Tally Marks in Chinese

Do you know what tally marks are?

They are used when counting with a pencil and paper.

In western societies, a common way to note tally marks is like this:

You mark down a single stroke, each time you’re counting an item. After you have 4 strokes down, on your 5th stroke you cross off the first 4. That way it’s easy to count a group of 5.

In Chinese they use the same concept, but instead of vertical strokes, they try to build the character 正 as follows:

As you can see, each complete 正 character uses 5 strokes. So a series of 正 would each represent 5, just like the English ones above.

So where else can you see 正 tallies?

When you are ordering items from a menu, you can use 正 to indicate the number of dishes you want to order. Start with 一 for one, and work your way up.

So the next time you see the above strokes, you’ll know what its purpose is!


7 Signs you have a Bad Chinese Teacher

Bad Chinese Teacher

If you’re learning Chinese through one on one, or from a classroom, here are seven signs that you don’t have a very good teacher, and what you can do to fix them.

  1. Uses too much English. Obviously if you’re just starting out, then a certain amount of English will be required up front. However a good teacher should quickly start using Chinese as much as possible, especially words and phrases that you’re likely to hear over and over in each class. If you find yourself hearing the same English words over and over (eg. “Good job!”) then find out how this can be said in Chinese and encourage your teacher to do so.This might also be an issue if the teacher is using you to practice English, rather than focusing on teaching Chinese. Unless the class is meant to be a language exchange, keep the focus on speaking Chinese where possible.
  2. Doesn’t correct your pronunciation. One of the biggest obstacles that new learners to Chinese have is tones. In the beginning it can be frustrated to have your teacher correct each mistake you make, but this needs to be done. You may have to work hard repeating the same words and phrases again and again until you get it right. Some teachers may feel embarrassed to keep correcting you and may instead choose to move on.You can recognize this is happening if you find that words that your Chinese teacher understands you speaking are not understood by others. This is a sure sign you need to continue working on your pronunciation. Encourage your teacher to keep correcting you, and even thank them for doing so, to let them know it’s okay.
  3. Likes to complete your sentences. When you’re asked a question, it can sometimes take some time to formulate your answer. You know what you want to say, but just need to find the right words in Chinese. It’s important to take the time to find the right answer. If the teacher keeps interrupting you by blurting out the answer, then you are losing a valuable opportunity to remember these words and concepts on your own.If this happens, remind your teacher not to give you the answer and instead give you time to think. If you are truly stuck, then ask for a hint, instead of the actual answer.
  4. Always discusses the same topics. A good teacher should recognize when a concept is learned and move on and look for new ones. If you are always being asked how your weekend was, and your answer is always the same “same old“, then you know that either the teacher needs to ask a different question, or you need to come up with a different answer for the sake of learning.A good teacher should be able to ask further probing questions:What did you do?
    What did you like about it?
    Was there anything you didn’t like about it?

    Some of us are natural introverts and won’t spontaneously come out with detailed answers. A good teacher should be able to get around this by asking the right questions to elicit new answers in new subjects, that will require new vocabulary to be learned.

  5. Doesn’t test if you understand a concept. When a new vocabulary item is learned, a good teacher should test if you understand it before moving on. Ways to do so could include asking you to make one or two sentences out of it. If the teacher is especially proficient, they could ask you what the difference between this word and a similar one was, as there may be subtle differences that may need to be understood.Many words in Chinese don’t have one to one translations in English, so they could be used in some situations like their English counterparts, but not in others, so some additional examples may be required.
  6. Doesn’t provide a proper balance between listening and speaking. Ideally, you should be getting equal exposure to listening to your teacher speaking in Chinese, while also being given time to practice speaking yourself. The exception here would be if one of your skills was especially weak and you specifically wanted your teacher to focus on that.
    If you find that your teacher is spending most of the time talking, with not enough time for your replies, then this is something that will need to get fixed.
  7. Is more interested in friendship than teaching. Some teachers may have a fascination with foreign languages and culture, and may use this teaching opportunity to further their own interests. If you find yourself constantly having to change the topic back to learning Chinese, this may be an indication that you need a new teacher.

Want to find a really good one on one teacher? Try our One on One Skype program. Base it on the CLO course, or just general conversation.

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Chinese Speakers Replying in English

Does this ever happen to you?

Chinese Speakers

You speak Chinese to someone and they reply back to you in English. How does this make you feel?

Should you reply back to them in English, or continue speaking in Chinese?

In reality, your Chinese might be perfectly fine. Maybe they are wondering what you think of their English.

In the same way you are practicing your Chinese with them, they may be using the same opportunity to speak English with you.


Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone

Comfort Zone

Do you ever find yourself learning Chinese for an extended period, without seeing any real progress?

Do you know anyone who has lived in China for several years, but still can’t speak Chinese?

Or maybe you’ve been taking classes at an institution for a while, but find yourself still stuck at the same level.

Why is this?

The problem in all these cases is that we easily get stuck in our comfort zone when learning.

When you move to a new learning environment, there is an initial excitement as you start to learn the vocabulary needed to survive there.

Once you get acclimatized though, you find that you know enough vocabulary to survive, without having to learn any more. There isn’t any stress on you to learn anything new, so you’re content at the level you are, without any pressure to learn any more.

Surprisingly, many schools and learning programs are content letting you stay in your comfort zones. You would think that students would drop out if they weren’t making progress, but it’s actually the opposite that happens. They get “comfortable” without the stress of learning, yet still feel good that they are making the effort of learning.

You may have seen this at your local gym as well. People come in for “workouts”, but use it as a social setting instead, listening to music and chit chatting with friends, while barely drawing a sweat.

If the experience becomes too “hard”, then students are more likely to drop out.

At CLO, we take the risk of upsetting you by purposely upping the level of difficulty at each level. Some levels have more of a jump in difficulty from one to another (level 2 to 3 for example). Some students quit when the material gets too hard.

For others though, who do slog it out, and put in the effort to catch up to the new difficulty level, the benefits are clear. It’s what is required to make clear progress.

Are you satisfied with your progress learning Chinese the last few years? Are you ready to get out of your comfort zone?


Use Chinese to Build Rapport

Use Chinese to Build Rapport

When you approach someone in a Chinese community, a game of chicken ensures. They hesitate to speak in English with you. Break the tension by approaching them first, in Chinese! Locals tend to be put at ease when they hear you make attempts to speak their language.

However, this also works well in western countries. If you overhear people speaking in Chinese on the street (it is best to confirm that they are indeed Chinese speakers first!), you can expect surprise, bewilderment and then encouragement (usually in that order) when you try speaking Chinese to them.

While it’s common to find westerners who speak Chinese in China, it’s very rare to find ones who do in western countries.

So show off what you know and stand out from the crowd!