Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Correcting my faulty pronunciation of école (& agricole)

I think it was about 20 years ago, when I was speaking French with a Frenchwoman (who was actually in my Mandarin Chinese class at that time), that she made a comment about my improper pronunciation of école (school).

Well, better 20 years late than never. I checked my Larousse dictionary app's audio pronunciation of both école and agricole (agricultural; another word having the same ending that came to mind), finally understood my longstanding error, and am trying to break my bad habit.

I think that I must never have realized that the circumflex accent in words like drôle (funny) and rôle (role) was changing the sound of the o, and was wrongly using that ô sound in école and agricole as well. Not surprisingly, that ô sound is more like the "long" o sound in English. I think it is common enough that, when learning new sounds in foreign languages, people mistakenly equate a sound from their native language with a foreign sound. After that, they may never notice the difference between the sounds, particularly if no one points it out to them. Even after having such pointed out to them, it may still take them 20 years to correct it....

The o sound in école is rather more like the sound of "ull" in English.

7/26/12: Today I realized that the o sound that I should have been making all these years in école is the same one I had already been used to making for the word folle (crazy; feminine form).

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Some "relatively formal" Chinese expressions: 若, 意願

I recently saw an ad in Chinese containing an expression whose two characters are much more commonly found in the reverse order. The ad was for a sublet, and after presenting the general details of the apartment, continued:

若有意願... (ruò yǒu yìyuàn...) if interested...

As in many languages, some expressions are normally used in "relatively formal" contexts (spoken and/or written), but (normally) not in informal conversations.

若 (ruò) here means "if", although practically speaking it is probably only used in written contexts.

有 (yǒu) means "have", but is not a "relatively formal" expression for purposes of this blog entry.

意願 (yìyuàn) here means "interest", and might also be shortened to simply 意 (yì). 
It's used when someone has something to formally offer to someone else, e.g., a job opportunity, or an apartment as described above. Unlike 若 (ruò) , 意願 (yìyuàn) would also be quite normal in speech (in suitably "formal" situations, e.g., when a company representative is speaking to potential job applicants). 

願意 (yuànyì) means "want" or "be willing". If you have been exposed to a fair amount of spoken Chinese, you have likely heard 願意 (yuànyì) far more frequently than 意願 (yìyuàn), but it could be useful to know of the latter.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Common different pronunciations of 的

的 is a character encountered fairly early in Chinese lessons. Its most common use is as the possessive particle, like apostrophe s in English. For that usage, the most common Pinyin pronunciation is (de). If you listen to Chinese music (or, better yet, participate in Chinese karaoke!), you are likely to have heard it as (dī), which is a romantic/flowery way of pronouncing it, though with the same possessive meaning. I can easily call to mind a refrain containing 我的愛 pronounced as (wǒ dī ài), meaning my love (the feeling, not a person), in a song by 童安格 (Tóng An [first tone doesn't show on the capital letter A] Gé; Angus Tung), the first Chinese pop singer to whom I was introduced (figuratively speaking) by a Taiwanese friend many years ago. 的 is also pronounced using different tones on di in these common two-character words:
  • 的確 (díquè) really (as an adverb)
  • 目的 (mùdì) purpose; aim; goal; objective

Monday, July 9, 2012

Chinese subtlety: 另外一把

Recently I was assisting a native Chinese speaking chef prepare some food. She was using kitchen scissors to snip a handful of garlic scapes (which are long and thin, similar to scallions) into small pieces, and she asked me to grab 另外一把 (lìngwài yī bǎ) of garlic scapes from the open bag, and do the same with another pair of kitchen scissors. I looked into the bag and saw quite a bit more garlic scapes than could be cut in one go, and was puzzled.

I had apparently been hit with a double whammy in the translation department.

另外 (lìngwài) can be translated as "the other". If you were talking about two keys and someone were trying to use the wrong one for a particular door, you might tell them to "用另外一個" (Yòng lìngwài yī gè); "Use the other one"). "The other" is the meaning I had in mind. If there had been 3 or more keys, the same Chinese sentence could be translated as "Use a different one" or "Use another one."

一 (yī) means "one" (although that was not the source of any confusion).

把 (bǎ) is a measure word commonly used in a food market for a (typically tied) bundle of long, thin items such as garlic scapes. That is the meaning I was expecting. However (and the following was new(s) to me), 把 is also used generally to mean a handful of such items, and that is the meaning that the chef had in mind.

So when looking into the bag, I had been mistakenly expecting "the other tied bundle" (or a quantity matching the same amount as was already in the chef's hands, if the remaining bundle therein had already been untied), instead of the intended "another handful". Either situation could have been correct, but at the time I was unaware of the second as a possible meaning for 另外一把.

In any case, on pizza, snipped garlic scapes do not have as strong a flavor as sliced garlic, so I recommend the latter!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Podcasts app

7/10/12: It's possible there is some issue with my particular iPod usage (iOS 5.1.1), but in any case the Podcasts app performance is dreadful and I have deleted it. Today I observed that within the Music app, Apple has rerouted the Get More Episodes... link to the Podcasts app, away from the much-smoother-to-get-podcast-episodes-from iTunes app. The Podcasts app works okay from an iPad 2 running iOS 5.1.1, though.

