We began Chinese lessons two weeks ago. We're taking lessons here at David's English Center with one of our co-workers - she's actually my co-teacher. She teaches not only English but Japanese and Chinese as well! Apparently, once we've mastered Chinese, Japanese won't be very difficult...I think we'll stick with learning one language for now!
We have purchased two books to aid in our learning. When we first arrived we found a book that teaches us how to write and recognize Chinese Characters, New Chinese Characters for Beginners. We started to memorize 3-5 characters a week, until we were about 10 characters into the book and realized that we were pronouncing the characters incorrectly. That's when we heard about bopomofo or zhuyin which is the use of additional characters to represent the phonetic spelling of mandarin. The use of bopomofo is limited to here in Taiwan where it is used to teach children to read. Most children's books use bopomofo, which is strictly to help pronounce the word correctly but does not aid in the understanding of the word. Above you can see the bopomofo (named after the first 4 symbols) next to the equivalent pinyin spelling. Pinyin is another phonetic alphabet using roman letters and is widely used in both Taiwan and other Chinese speaking countries. In addition to a number of other romanizations, Pinyin is used on street signs and store fronts. Unfortunately, there is no consistency among cities, counties and sometimes even small communities in the form of romanization used. This is where our struggles with maps have been happening! The other confusing part of Pinyin is that while it uses familiar roman letters, these letters to not always represent the same sounds as they do in english. For instance, X makes a ks sound in English, while in Pinyin is an sh sound.
Needless to say, we realized at this point that we needed to learn bopomofo to assist in our correct pronunciation of Chinese characters. So we asked around and learned that our school teaches Chinese lessons to a number of foreign business men and women working in the Science Park and were offered a class at a reduced rate. We decided to go with it and are now meeting with our teacher once a week for an hour and a half. We purchased a workbook that we are beginning to work through with our teacher Nana. The book, Practical Audio-Visual Chinese, begins with bopomofo and basic conversation.
So far we've memorized the 36 symbol alphabet of bopomofo with the aid of flashcards, a very childish workbook, and their version of the ABC song.