To my students at Westford High School

Dear all,
I was honored to teach the very best part of my culture, in the country that’s going to be my home.
I had fun teaching you.
I also learned from you. As the Chinese saying “Jiao xue xiang zhang” goes: to teach is to learn. Teaching others teaches yourself.
You posed interesting questions. You inspired me.
I am happy to see that both curiosity and love for this languages grow in you.
I hope you carry on learning.
I hope to see you again next term.


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Lesson 10: Chinese characters

American poet Ezra Pound once said: ” The easiest language in the world for writing poetry is Chinese. Pablo Picasso said:” If I was born in China, I wouldn’t have been a painter, I would have become a calligrapher.”

Whether simple or complicated, each Chinese character is a picture. And each character is a unity of form, sound and meaning, one at least. Learning Chinese is different from learning any other languages. In learning a western language, if you were to take a word apart, separating it into many phonetic syllables, it would lose its meaning altogether. For instance, if you were to take the English word “university” and try to figure out its meaning based on the meanings of the five syllabic components u/ni/ver/si/ty, you would get nowhere, because separately these components each has no meaning at all and certainly has nothing to do with what the word “university” means.

Let’s look at the Chinese word for “university”: 大学. You first learn the words “大” which means “big” and “学” which means “learning”, you learn the two words separately since 大学 is formed by combining these two characters (you might call them elements of the language). In meaning, 大学 has to do with both 大 and 学, and yet 大学 is not a simple case of 大 plus 学.  On the surface it is the combination is “big” and “learning” yet the meaning is more than that. 大学is the equivalent of the English word “university”.

Similarly, take 危机, the Chinese word for “crisis” for example, it is formed by combining “danger” and “opportunity”. This is a perfect example to show the philosophical side of the Chinese language. Isn’t “crisis” contains both “danger” and “opportunity”?

Same as “university”, when we say “crisis” in Chinese, the meaning conveyed in 危机 is the equivalent of that of “crisis”. It is formed of “danger” plus “crisis” yet the meaning is more than just the combination of these two characters.

Chinese characters, created and improved by the Huaxia people in ancient times, are one of the world’s oldest scripts, with a history dating back to the Shang Dynasty (c1600-c1100BC)—-The oracle bone inscriptions carved on tortoise shells and ox bones used for divination and recording by the ruling families.

Chinese characters gradually developed from pictographs to square-shaped symbols composed of strokes. Chinese characters have been the standard official script throughout the ages in China.

Reference: Chinese Characters in Pictures
ISBN 978-7-80200-101-5

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Lesson 9: what would you like to drink?

你喝什么? —- What would you like to drink?
我喝牛奶.  —- I would like to drink milk.
我喝咖啡. —- I would like to drink coffee.
我不喝咖啡 —- I don’t drink coffee/ I wouldn’t want coffee.
你吃什么?—- What would you like to eat?
我吃面包,不吃鸡蛋. —- I eat bread, not eggs.
爸爸喝咖啡,不喝牛奶. —- Dad drinks coffee, not milk.

New words:
面包 —- bread
鸡蛋 —- eggs
牛奶 —- milk
咖啡 —- coffee
吃 —- eat
喝 —- drink
早上 —- morning

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Lesson 8: My home is not a big one

他家很大,他家有十个房间。—- His home is big, he’s got ten rooms there.The Chinese adjectives can serve as verb. This sentence literally means: His home very big. His home has ten rooms. You see here, in English you need to say “his home is very big”, but in Chinese “very big” can serve as verb, you don’t need to add a “is” here.

我家不大,我家有五个房间。—- I home is not a big one, I’ve got five rooms.
To ask if someone’s got a big home/house :
你家大吗? —- Is your house big?
厨房不很大. —- The kitchen is not very big.
我是中国人,我家在北京,我家不大. —- I am a Chinese, my home is in Beijing. It’s not a big home.

New words:
厨房—- KitchenChu fang. The two characters literally mean: cook room.

卫生间 —- toilet/loo
房间 —- room
客厅—- lounge/living roomThe word for “lounge” is literally comprised of symbol for guest and symbol for hall. So its literal meaning is: guest hall. (ke ting, as you can hear from audio file)

书房 —- studyThis two characters literally means: book room. (pronounced as: shu fang, please click on the audio file)

花园 —- gardenThe word for garden, literally means: flower yard. (hua yuan as you can hear from audio)

游泳池 —- swimming pool

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Lesson 7: I’ve got a cat

我有一只猫 —- I’ve got a cat. 他有两只小狗 —- He’s got two puppies.哥哥有一只猫,两只狗 —- My brother has got a cat and two dogs.爸爸,妈妈有猫吗? —- Has dad and mom got cats?

有 —- to have 猫 —- cat 狗 —- dog 只 —- a measure word 小 —- small 一 —- one 二 —- two 三 —- three 四 —- four 五 —- five 六 —- six

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Lesson 6: My family

爸爸 —- father
妈妈 —- mother
爷爷 —- grandpa (father’s father)
外公 —- grandpa (mother’s father)
奶奶 —- grandma (father’s mother)
外婆 —- grandma (mother’s mother)
哥哥 —- elder brother
姐姐 —- elder sisiter
弟弟 —- younger brother
妹妹 —- younger sisiter
这是我爸爸 —- this is my father.
这是你爸爸吗?—- Is this your father?
那是我妈妈 —- that’s my mother.
那是你妈妈吗?—- Is that your mother?
这是我 —- this is me.

The Chinese family
Chinese culture traditionally attaches a great deal of importance to the family. The Chinese family is typically quite extensive; family members are numerous and there are many households with three or more generations living together, grandparents and grandchildren under the roof. Like many countries in the world, a lot of mother-in-laws and their daughter-in-laws are natural enemies. As urbanization continues to accelerate and as modern lifestyles begin to take hold, the Chinese household is gradually shrinking in size. The nuclear family comprising only parents and child is becoming the mainstream style of Chinese household.

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12 Films you should see about China

Mao’s Last Dancer:

The Road Home

Farewell My Concubine

Forever Enthralled

Lust, Caution

The Home Song Stories

Not One Less

Jasmine Women

Xiao Wu

Riding alone for Thousands of Miles

Huang Tu Di (The Yellow Land)

The Wedding Banquet

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