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Chinese-English Problem
by F. A. Hutchison
Issue 11
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"When a 'foreigner' uses a computer in China-it better 'speak' Chinese!"

If you think using a computer is challenging in your own language, you should try using one in another language, like Chinese! This has been my challenge!

Six months ago I moved to China bringing the computer I bought in the U.S. (English). Little did I know at the time, how ignorant I was about such!

In an attempt to study the Chinese language I purchased a Chinese language program and uploaded it on my computer. But, I couldn't get it to work! It didn't occur to me at the time, that for a very simple reason… No Chinese language support software. I tried sending an email message to the company that produced the program, but no response. So, it's taken me six months to figure this out and get it working. But, way back then I was still 'in the dark.'

The first thing I became aware of, Chinese use computers that understand Chinese, not English (of course)-and vice versa! This became apparent when I went to have a CD made at the local camera/photography store. (Note: I digitize my photographs to upload to my WEB site.) However, when I got my CD back to my hotel room, I found that my 'Adobe Photoshop' program couldn't even open the files. Again, at the time it didn't occur to me about the Chinese-English problem. How ethnocentric can you get…? So I took the CD back to the store where I'd had this process done. I remember I was in Chengdu (Sichuan Province) at the time.

But, what a chore trying to communicate with the Chinese people who owned the shop. I finally brought my Toshiba into their store, and showed them how it couldn't open the files. Luckily, there was a Chinese woman there who spoke a little English, and we solved the problem. Now, when I go to a camera/photography store to have this done, I show them a note I've had Chinese friends write that reads in Chinese, 'You must name the file in English or my computer can't open it!'

Note: I've learned the best way to communicate in China is to have it written on a piece of paper to show them. 99% of the population can read the same Chinese characters (universal in China). But, to try to get them to understand verbally is challenging, as pronunciation is key.

Additionally, there are many dialects in China. Just because you can speak Mandarin, doesn't mean the policeman in Shanghai is going to understand you as there's a 'Shanghai dialect.' I have tried to verbalize something, communicate by saying something in Mandarin (the Chinese know this as 'Putonghua'), but they still don't understand. Why? Primarily my pronunciation. There are six different ways to say 'ma,' in Chinese, and depending on how you pronounce it, gives its meaning.

Note: The Chinese language is interesting… It has only 400 different syllables. This is the reason there are so many 'homophones,' in the Chinese language. A Chinese 'homophone,' (no, doesn't refer to their sexuality) is different than an English 'homophone,' however. Boy, this gets complicated!

A Chinese 'homophone,' is a word that sounds the same, but has a different meaning depending on how pronounced.

An English 'homophone,' is a word that sounds the same, but is spelled differently (soul and sole). With English we don't change the pronunciation, but the spelling. The Chinese change the pronunciation. 'Ma' is a 'horse,' or 'mother,' or a question, depending on how pronounced!

In Uremqi, the Provencial capitol of Xinjiang Province, I decided, having learned enough to be dangerous, to upload the Chinese Simplified Language Program (you can download from Microsoft). I also downloaded another Chinese Language program,'NJStar Communicator.' Unfortunately, one or the other, or the combination thereof caused my computer to 'crash.' Ever had a computer crash in a foreign country? Challenging!

Luckily, I'd met a Canadian in Uremqi who had 'Windows 98,' and the skill to reload it. But, this took some doing. I will always be grateful to Gordon Black, as he got my computer working again! Additionally, he taught me much about using a computer to create Chinese from 'Pinyin' (the intermediate language between Chinese and English using the Roman alphabet).

Now I thought I had the capacity to create Chinese characters! Well, almost! Where to find 'Pinyin' (as you need such to create the characters)? I went looking only to find out that 90% of the English-Chinese dictionaries for sale don't include 'Pinyin!' Why? The Chinese don't need/use it (plus it's only been around for forty years in a culture/language that is 5,000-years old). Note: I finally found a 'Pinyin' dictionary in Shanghai recently.

Now, I can write in Chinese! Well, almost! Seems the Chinese language is just like English in this regard, 'words' and their meaning are up for interpretation. Thus, when you activate, 'Chinese (Simplified) IME,' and type the Pinyin, up comes many Chinese characters to choose from (depending on what you want to say).

Take my Chinese name, given to me by my Chinese friend, James Zhu, for example. It's supposed to mean 'flying happily,' as knowing I live on a bicycle he thought this appropriate. My nickname, 'Hutch' (shortened version of my last name Hutchison) is what I go by. Thus, in 'Pinyin Hutch' becomes 'Haqi,' or 'Hachi.' When I active 'IME,' and type 'Ha' up comes , which everyone says fine. But, when I type, 'chi,' I get , that no one seems to agree on! Why not type in 'qi?' You don't get the right characters. Don't ask!

'Ke Garne?' as they say in Nepal! What to do?

Well, I'm still working on it… I have no hope, at 66-years of age, of mastering the Chinese language, although I'd like to be able to write something in Chinese (on my computer) and have it understood. And, I still think a computer is the way to do this.

I've learned recently that there are Chinese-English translation WEB sites www.kingsoft.com for one. Another, is www.sunrain.net . These sites make things easier!

So, if you think using a computer is challenging in your own language, come to China! But, you better bring a computer that 'speaks Chinese!'

F.A. Hutchison

in (Shanghai) Hey it worked!
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