven’t picked anything to follow yet, but we’ll take a look at 欢乐颂我爱我家大头儿子,小头爸爸 and 人民的民义,along with 爸爸去哪儿?, 快乐大本营 and 爱情公寓。And for whatever we watch, we’ll also try to get our hands on the subtitle files.

xkcd’s Duty Calls in Chinese

Humour may be hard to translate, but with xkcd’s life-altering Duty Calls, someone had to try.
dutycalls中文
你还不上床? nǐ hái bù shàngchuáng?
等会儿。手头有要紧事。děnghuìr。shǒutóu yǒu yàojǐn shì。
你说什么? nǐ shuō shénme?
网上有个人很蠢! wǎngshàng yǒu ge rén hěnchǔn!

This was part of a class assignment, and it’s been polished by my teacher. Her first choice for the last line was, “网上有个彪子!” But, “彪子 (biāozi) is a little (zāng)” [giggle] “Well, it’s not that ” [giggle giggle] “just a little.” [more giggling]

The Romance of Han & Leia — in Chinese

First let’s set the relational context by recalling Han (汉 hàn) and Leia’s (莱娅 láiyà) recent romantic history…
delusionslaserbrain
aloneinthesouthpassage
truefeelings02
…in which Leia calls Han a:
stuckup
nerfherder
scruffylookin
…and then looks at him like this:
leiaglare
Leia (莱娅 láiyà):
真不知道这些幻想哪里来的 zhēn bùzhīdào zhèxiē huànxiǎng nǎlǐ láide
“Really don’t know where these illusions come from”

Han (汉 hàn):
但你没在南侧通道看到我们 dàn nǐ méi zài náncè tōngdào kàndào wǒmen
“But you didn’t see us in the south passage”
她对我倾诉钟情了喔 tā duì wǒ qīngsù zhōngqíng le ō
“She poured out her heart to me”

Leia (莱娅 láiyà):
你这个自大、愚蠢、邋遢的呆瓜! nǐ zhège zìdà、yúchǔn、lātade dāiguā
“You self-important, foolish, sloppy idiot!”

Han (汉 hàn):
谁邋遢了?shuí lāta le?
“Who’s sloppy?”

Undaunted, our hero Han, who always shoots first, is not about to let little things like kissing your brother or getting called nerf herder slow him down for long:
scoundrel00a
scoundrel00b
scoundrel01
scoundrel02
scoundrel03
scoundrel04
scoundrel05
Han (汉 hàn):
承认吧,有时候你觉得我还不错
chéngrènba,yǒushíhòu nǐ juéde wǒ hái bùcuò
“Admit it, sometimes you think I’m not too bad”

scoundrelliumangLeia (莱娅 láiyà):
或许……偶尔吧……
huòxǔ……ǒuěrba……
“Perhaps, occasionally”
你在不耍流氓的时候
nǐ zài bù shuǎliúmáng deshíhòu
“When you aren’t behaving like a hoodlum”

Han (汉 hàn):
耍流氓?shuǎliúmáng?
耍流氓?shuǎliúmáng?
“Behaving like a hoodlum? Behaving like a hoodlum?”
你喜欢我,因为我是流氓
nǐ xǐhuān wǒ,yīnwèi wǒ shì liúmáng
“You like me, because I’m a hoodlum”
你这人就需要流氓
nǐ zhè rén jiù xūyào liúmáng
“You need a hoodlum”

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this” — in Chinese

buxiangde yuganEvery single “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” line from the original Star Wars trilogy — in Chinese.

For all those times in China you wish you’d known how to say, “Um, guys? I’ve got an inauspicious premonition about this…”

Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope
星球大战4:新希望 xīngqiú dàzhàn: xīn xīwàng
badfeeling01
badfeeling02
Luke Skywalker 卢克·天行者 lúkè tiānxíngzhě:
“I have a very bad feeling about this.”
Han Solo 汉·索洛 hàn suǒluò:
“I got a bad feeling about this.”

Both lines translated as:
我有种不祥的预感 wǒ yǒu zhǒng bùxiángde yùgǎn
“I have a kind of inauspicious premonition.”

