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It’s probably time to learn Chinese

也许是时候学中文了

Eric Meltzer

埃里克 · 梅尔泽

For over a century, learning English has been one of the highest ROI things a non-English speaker could do. English went from being a language spoken by a few million people on an island to the the language of a world-spanning empire to a de-facto global language in a few centuries. I think, despite accusations of provincialism from polyglot Europeans, English is still by far the most useful language in the world and that being a monolingual English speaker isn’t the worst thing in the world. I say that as someone who loves learning languages; realistically, there are many interesting things to learn in the world and our time is pretty limited.

一个多世纪以来,学习英语一直是非英语使用者所能达到的最高投资回报率之一。
在几个世纪的时间里,英语从一个小岛上几百万人使用的语言,变成了一个横跨世界的帝国的语言,成为事实上的全球性语言。
我认为,尽管通晓多种语言的欧洲人指责英语是地方主义,但英语仍然是世界上最有用的语言,而且只会说一种语言并不是世界上最糟糕的事情。
我想说,作为一个热爱学习语言的人,实际上,世界上有许多有趣的事情值得我们去学习,而我们的时间是相当有限的。

However, the benefits of learning Mandarin have grown a lot over the past two decades. We’re in a critical period where the demand for bilingual English/Mandarin speakers is extremely high from maturing Chinese institutions looking to go abroad, but the supply of those speakers remains relatively low. The world also seems to be moving from a unipolar America-led situation towards a bi-or-multipolar one where China assumes a lot more importance, so speaking Chinese is a good hedge in that sense.

在过去的二十年里,学习中文的好处大大增加了。
我们正处于一个关键时期,成熟的中国组织、机构、企业希望走出国门,对会说英语和中文的人的需求非常高,但这类人才的供应仍然相对较低。
世界似乎也正在从美国领导的单极世界向中国扮演更重要角色的双极或多极世界转变,因此说中文在这个意义上是一个很好的对冲。

Learning Mandarin has been one of the most rewarding I’ve ever done, up there with learning how to program.

学习中文是我做过的最有意义的事情之一,就像学习如何编程一样。

Before I explain how to quickly learn Mandarin, here are a few explicit reasons why you may want to:

在我解释如何快速学习中文之前,这里有一些你可能想学习中文的明确原因:

Important reasons

一些重要的原因

China is emerging from its copycat phase and is beginning to produce interesting technology and cultural products again.

· 中国正从山寨阶段走出来,并开始再次生产有趣的技术和文化产品;

Almost as many people speak Mandarin as English; about 1.5 billion for each language. Very few Mandarin speakers also speak English. The oft-cited figure of 300 million english-speakers in China is laughable propaganda, and the true number is probably closer to 10 million, or less than 1% of the population.

· 说中文的人几乎和说英语的人一样多,大约各有约15亿人;
· 说普通话的人很少会说英语,一个经常被引用的说法是,中国说英语的人口是3亿,这是一个可笑的宣传,真实的数字可能仅仅接近1000万,或者说还不到总人口的1% ;

Fun reasons

有趣的理由



The linguistic legacy of ancient Chinese imperial expansion is visible in Korean and Japanese, and to a lesser extent in Vietnamese . With no background in Japanese, you can read some menus, get the gist of newspaper articles, read most signage, and generally get around in Japan if you speak Chinese. Amusingly, you will be more able to understand sophisticated academic texts or ancient novels than modern stuff, since the influence of Chinese on the Japanese language peaked during the Tang dynasty.

· 中国古代帝国扩张的语言遗产在韩语和日语中非常突出,在越南语中也有所体现,只是程度较小。即使你没有日语背景,如果你会说中文,你仍然可以看懂某些菜单,了解报纸文章的要点,看明白大部分标牌,一般情况下在日本四处走动不成问题。
有趣的是,你会比现代人更能理解复杂的学术典籍或古代小说,因为汉语对日语的影响在唐朝达到顶峰。

The Chinese literary corpus (modern and ancient both) is huge, deep, and sparsely translated into English. It contains a lot of works that have no English equivalent, and a lot of philosophy that resembles the more practical of the Hellenistic philosophers who were interested in how to live a good life. You’ll gain access to a whole bunch of interesting material you otherwise would have no way to read.