On 6/26/12, Apple released the Podcasts app (version 1.0), which may eventually manage all podcast functionality in iOS 6. The Podcasts app requires iOS 5.1 or higher; I am using iOS 5.1.1.

On my iPod, I use podcasts almost exclusively for French language practice, which I wrote about here. My use of the Podcasts app is similarly focused on enhancing that, and I don't expect to write about much beyond that. On the Internet, other folks have already written broader commentary on the Podcasts app, and it is not my intent to duplicate their efforts.

The Podcasts and Music apps share much of the same local podcast episode data. A podcast episode downloaded by one app is accessible by the other app. However, each app maintains its own data about which episodes have been played, and about how much of each episode has been played.

  • The Podcasts app allows mass marking of all episodes of a podcast series as played or unplayed. That capability is not present in the Music app. I often enough skip around among episodes and stop listening partway through various of them. Within the Music app, that means that when I listen continuously to episodes in a podcast series, when one episode finishes playing, the next one might (annoyingly) start partway through, instead of at the beginning. Unfortunately, as noted above, the effect of this mass marking is not accessible within the Music app.
  • The Podcasts app allows subscription to podcasts, so that when you run the app it will download all new episodes for you. This capability doesn't exist in the Music app.
  • Properly sorts podcast episodes by date (so far!). On multiple occasions, I observed improper sorting of such within the Music app, although it was always improper inter-group (not intra-group) sorting, where there were mistakenly two groups of episodes for a single podcast series. That is, episodes might have been ordered as D-E-F A-B-C, but not D-F-E B-A-C; an example from News in Slow French:

  • The Podcasts app cannot play continuously multiple episodes of a podcast, unlike the Music app, preventing taking greater advantage of its ability (a PRO point listed above) to mass mark all episodes of a podcast series as unplayed.
  • Only one screen worth of text included with a podcast can be viewed within the Podcasts app, whereas all such screens can be viewed within the Music app. While it's probably only practical for relatively short duration podcasts to include all of their text, the much-favored-by-me One Thing in a French Day is one of them. The following images of the same podcast episode in the different apps show this limitation.

    Podcasts app, where the "[...]" indicates that there is more text, but it cannot be accessed:

    Music app, where you can scroll down 3 more screens (not included here) beyond this one to see all the accompanying text:

  • The Podcasts app is horribly "laggy" (slow response), and frequently crashes on my iPod (although it does not seem to have these problems on my iPad 2). Indeed, while using the app on my iPod to play a podcast episode as I worked on this blog entry, I turned Airplane Mode on, and the Podcasts app crashed soon afterward.

  • Organizational idea: Like many people, I have more apps than will fit on a single Home Screen. I keep the Music app on my first Home Screen, and, before deleting it, had put the Podcasts app in the same row and column position, but on my second Home screen. That allowed my mind and my fingers to easily switch between the two strongly-related apps.
  • Apple was apparently quietly testing various aspects of the Podcasts app transition prior to its 6/26/12 release. Here is an image from the Music app showing how the icon for the News in Slow French podcast oddly changed less than a month prior to that date:

  • Within the Music app, I historically used the Get More Episodes... link to directly switch to the iTunes app, but that now invokes the Podcasts app. If you don't have the Podcasts app installed, that link will (pointlessly, from my perspective) invoke Safari momentarily before switching to the iTunes app; I'm pretty certain that that intermediate Safari invocation started shortly prior to the 6/26/12 release of the Podcasts app.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Movies from the Internet Archive; .mp4 and .m4v

I recently learned that, at least in the U.S., an assortment of videos is legally available for streaming or download at the Internet Archive.

I downloaded to my PC the 512Kb MPEG4 versions of:
  • Charade (1963) Stars Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Walter Matthau, George Kennedy, James Coburn. A fun and lively story, with wonderful repartee.
  • 小城之春 (Xiǎo chéng zhī chūn, Spring in a Small Town; 1948) The audio is of variable quality, but the tempo of conversation is slow, which could be good for practicing one's Chinese listening skills. There are no subtitles; the Internet Archive page has links for Chinese and English ones, but I did not investigate them. I'm going to glean what I can, perhaps over repeated viewings. I have only "side-watched" some of this film so far, mostly while washing dishes.

To transfer a movie onto your iOS device:

Change the file's extension from .mp4 to .m4v. Add it to PC iTunes with:

    File > Add File to Library...

In PC iTunes, drag the movie onto your iOS device, presuming it has enough free space.

Friday, July 6, 2012

English subtlety: Turn right here

I was recently in a hurry guiding someone who is not a native English speaker to a spot on foot when we came to a four-way intersection. We needed to turn left, and I both moved physically and also pointed my finger in that direction, but I also quite automatically, simultaneously uttered the words "Turn right here."

Of course, my verbal emphasis was "Turn RIGHT HERE", not "Turn RIGHT here". In fact, my intention was not misunderstood, but I could certainly see the phrase being confusing for someone whose native language was not English.