While the preparation has been varied and diverse, language is certainly a major adjustment. Four of the five travelers participated in the Chinese classes offered at Western this winter and spring and the fifth is a native speaking Chinese. Despite the class we have only tapped the beginning of our understanding of the language.
Most of us know the written Chinese language consists of pictographs, over five thousand I've heard. While that may seem overwhelming, the English language includes millions of words and endless possible pronunciations. Our Chinese teacher argued that the Chinese language is easy; it contains only a finite number of sounds and variations on the sound. Essentially all sounds start with the equivalence of an English consonant and ending with a vowel sound sometimes founded by an "n" or "ng". Each sound has its own character. A word may be one sound with one character or it may have several sounds and several characters; almost like syllables in the English language.
To pronounce each character, a system of pronunciation called pinyin uses Roman characters. While the pronunciation of the pinyin letters are essentially the same as English there are some slight variation. So to learn to speak and read Chinese we have three levels: Chinese characters, pinyin and the English pronunciation. When you ask a Chinese to write their name, they realizing that most Americans cannot read Chinese characters will write it in pinyin.
There's one more twist to the Chinese language which makes it a very melodic beautiful language. Each sound is pronounced with on e of four tones which are numbered from one to four. The first tone is flat, no rise or fall in pitch. In the second tone the pitch falls. In the third the pitch falls and then rises again. The fourth tone rises and the fifth tone which is no tone at all, has no tone. The tone of both "ni" and "hao" above are the third tone. The pitch falls and then rises again.
So, we're ready to say "Hello."
Among the "Five" traveling to China is Dr Jie Liu, from the Computer Department at Western. He will be presenting at Tsinghua University which has been referred to as the MIT of China. Also presenting at Tsinghua University from the Criminal Justice Department is Dr Terry Gingerich.
Dr Emily Plec of the Communication Department is presenting at Tongji University in Shanghai, while Dr Mary Bucy and Denvy Saxowsky will be presenting and visiting the Shenyang Normal University and the Anshan Naormal University respectively.
While schedules will vary slightly, presentations will be made during the week of September 10-14 at the respective universities while some touring will be done during the preceding week, and then back at Western the following week.