I have tried to learn Chinese, I spent a few months listening to audio lessons to try and get to grips with the language before going on holiday to Beijing a couple of years ago. It’s not an easy language to learn, grammatically it’s fairly simple, the difficulty is with the tones.
What to you or me might sound like one sound can actually be a falling rising tone, a rising tone a a falling tone or a flat tone. They all sound fairly similar to the untrained ear, or at least they do when someone is talking at full speed. I thought I had got the hang of the tones and gleefully tried to talk to people using my new found linguistic masters, but because I had no idea what I was doing not only could I not understand them they couldn’t understand me. The above poem consisting only of the syllable shi using various tones and contexts points this out beautifully…
That said English isn’t exactly the easiest language to learn if you aren’t a native speaker, I’ve seen this kicking about for the internet hundreds of times:
- The bandage was wound around the wound.
- The farm was used to produce produce.
- The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
- We must polish the Polish furniture.
- He could lead if he would get the lead out.
- The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
- Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.
- A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
- When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
- I did not object to the object.
- The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
- There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
- They were too close to the door to close it.
- The buck does funny things when the does are present.
- A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.
- To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
- The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
- After a number of injections my jaw got number.
- Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
- I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
- How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?