· 中国文学语料库 ( 现代的和古代的) ,规模庞大,内容深刻,英文译本稀少,它包含了许多没有英文版本的著作,以及许多类似于希腊哲学家的哲学,他们对如何过上美好的生活有着浓厚的兴趣,但是更实际,你必然会接触到一大堆有趣的资料,否则你将无法阅读。

How to become fluent in Mandarin

如何熟练掌握普通话

If you can go to China, do so.

如果你能去中国,我推荐你直接去中国。

You can learn Chinese without moving to China. It will take longer, especially in the beginning — you can go from nothing to conversational a lot faster if you are immersed. Your pronunciation will also suffer if you don’t learn in China, and your vocabulary and diction may be a little bit less natural. It’s still doable and worthwhile though. If you can’t move to China, you can skip over this next section and I’ll discuss some ways to simulate immersion without actually being in China.

当然,如果你不用去中国也是可以学中文的,但这样花费的时间更长,尤其是在开始的时候——如果你沉浸其中的话,你可以从什么都不会变得更为健谈。
如果你不在中国学习,你的发音也会受到影响,自然你的词汇量也会少一点,尽管如此,这仍然是可行的和有价值的。
如果你不能去到中国,你可以跳过下面这一节,后面我会讨论一些不去中国,但可以模拟沉浸感的方法。

Specifically, go to Beijing, Shanghai, or Chengdu

具体来说,去北京、上海或者成都

Beijing is the central capital of the most centralized country on earth. The government is in Beijing, the best educational institutes are in Beijing, the movie industry is in Beijing, the art world is still largely centered in Beijing, Beijing is the startup hub of China, and Beijing is roughly tied with Shanghai as a financial hub. Modern Mandarin is based on the Beijing dialect, so if you learn Chinese in Beijing your accent will be considered easy to understand and “standard.” The inner city of Beijing (everything inside the 2nd ring road, and to a lesser extent everything inside the 3rd) is charming, liveable, and still has many of the courtyard houses and snaking alleyways that have made up the city since the Ming dynasty. Beijing (and modern Asian cities in general) is one of the most convenient places to live on the planet. Many business models that are marginal in American low-density cities are solid in ultra high-density Beijing: there are multiple profitable food-delivery startups, wash and fold laundry services are plentiful, there will be a grocery store, many restaurants, bars, and convenience stores within feet of wherever you live. The air pollution is bad, but a couple of good HEPA filters in your house eliminates more than 50% of your exposure, and going elsewhere during the winter eliminates another large chunk of it.

北京是这个星球上最集中的首都与中心,最好的教育机构在北京,电影业在北京,艺术世界仍然主要集中在北京,北京还是中国的创业中心,作为金融中心与上海大致相当。
现代汉语普通话是基于北京方言的,所以如果你在北京学习中文,你的口音会被认为是容易理解和“标准”的。
北京的内城 ( 二环以内以及三环以内 ) 是迷人的,宜居的,并且仍然有许多四合院和蜿蜒的小巷,这些都是明代以来的北京建筑。
北京 ( 以及现代化的亚洲城市) 是地球上最适宜居住的地方之一。
许多在美国低密度城市边缘的商业模式在高密度的北京得到了巩固:
有许多赚钱的食品配送创业公司,洗衣服务丰富,杂货店,餐馆、酒吧和便利店集聚你居住的地方几英尺范围内。
空气污染很严重,但高效微粒空气过滤器可以消除超过50% 的污染,而在冬天去别的地方可以消除大部分的污染。



The most accessible and easy way to go to China is to take a job teaching English. It’s also the absolute worst way to go there. It’s poorly paid, does nothing to advance your Chinese language skills, and ensures the people you will be in contact with through your job are people who specifically are paying to not speak Chinese with you. Here are some better options:

去中国最容易的方法就是找一份教英语的工作,但这绝对是最糟糕的方式,这份工作薪水很低,对提高你的中文技能毫无帮助,而且你得明白你通过工作接触到的人,是那些专门花钱来学英语而不是和你说中文的人,我觉得有一些更好的选择:

Go through your school

留学,通过学校去中国

Most top colleges in the US have China study-abroad options. I’ve heard particularly good things about Middlebury, U.C. Berkeley, Stanford, Harvard, and Yale. Stanford has a very swanky center at Peking University which is cool. Harvard and Yale have the oldest Sinology programs in the country but that may be of limited importance to you if your goal is simply conversational fluency. U.C. Berkeley has the UCEAP program which, if your Chinese is good enough, lets you take normal classes at the “Harvard of China,” Peking University. The biggest disadvantage of going through your college is the temptation to hang out with other Americans. There’s something about immersion that seems to accelerate language learning in a nonlinear way, and it can be derailed by even a small amount of daily exposure to one’s mother language. If you think being disciplined about not speaking English will be an issue for you, a study-abroad program may not be ideal.

