- October
Posted By : talkingofchinese
How can one word have more than twenty meanings?!

When people talk about how difficult it is to learn Chinese the two things that usually come up are tones and characters.

However the reliance on context can also be maddeningly difficult.

Take jiù (就) for example. This seemingly simple three letter word has more than twenty meanings.

(If you are interested they are: at once; right away; only; just (emphasis); as early as; already; as soon as; then; in that case; as many as; even if; to approach; to move towards; to undertake; to engage in; to suffer; subjected to; to accomplish; to take advantage of; to go with (of foods); with regard to; concerning.)

Some days I feel like I am doing well with my Chinese – my pronunciation is ok, people seem to be able to understand what I say.

Other days I feel like the mountain really is insurmountable – my listening is poor, my vocabulary is small, reading seems almost futile (I have to look up dozens of words even when I try to read a simple children’s book).

Then I think about jiù and its more than twenty meanings and I almost despair.

But I don’t. Because the ONLY thing that has gotten me where I am now with my Chinese is NOT STOPPING. I really believe that when it comes to achieving something – whether it’s climbing a mountain or learning a language – things like fitness and ability really only count for a small amount and that the main reason people get to the top of a mountain or learn a language is that they don’t stop.

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  • YOU CAN DO IT!!! Don’t give up!! And ‘jiu’ is one of those hard ones, and I honestly don’t think that all Chinese people can list all 20 uses of ‘jiu’ on command. It’s not an easy thing.

    Speaking of jiu, I always say 就是… which I think is the equivalent to ‘like’ (it’s hard to directly translate). My fiancee called me out on it and said ‘stop it with the jiu shi!!’ haha.

    I had a really hard time with 把 (ba) as a grammatical structure. I remember my Chinese teacher trying to explain it without English (one of the rules at the school–only use Mandarin) and she was just fallin all over herself. I think it was repetition that taught me how to use it properly.

    Chinese is for sure frustrating, but keep goin at it. I’m so proud of you! I need to start studying again, I think I’ve forgotten half of my vocabulary already haha… When you don’t live in the country (China/Taiwan) all the language skills just leak out of you. I miss having Chinese language practice just by going to the store/doctor/hairdresser/wherever. Sigh!

    • Thanks so much for your encouragement Mary – your successes inspire me! My teacher told me to focus on it meaning “then”- like you I also think of 就是 but I thought this was a way of emphasising something but I see now it can also mean something like “just like”.

      Yes 把 structure almost killed me! I had to keep thinking of “taking” something in your hand and placing it somewhere or doing something with it.

      Like with measure words you have to think is this something long and flxible like a fish/snake/noodle or something that comes in a bunch like grapes and bananas – you just don’t think like that in English!!

  • What Mary said. Since she knows Mandarin and I don’t and also she’s very smart.

    I’m here if you need advice on surviving Chinese in-laws, though. Mary doesn’t have that kind of experience…yet.

    • Haha I agree Mary is very smart – the fact she has mastered both Japanese and Chinese impresses me no end!

      Your in-laws advice is gold (and very funny). I think I have told you this before but whenever I read about your husband and in-laws I feel like we are living parallel lives.

  • Jia you!! (Sorry, I’m using my mum’s laptop, no characters here :D). The only way to master the beast is with repetitions and constant effort. I think you are doing great! I couldn’t basically speak a word until I arrived to China, because I lacked motivation…

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