Thursday, November 17, 2011

The China Diaries: Disney English

Products for children are some of the best ways to learn a language. Be they childrens' books, childrens' tv programs, or childrens' movies, they provide fairly simple language in a natural context. I have a sizable collection of childrens' books in Japanese, a few in Portuguese (though I was able to spring for a slightly higher age-level with those), and now I've begun to amass a collection of Chinese books.

The Chinese members of staff at school are very encouraging with this. They help me read the characters, providing me with the pronunciation and the meaning when I need it. This week's project was 纽扣,掉地上了!, "The Button That Fell on the Ground!". I learned how to say 星星, which is Chinese for "star". Huge. I also learned the title, which is a bit more beneficial to everyday life. I drop a lot of things.

I've taken to watching Disney movies (surprise, surprise) in Chinese with the subtitles (also in Chinese). It's a pretty serious endeavor, really. Here you can see the notes I took while watching Beauty and the Beast. The left page is random sentences and bits of dialogue. I learned how to say "Bride" (新娘-it translates literally as "new mother," which would drive my Psychology of Women professor straight up a tree), "Change" (变), "Don't abandon me" (不要丢下我-I expect this to come in quite useful at some indeterminate and very unfortunate point in the future), and, as you may even be able to make out in the photo, "Stupid" (蠢-the Chinese staff are not happy I learned this). The right side is all the lyrics to "Beauty and the Beast." Why not, I say.

Tonight, I watched Cinderella. I learned some very useful things from the simple commands Cinderella would yell at Lucifer, the cat, such as "Come here!" (过来) and "Look what you did!" (你看你搞了). A few nights ago, I watched WALL-E. This was not so productive. There are about five lines of dialogue, and none of them were particularly pertinent to life. I did pick up how to say "Foreign contaminants detected" (外来污染源) and a fancy way of saying "Clean," (清楚完成). So that's good.

As a somewhat related aside, this weekend I told my most advanced students that I'd watched WALL-E. They looked at me uncomprehending, which was fair enough, so I said it in Chinese, 瓦力. They knew it instantly. I know this won't come across well via text, but the Chinese title is "Wa li." If you say "WALL-E" straight, they have no idea. If you say it with a bit of a hesitating quiver during the "wa" and a downward shot during the "li," they gotcha. Strange, strange language, Chinese.

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