Category Archives: Language

Chinese Characters, by Han Jiantang

I was a little disappointed with “Chinese Characters”, a book by Han Jiantang, who is Professor of Chinese at Tianjin Normal University. The book is full of information about Chinese characters, but unfortunately, it is a little hard to digest at times. The presentation and structure of the text could be improved and the English translation is not always the best. It’s a shame because I was really looking forward to reading it. Having said that, if you don’t mind spending a bit of time searching for what you are looking for, the book is full of interesting information.

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Filed under Books, China, Language, Non-fiction

Besta MT-7000, Chinese-English electronic dictionary and e-tutor

I have finally received my Besta MT-7000! It took me a few weeks to find it. I tried to order it from China and Singapore, but the stocks of the sites that offered it were wrong and after a few unsuccessful attempts I was back to square one. I ended up ordering it on Amazon. The Besta MT-7000 is the best electronic Chinese-English dictionary on the market (This is strictly my point of view.). And it’s not very expensive. I should start by saying that it is much more than an electronic dictionary, as it features lessons ranging from characters to pronunciation, daily and business conversations, and a list of tools from a diary to a calculator, games etc. I love the fact that you can either use a keyboard or write directly on the digital screen with a small pen to look for a word or a character. You can even write sentences and the Besta will translate them for you! I have been playing with it non-stop since it arrived, and I am taking it with me on my business trip to Sydney next week. It replaces many books that I have been schlepping around for a few months. Being small, you can carry it in your pocket and use it whenever the need arises. I highly recommend it to anyone learning (Mandarin) Chinese.


Filed under China, Language, Technology

Teaching English to deaf Chinese children…

While living in Kunming (Yunnan, south-west China), I did a bit of volunteer work teaching English in a school for the deaf. It was an amazing experience. Those kids probably taught me more than I taught them… I had three classes, varying from twelve years old to eighteen years old. What was truly wonderful was that they were all interested, keen to learn, eager to participate in class activities. Whenever I asked for a volunteer, I had ten kids rushing to the blackboard! Many of them come from the country and only see their families on the weekend. More girls than boys, but a good mix nevertheless. A handful of them will move on to one of the three deaf Universities in China – if they pass the difficult entry test. Most of them will learn a trade and find a job. We had lots of fun in class. I think they got used to me pretty quickly. So how do you teach English to deaf Chinese children? Here’s how it went. First, you have to realise that most of them cannot speak (neither Chinese nor English), so they learn to write and read English. I had to quickly learn basic Chinese Sign Language. I can sign in Australian Sign Language, but guess what, the two languages are as different as English is from Arabic (For those who wonder, they are many, many different sign languages in the world. This is because they are natural languages, not man-made communication tools as many people imagine). So basically, I wrote English on the blackboard, then spoke Chinese to the class (Some children can lip-read) and signed in Chinese Sign Language at the same time. My brain got confused quite a few times, let me tell you! When I wanted them to “say” English words to me, I asked them to fingerspell them. Fingerspelling uses fingers to display letters of the alphabet, another feature of sign languages. I also used fingerspelling to teach them and practice new words. As for explaining grammatical points, I had to be quite creative (Try explaining the difference between “boring” and “bored” with signs, when the two words are the same in Chinese!) Anyway, I had a ball, and I was really sad at the time of leaving. It’s an experience I can highly recommend to anyone!

Here is a photo of each of my classes.


Filed under China, Language, Travel

It’s Friday! Body Swap interview, Yunnan trip etc

Only two more days in Hong Kong! I am getting ready for a trip to Kunming (Yunnan, China) which will see me away from home for six weeks. I will be going to a Mandarin school in the morning to improve my Chinese speaking and reading skills, so that I can be fluent enough to work in the language. I am looking forward to the experience, although I know it will be challenging. I’ll continue to work in the afternoons, in between excursions and discovery trips. Yunnan is a stunning region with many minorities living there. I will make sure to let you know what it’s like.

I’m excited to be going to the theatre to see In the Next Room or The Vibrator Play tonight, for which I will post a review tomorrow. On another note, I have been interviewed by Jess C Scott, author of The Other Side of Life about my novel Body Swap and my work. You can read the full interview here.


Author Interview #26, with author/playwright/management consultant Jerome Parisse, who grew up in France where he developed a love for language, literature, and good food!

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Filed under Author interview, Books, China, Hong Kong, Language, Reading, Theatre, Travel, writing

50 literature ideas you really need to know, by John Sutherland

I was given “50 literature ideas you really need to know” by John Sutherland as Christmas present this year. I thought this was a great idea… and it shows how well those who gave it to me know me. On its inside cover, it says that the book is “the essential guide to all the important forms, concepts, themes and movements in literature”. Does it attain its stated goal? I am not so sure… The “literature ideas” covered by Sutherland are varied and include hermeneutics, intentionalism, translation, genre, closure, allusion, defamiliarisation, metafiction, heteroglossia, or more simple aspects such as libel, lies, ghost-writers and the e-book. Each “idea” is covered in four pages, with a summary, some kind of definition, sometimes a few examples, and a lot of ranting. Don’t expect to find clear definitions of each idea or to end up with clear concepts in your mind. If anything, you may end up more confused. Sutherland’s writing is great, and this book feels more like a literature exercise than anything else. It certainly is NOT a practical guide. But it is fun to read, and a starting point for some of the chosen concepts. For others, such as the e-book or literature lies, it is disappointing. However, I have to be honest, it would be hard to cover any of those points in any meaningful way in only four pages.