Honourable mention: 伍基 楚巴卡 wǔjī chǔbākǎ aka 楚伊 chǔyī

Star Wars: Episode V The Empire Strikes Back
星球大战5:帝国反击战 xīngqiú dàzhàn: dìguó fǎjī zhàn
(The Empire Counter-Attack War)
badfeeling03
Princess Leia 莱娅公主 láiyà gōngzhǔ: “I have a bad feeling about this.”

我有不祥的预感 wǒ yǒu bùxiángde yùgǎn
“I have an inauspicious premonition.”

Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi
星球大战6:绝地归来 xīngqiú dàzhàn: juédì guīlái
badfeeling04
badfeeling05
C-3PO: “R2, I have a bad feeling about this.”

我有种不祥的预感 wǒ yǒu zhǒng bùxiángde yùgǎn
“I have a kind of inauspicious premonition.”

Han Solo 汉·索洛 hàn suǒluò: “I have a really bad feeling about this.”

我有种不好的预感 wǒ yǒu zhǒng bùhǎode yùgǎn
“I have a kind of not good premonition.”

BONUS! Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens
星球大战7:原力觉醒 xīngqiú dàzhàn: yuánlì juéxǐng

P.S. – The list of lines comes from Wookieepedia.

P.P.S. – Character names came from Baidu, so no guarantees.

P.P.P.S. – More bonus!

“May the Force be with you”
愿原力与你同在
yuàn yuánlì yǔ nǐ tóngzài

And if you’re with your small laowai kids at a Chinese restaurant or your neighbours’:

“May a fork be with you”
愿叉子与你同在
yuàn chāzi yǔ nǐ tóngzài

Labor of Love by Andrew Peterson in Chinese

Have you never wondered: No room at the inn? Why are they even looking for a place? Mary and Joseph would have traveled with a pile of other relatives to Bethlehem where they had even more relatives because it’s Joseph’s hometown. Yet they can’t find a place to stay? No one in Joseph’s extended family has room for a relative who’s ready to go into labour at any moment?

Chinese_no_room_at_the_inn

The scandal of Mary getting pregnant while she was still unmarried, and Joseph deciding to marry her anyway, is more than his family is willing to take. Joseph’s family has shunned them.

That’s one of two main ways to understand the story — that Mary gave birth to Jesus much like this song suggests: on the cold ground of a dark cave where a stranger kept livestock, alone except for her (helpless) carpenter husband because his family wouldn’t take them in. (The other understanding is that they weren’t alone at all, relatives were taking care of them, but due to the overcrowding the best they could do was the family room which the animals were brought into at night. “Inn” is a poor translation.)

圣诞贺卡2015

We’re perennially desperate for Christmas music that isn’t awful. A few weeks ago friends recommended the album Behold the Lamb of God. Although I’m not a huge fan of the CCM genre or familiar with the music of singer-songwriter Andrew Peterson, I thought his song Labor of Love was worth translating into Chinese. It doesn’t attempt any great feats of lyricism; it simply but vividly connects people to the experience of Mary and Joseph the night she gave birth to Jesus in a way that Silent Night, with its tender and mild baby that doesn’t cry, doesn’t even try to do.

This is just a starter translation. It needs native speaker polishing before anyone really tries to sing it. But I want to put this out there and see if I can get some helpful suggestions. More notes on the translation below.

Hear it on Youtube here, here (live performance), and here (set to Nativity movie clips). Artist’s website: Andrew-Peterson.com

It was not a silent night 那夜并不平安
There was blood on the ground 鲜血洒在地面
You could hear a woman cry 女人的哭泣声声
In the alleyways that night 在这漆黑夜晚
On the streets of David’s town 在大卫城中回荡

And the stable was not clean 马厩也并不洁净
And the cobblestones were cold 鹅卵石冷冷冰冰
And little Mary full of grace 玛利亚恩典满满
With tears upon her face 泪水滑落脸庞
Had no mother’s hand to hold 没母亲握手相伴 [*]

It was a labor of pain 那是多么的痛
It was a cold sky above 在这寒冷夜空下
But for the girl on the ground in the dark 黑夜中躺着地上的女孩 [*]
With every beat of her beautiful heart 她的每一次心跳
It was a labor of love 都是爱的跳动 [**]

