Format of Chinese Taught
A Little Dynasty Chinese School teaches Mandarin Chinese, the official language of mainland China and Taiwan. Mandarin is also one of the four official languages of Singapore, and one of the eight official languages of the United Nations. Mandarin is a relatively new language that was officially adopted in 1932 and is spoken fluently today by about 50% of the population of mainland China and 70% of the population of Taiwan. Mandarin was created to be the lingua franca (common language) of the Chinese people rather than to replace any of the traditional organic Chinese languages. For a new Chinese learner, it goes without saying that Mandarin is the most practical language to learn. For ethnic Chinese, knowledge of Mandarin should be mandatory but at the same time, care should be taken not to neglect their traditional Chinese languages.
Traditional and Chinese Characters
There are two styles of written Chinese in use today, Simplified characters (Jian ti zi) and Traditional characters (Fan ti zi). Simplified characters are used in mainland China and traditional characters are used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and overseas Chinese communities. Because Simplified characters were only introduced in 1956, any Chinese writing or publication earlier than that time will be in Traditional characters. At A Little Dynasty Chinese School, our approach is generally to introduce traditional characters first and then simplified characters.
We do this because Traditional characters are easier to learn and because it is easier for one with knowledge of Traditional characters to learn Simplified characters than the other way around. However, we also offer Simplified character instruction for beginners as well. Traditional characters are easier to read because they transmit more information; Simplified characters are easier to write because they have fewer strokes. Note that while it is easier to hand write Simplified characters, it is just as easy to type Traditional characters as it is Simplified characters on a computer.
In summary, Traditional characters are easier to read and Simplified characters are easier to write but to be truly fluent in Chinese, one should know both Traditional and Simplified characters.
We teach the Chinese phonetic alphabet (Zhu Yin Fu Hao) first before we teach the Romanized Chinese phonetic alphabet (Han Yu Pin Yin). Han Yu Pin Yin is based on Zu Yin Fu Hao and is basically Zu Yin Fu Hao symbols written using the Roman alphabet. In other words, there is a direct correlation between every Han Yu Pin Yin character and every Zu Yin Fu Hao characer upon which it is based. The reason we teach Zu Yin Fu Hao first is because beginning students will inevitably try to pronounce Han Yu Pin Yin in English (because the system is written in the Roman alphabet) which will lead to a severe mispronunciation of Mandarin. On the other hand, there is no English analog to Zu Yin Fu Hao symbols so the student who knows Zu Yin Fu Hao will know proper Mandarin pronunciation. Once students have mastered accent-free Mandarin pronunciation, then we teach them Han Yu Pin Yin.
For more information on the history and description of Mandarin Chinese, click here.