美国大多数顶尖大学都可以选择去中国留学,明德学院、加州大学伯克利分校、斯坦福大学、哈佛大学和耶鲁大学都有这样的项目。
斯坦福大学在北京大学有一个非常活跃的交流中心,很赞,哈佛大学和耶鲁大学拥有全国最古老的汉学课程,但如果你的目标仅仅是流利的对华,那么这对你来说可能并不重要。
加州大学伯克利分校有一个UCEAP项目,如果你的中文足够好,你可以在“中国的哈佛”——北京大学上正常的课程。
进入大学的最大缺点就是与其他美国人交往的诱惑,沉浸感似乎以一种非线性的方式加速了语言学习,即使是每天少量接触母语也会打乱语言学习的进程,如果你认为自觉不说英语对你来说是个问题,那么海外留学项目可能并不理想。

Get a job that allows you to work remotely

找一份能让你远程工作的工作

If you’re a freelancer, or if you work for a company that allows remote work, this is a great option. Although changes to the exchange rate and cost of living have made this less true than it once was, being paid in USD and spending RMB will enable you to live very comfortably even in first-tier cities. Compared to working at a Chinese company or going through a study-abroad program, your daily Mandarin exposure will be reduced, but you can still speak it during every non-working hour. If you’re a freelancer you can also start mixing in Chinese clients once your Mandarin improves.

如果你是一个自由职业者,或者你工作的公司允许远程工作,这是一个很好的选择。
虽然汇率和生活成本的变化已经使这种情况不像以前那样真实了,但是用美元支付和花人民币将使你即使在一线城市也能生活得非常舒适。
与在中国公司工作或参加留学项目相比,你每天接触中文的机会会减少,但你仍然可以在非工作时间讲中文,如果你是一个自由职业者,一旦你的中文水平有所提高,你也可以开始和中国客户交流。

Get a job with a Chinese company

去一家中国公司找份工作

If you speak no Mandarin, this will be difficult but definitely not impossible. If you have skills that are in demand, many Chinese companies are hiring and have official policies that state English should be spoken in the office. In reality you’ll find that English is rarely spoken, but while that won’t be good for your initial productivity, it will be awesome for generating immersion and helping you learn quickly.

如果你不会说中文,这会很困难的,但也不是绝对不可能。
如果你有技能,许多中国公司正在招聘,并且有官方政策规定在办公室说英语。
事实上,你会发现很少有人说英语,但是尽管这对你最初的工作效率不会有好处,但是它会让你沉浸其中,帮助你快速学习。

Attend a Chinese university as a fulltime student

以全日制学生身份进入中国大学学习



Set up your environment. Change your computer and smartphone language to Chinese. Download Sogou Pinyin, which is much better than the default Windows or Mac IME. Block Facebook and Twitter. Find a stream of Chinese TV and leave it on in your house whenever possible. Chinese TV is largely garbage but your brain will be absorbing the sounds in the background which is useful.

· 自建语境氛围
更改你的电脑和智能手机语言为中文,下载搜狗拼音(比默认的 Windows 或 Mac 输入法要好得多),屏蔽 Facebook 和 Twitter,找一台能放中文节目的电视机,在家的时候尽可能把它开着,中国的电视很大程度上都是垃圾,但你的大脑会吸收背景中的声音,这点很有用。

Set up The Loop. My friend coined this term for the system we used for acquiring and remembering new words in Chinese. You need a dictionary and a spaced-repetition flashcard app. Pleco is both, and much more: a truly venerable app that got its start as a Palm Pilot app almost twenty years ago. In the meantime it’s developed into one of the most powerful apps I’ve ever had the pleasure of using. The app itself and several good dictionary files for it are free — you pay for additional features as you need them. The handwriting recognition, main dictionary pack, and flashcard functionality are must-haves; the rest you can decide for yourself if you need or not. You’ll start the loop either by walking around China and drawing (not writing; at this stage you won’t know the correct order of strokes for characters, so just roughly draw what they look like) characters you don’t understand into Pleco. You can hit the [+] on any character card to add it to your flashcard deck. Pleco has a bunch of different flashcard modes, all of which are useful for different things. Do a mix of them every single night. Don’t be tempted to import any pre-made flashcard decks. Making your own deck from the words you actually encounter is way more effective. This simple practice will improve your vocabulary shockingly fast.

