I’m very glad to see that so many students from all over the world are learning Mandarin Chinese these days. Learning a new language requires making a conscious effort to focus on the language form, and to master pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar.
A native speaker, on the other hand, masters his or her mother language mainly by immersion and acquisition, so the focus on the function and meaning of the language. In this way, language is naturally acquired. This is the difference between language learning and natural language acquisition.
As a Mandarin teacher, I always try to make my lessons more fun and inviting. Beyond all doubt, learning a new language takes a lot of time and effort, but we can still find elegantly simple and interesting ways to gain mastery.
儿歌 Childrens' Songs
When you begin to learn a new language, try to forget that you are an adult. Keep your childlike openness and sing some childrens’ songs. In Mandarin, there are many such songs and rhymes to teach children; we call them 儿歌 (érgē).
When you begin to learn Pinyin, 儿歌 can help you get the feel of the 4 tones; after you mastered some words and expressions from your textbook, practicing 儿歌 will be a good complement to your textbook. For example, after you have learned some practical topics, such as shopping, asking directions, buying a gift, the weather and 5 senses, business words, etc. you can also taste the beauty of Chinese literature through 儿歌.
Perhaps some of you will laugh, because after all, “I am an adult now!” But, it’s not just fun and games. In fact, you can also learn many useful grammar patters through 儿歌.
儿歌 (1): 下雨啦 Xiàyǔ Lā
xiàyǔ la xiàyǔ la
下 雨 啦 下雨 啦,
liǔ shù shuō ：xiàba 、xiàba 、wǒ yào fāyá
柳 树 说 ：下吧、 下吧、 我 要 发芽,
táo shù shuō ：xiàba 、xiàba 、wǒ yào kāihuā
桃 树 说 ： 下吧、 下吧、 我 要 开 花。
Drip drop, drip drop,
It’s raining, it’s raining,
Willow says: come down, come down, I want to germinate,
Peach(tree) says: come down, come down, I want to blossom.
1) First, please pay attention to the rhyming at the end of each sentence; the final sound is the same (a), so you can feel a sort of harmony when you read it.
2) When you read this rhyme, can you image the beautiful scenery in spring? The rain in spring is full of vitality, bringing us hope.
3) You may doubted that willow and peach tree are plants, they can not speak like a human being. This is a literary device called personification. Pragmatics is the study of how context influences meaning.
So you see, from a simple 儿歌, we can learn about many literary topics.
儿歌（2）Xiǎoxiǎo de Chuán 小 小 的 船
Wānwān de yuèr xiǎoxiǎo de chuán
弯 弯 的 月儿 小 小 的 船，
Xiǎo xiǎo de chuánr liǎng tóu jiān
小 小 的 船儿 两 头 尖，
Wǒ zài xiǎoxiǎo de chuánlǐ zuò
我 在 小 小 的 船 里 坐，
Zhī kànjiàn ，shǎnshǎn de xīngxing lánlán de tiān
只 看 见， 闪 闪 的 星 星 蓝蓝 的 天。
The curved moon looks like a small boat,
The small boat has two sharp ends,
I sit in the small boat,
All I see: shining stars in the blue sky.
In this 儿歌，the famous writer 叶圣陶 used metaphor（比喻）and catchword repetition (顶真).
1) Metaphor : The moon is likened to a boat.
2) Catchword repetition: [小小的船] is the end of the first sentence, and as the beginning of the next sentence too.
唐诗 Tang Poetry
唐诗 (tángshī) poetry of Tang Dynasty is also a good choice to help you know more about Chinese ancient culture. Nearly every Chinese child recites at least some poems from Tang Dynasty in school.
【咏鹅】was written by a famous poet named Luò Bīnwáng. When he was just 7 years old, he had already written such vivid poetry as this:
É é é
鹅 鹅 鹅
Qū xiàng xiàng tiān gē
曲 项 向 天 歌
Báimáo fú lǜshuǐ
白毛 浮 绿水
Hóngzhǎng bō qīng bō
红 掌 拨 清 波
Skyward sing through curved necks,
White plumage floating in green water,
Red paddles stirring up clear ripples.
Just imagine that when you see a goose, you recite this beautiful poetry. What a wonderful thing it is! Through these 儿歌 and 唐诗，you can easily obtain a language-learning environment similar to that of Chinese children.
In fact, I have taught some of my students using this kind of material, and I’m very glad to see they love to read and recite 儿歌 and 唐诗.
I should advise when you begin to learn Chinese: don’t be nervous, and please speak Chinese slowly at first. You should first become accustomed to the 4 tones, the neutral tone, and rules of changing tones, and then you can speak Chinese fluently in the future. When you read a poetry of Tang Dynasty, you’d better pay attention to the rising and falling cadence.
儿歌 and 唐诗 are a language treasure house just waiting for you to explore! Today is the day to take action!