Noble Joseph at her side 忠实约瑟在身旁
Callused hands and weary eyes 粗糙的双手疲惫的双眼 [*]
There were no midwives to be found 在深夜里遍寻街头
In the streets of David’s town 却找不到一位
In the middle of the night 一位助产的人

So he held her and he prayed 抱着玛利亚祷告
Shafts of moonlight on his face 月光洒向他脸庞
But the baby in her womb 但她腹中的宝贝
He was the maker of the moon 就是月的创造者
He was the Author of the faith 就是有移山信心 [***]
That could make the mountains move 的的始创者

It was a labor of pain 那是多么的痛
It was a cold sky above 在这寒冷夜空下
But for the girl on the ground in the dark 但黑夜中这女孩
With every beat of her beautiful heart 她的每一次心跳
It was a labor of love 都是爱的跳动

For little Mary full of grace 恩典满满的玛利亚
With the tears upon her face 尽管泪水滑落脸庞
It was a labor of love 却是爱的劳作

TRANSLATION NOTES

[*] Details & Syllables:
The few people I bounced this off of struggled to squeeze all of the vivid details into the allotted syllables. In some cases they revised details out to make a better rhythmic fit. So “no mother’s hand to hold” became “no mother by her side” (妈妈却不在身边); Mary “the girl on the ground in the dark” became “the girl in the dark night” (黑夜中这女孩); and Joseph’s “callused hands and weary eyes” became “utterly exhausted” (早已疲惫不堪). I opted to retain the details above even though it’s not as smooth, because those details evoke imagery that powerfully conveys a lot of the story.

[**] The “labour of love” wordplay:
A Chinese friend recommended switching my literal translation of the “labour of love” wordplay (referencing the pain and effort of childbirth) for, “Her every single heartbeat is the beat of love” (她的每一次心跳 / 都是爱的跳动). To me that’s even cheesier than the original, but that’s also par for the course in China. And each person I talked to wasn’t satisfied with using 劳作 for “labor”, but no one had a better alternative.

[***] Everyone had trouble translating “the Author of the faith that can make the mountains move”.

More Chinese Christmas songs:

More English Christmas songs: Merry Christmas Music!

Chinese characters vs. English sight words

renzi1
Our oldest daughter is loving the neighbourhood Chinese literacy class.
You don’t have to be like a Chinese immigrant we talked with this past summer in Louisiana. She said she tells Americans to not even bother trying to learn Chinese because “it’s just too hard.”

Chinese is not impossible. It’s not even all that hard. But it is slow. Without an alphabet, it’s tough on kids who grew up on phonics and spelling rules and “it’s good to colour outside the lines!” There’s just a ton of brute memorization. And memorization is not a highly valued skill in our Western education systems. But it’s an absolute necessity for a non-phonetic language.

For example, this is our 6-year-old’s box of Chinese reading curriculum, which she uses at a training centre in our neighbourhood for kindergarten and Grade 1 students (she’s the only 老外):
renzi
It says, “Primary students’ commonly used 1500 characters.” That’s FIFTEEN-HUNDRED Chinese characters. For five-year-olds. To memorize in 4.5 months. So that they won’t be left behind next fall by the speed and pressure of Grade 1.

And this is a non-traditional, less-pressure, relatively fun learning system.

By comparison, her English homeschooling curriculum has her memorizing maybe five sight words per week for Grade 1. I googled around, and current standards for 5-to-6-year-olds seem to aim for recognition of around 50 high-frequency words by the end of kindergarten, and familiarity with 300 total words (sight words and sounded-out words) by the end of Grade 1.

Thankfully, our oldest daughter is loving the class and the teacher, who’s competent and experienced, warm but firm in a ruthlessly efficient, no-nonsense Chinese Mary Poppins kind of way.
renzi2
For more about Learning Mandarin, see:

renzi3

the Commies are hiding in my dictionary!

Simplified Chinese characters aren’t the only way to tell if your Chinese dictionary is from the Mainland or not. Sometimes the sentence examples provide clues. In case any of you need to know how to use 接受communistdictionary