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Filed under Books, Language

Reference material for learning Chinese

I’m very disappointed. The SUPER TYPHOON MEGI, which was heading towards Hong Kong two days ago changed its course and is now about to hit the North Guangdong province. Xiamen is going to get a lot of rain… and today is sunny in Hong Kong! I love typhoons and I was planning to spend a full day revising my Chinese while stuck at home. So here I am instead, planning to go swimming… Tough!

I thought I would post a few words about the material I find very useful to learn to speak and read Mandarin (not an easy task, as many of you would know!).

For learning to write and read characters, I find the following books most useful:

250 Essential Chinese Characters for everyday use (Vol 1 and 2) by Philip Yungkin Lee (from UNSW, SYDNEY!), Tuttle Publishing. These two books are excellent to learn to write the characters and understand their meaning and how they were created. The books present both the simplified version used in Mainland China, and the complex version used in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

To remember as many characters as possible, I use flashcards. Chinese in a Flash (Vol 1, 2, 3 and 4) by Philip Yungkin Lee,Tuttle Publishing, is perfect. I highly recommend them. They allow for quick self testing.

I also use Reading and Writing Chinese (simplified character edition), by William McNaughton, Tuttle Publishing, which presents over 2000 essential characters for reading everyday Chinese. The layout is beautiful, the blue ink for characters works well, the order of strokes is clearly presented and the different meanings and pronunciations are explained. This one complements nicely the material above.

For grammar, I use Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar: A Practical Guide, by Claudia  Ross and Jing-heng Sheng Ma, Routledge, Bilingual Edition.

For Vocabulary building, I like the visual Chinese English Bilingual Dictionary (Dorling Kindersley). It displays photos and pictures, with arrows pointing to the different elements, the Chinese and English words, and the PinYin correspondence.

I also use Schaum’s Outline of Chinese Vocabulary, by Yanping Xie and Duan-Duan Li, McGraw-Hill Publishers.

It’s hardly enough and it does not replace face to face conversation, but it’s a good start. I’d better get going though, so I’m going to sign off now. Enjoy your weekend!

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Filed under Books, Hong Kong, Language, Travel, Uncategorized

Recent interview about The Wings of Leo Spencer

I was recently interviewed by Sophie Waters, from So Many Books, So Little Time, about my latest novel, The Wings of Leo Spencer. Sophie’s also reviewed my book a few weeks back.  You can find the interview here, if you’re interested.

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Filed under Books, France, Language, writing

It’s all about words

I’ve just been for a swim – twenty laps, my usual. It’s winter in Australia at the moment, so I went to the indoor pool near my place. The water always feels a tad too cold there, and it takes me about four laps to warm up. To forget about the cold, I usually focus on a chosen topic and let my mind go free. The choice of topic depends on a variety of factors, ranging from home cooking to books and writing (of course), work (yikes), friends and family, travel, money, colours, printers, trees, possums, lorikeets… you name it. Today, it simply was about the use of certain words and expressions.

The reason is that as I was about to jump in the water, I caught a few words uttered by a man standing on the edge of the pool. He was saying, “And I thought to myself…” I’m not sure if it’s just me or if it is a worldwide phenomenon, but people seem to be saying, “I think to myself”, more and more often these days. Of course, what they should be saying is simply “I think”, because you can’t think to anyone else than yourself. Thinking is a quintessentially individual and personal process, unless you’re thinking aloud or you’re brainstorming ideas in a group. Another expression that gets me going every time is, “nodding one’s head”. What else do you want to nod? Your knee or your thumb? I also have a problem with people confusing “it’s” (as in, “it is”) with “its”, and “there” with “they’re” or “their”. What worries me here is that they are grammatically very different things, and the fact that people are confused means they don’t really understand what they are saying. The same thing happens with the confusion between “have” and “of” (The horror!). Sometimes, it’s more benign: all my colleagues at work keep writing “compliment” when what they really mean is “complement”. But look who’s talking! As a non native English speaker, I do make mistakes as well. However I find English so much more powerful than, say, my native French, to express ideas. The French Academy is rigid and all it does is impede the language from evolving. As a consequence, French has been dropped a long time ago as a vehicle for writing about science. English, not having any Academy to impede changes, evolves faster. This evolution is what gets some of my friends going. A large number of them condemn the use of “youse”, which is spreading in Australia. They see it as a lower level of speech (even if what it actually does is fill a vacuum: there is no difference between you (singular) and you (plural) in English). This came up at the office last week, which made me realise that we all have our language use pet hates. One of my colleagues can’t stand the dropping of the apostrophe which happens more and more often in everyday Australian. Another one confessed that she hates the increasing use of the word “awesome”. “It’s American,” she says, “it’s terrible.” I have to admit she lost me here. I cannot agree with her about the fact that saying “awesome” means the end of our Australian culture. True, language and culture are intrinsically linked and influence each other, but isn’t that a positive? Don’t we want to evolve and adapt to our linguistic world? Try to write a review of “Twilight” in Latin, and you will understand what I mean. I’ve only got one word to say to you: awesome!

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Filed under Language, Ranting