· 建立循环
我的朋友创造了这个词,指的是我们用来获取和记忆中文新词的系统。
你需要一本字典和一个带记忆卡片的APP,Pleco这款APP既是字典,又是一款值得尊敬的应用程序,大约20年前它从Palm Pilot 发展起来,到现在,它已经发展成为我有幸使用过的最强大的APP之一。
这个APP本身及其一些很棒的字典文件都是免费的ーー需要付费的是其他功能。
手写识别、主词典包和抽认卡功能是必备的,其余的你可以自己决定是否需要。。。巴拉巴拉巴拉。。

(译注:翻到这里译者发现这很有可能是一篇恰饭文章。。。后面介绍APP的一段就不翻了)

Find conversational partners. I learned a lot of Mandarin from hanging out in a mandarin-speaking Linux tech support group on IRC. You can find conversational partners on Wechat, on IRC, on Weibo (“Chinese twitter”), Douban (no US equivalent! Interesting hipster-y site focused on books and music), or on dating apps like Momo or Tantan. Have “thick face skin,” the Chinese term for being shameless, and keep speaking even through your embarrassing mistakes. Add any words you have issues with to your flashcard loop. Try not to use any phrases you haven’t seen a native speaker use. You should start conversation practice way before you feel remotely ready for it, because it will ensure that the phrases you learn are those which native speakers actually use, rather than the fifty-year-old ones being taught in textbooks.

· 寻找对话伙伴
我从 IRC 上一个讲中文的 Linux 技术支持小组中学到了很多中文知识,受益良多。
你可以在微信、 IRC、微博 (“中国推特”)、豆瓣 ( 美国没有同类网站!一个很赞的流行网站专注于书籍和音乐 ) 上找到对话伙伴! 或者约会APP,如陌陌或探探等。
“脸皮厚”(thick face skin)很重要,即使你犯了令人尴尬的错误,也要坚持说下去。
把任何你觉得有问题的单词添加到你的抽认卡,尽量不要使用以中文为母语的人没有使用过的短语。
你应该在你还没有完全准备好之前就开始练习对话,因为这将确保你学到的短语现在中文母语者实际使用的,而不是教科书上教50岁的人使用的那些。

Whatever you do, don’t underestimate the importance of tones. Many foreign speakers of Chinese have horrible tones or seem to think of them as an optional part of the language. They aren’t; they’re central to conveying meaning and you will sound permanently foreign if you don’t master them. The typical tonal learning curve is to go from barely even being able to hear the difference, to being able to hear it after about 4 months of practice, to being able to repeat it with some effort after another 4, and finally to having mostly correct tones after 6–8 months of total study. This assumes that you are paying tones the attention they deserve, and working hard to correct your mistakes.

无论你做什么,都不要低估音调的重要性,许多讲汉语的外国人有可怕的音调,或者认为它们只是学习这门语言的一个可选部分——它们不是,它们是传达意义的核心,如果你不能掌握它们,你的发言永远像个外国人。
典型的音调学习曲线是从几乎听不出差别,到经过大约4个月的练习后能听出差别,再经过4个月的努力能够重复,最后经过6-8个月的总体学习后能听出大部分正确的音调,当然,前提是你能给予音调应有的关注,并努力改正你的错误。

Don’t waste time learning how to write characters, at least until you’re already conversational and can read fast. A lot of people seem to love the app Skritter, but I’d avoid it because it will just teach you how to write characters well, a skill which is not especially useful.

不要浪费时间学习如何书写,至少在你学会交谈并能快速阅读之前不要这样。
很多人似乎都喜欢 Skritter 这个APP,但我会避免使用它,因为它只会教你如何写好字,而这种技能并不是特别有用。