The Universal Language of Song

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In case you've been meaning to get serious about your Chinese language study, you'll want to consider eChineseLearning.com, whose motto is "Live Teachers from China." (And, as I will never tire of saying, you can't go wrong with this great book about the process of learning Chinese.) eChineseLearning is, among other virtues, the source of this unmatchable Chinese/hip-hop video:


I love this video in so many, many ways. It's like most of what you see on mainland Chinese TV, in being in spoken Chinese, but also subtitled in written Chinese, because of differences in regional accent etc. (The title, Zhong Guo Hua, 中國話, simply means: "Chinese language" -- though that, and the subtitles in the video, are in Hong Kong/Taiwan-style "traditional" characters rather than mainland-style "simplified" characters.) In general sensibility it's a nice intro to many aspects of modern China too. You won't be disappointed if you watch.

And the lyrics! Full version is available at eLearning's site, but some of the highlights are below (in simplified characters). It starts invitingly:

biǎn   dɑn   kuān   bǎn   dènɡ   chánɡ
扁 担 宽 板 凳 长 (The shoulder-pole is wide, the bench is long.)

biǎn   dɑn   xiǎnɡ   bǎnɡ   zài   biǎn   dɑn   kuān   bǎn   dènɡ   chánɡ   bǎn   dènɡ   shànɡ
扁 担 想 绑 在 板 凳 上 ( The shoulder-pole wants to be tied on the bench.)

biǎn   dɑn   kuān   bǎn   dènɡ   chánɡ
扁 担 宽 板 凳 长 (The shoulder-pole is wide, the bench is long.)

Building toward the big thematic close:

ɡè   zhǒnɡ   yán   sè   de   pí   fū   ɡè   zhǒnɡ   yán   sè   de   tóu   fɑ
各 种 颜 色 的 皮 肤 各 种 颜 色 的 头 发 (People with skin of all colours, people with hair of all colours)

zuǐ   lǐ   niàn   de   shuō   de   kāi   shǐ   liú   xínɡ   zhōnɡ   ɡuó   huà
嘴 里 念 的 说 的 开 始 流 行 中 国 话 (They speak the increasingly popular Chinese language. )

duō   shǎo   nián   wǒ   men   kǔ   liàn   yīnɡ   wén   fā   yīn   hé   wén   fǎ
多 少 年 我 们 苦 练 英 文 发 音 和 文 法 (For how many years have we slaved away at English pronunciation and grammar)

zhè   jǐ   nián   huàn   tā   men   juǎn   zhe   shé   tou   xué   pínɡ   shànɡ   qù   rù   de   biàn   huà
这 几 年 换 他 们 卷 着 舌 头 学 平 上 去 入 的 变 化 (These few years, it's their turn to learn how to roll their tongues and learn the different intonations.) ...

hǎo   cōnɡ   mínɡ   de   zhōnɡ   ɡuó   rén   hǎo   yōu   měi   de   zhōnɡ   ɡuó   huà
好 聪 明 的 中 国 人 好 优 美 的 中 国 话 (The Chinese are such smart people, and the Chinese language is so beautiful)

My wife's original Mandarin textbooks were from the olden days and tended to have "Comrade!" as the first word in every line of dialogue. "Comrade! I need to buy a ticket to Hangzhou..." Maybe new ones will have "the increasingly popular Chinese language" as their refrain.  Thanks to my friend RK of Washington State for the lead.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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