I wish I’d started learning different languages at an earlier age. Now I feel I’m too old to memorize any new vocabularies or grammatical rules. My tongue and lips aren’t well trained enough to pronounce any sound foreign to my mother tongue. (I simply can’t pronounce the Italian “r” or German “r”!). I admire anyone who can be fluent in many languages like this guy: BBC: The cult of hyperpolyglot
I guess I can never master more than two languages in my life. Nonetheless, I’m interested in how people introduce their own languages these days and watched a lot of cheesy alphabet songs. It seems alphabet songs are common in some countries but not all.
The most common English alphabet song is Twinkle, twinkle little star. However, quite a number of songs are used in other European countries. The same set of Latin alphabets sound so different in European languages, not to mention words like “euro” that is pronounced quite differently across the EU countries.
Italian alphabet song
Portugese (Brazilian) alphabet song
L’alphabet en Français
German uses the tune “Frère Jacques” for alphabet song. This song is so commonly known for a long time that even Mahler uses it in his first symphony:
Das deutsche Alphabet
I only got to know some of the Greek alphabets from maths or physics lessons, but I can’t yet spell all the alphabets – what a shame!
I wonder if any Greek and Cyprus children are learning their alphabet from this song though:
Greek Alphabet Rock
Russian alphabets in Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Cyrillic script looks a bit similar to Greek script to me.
Песня алфавита (with Japanese subtitle)
Arabic is hard in a way that alphabets linked together in a word, and the same alphabet looks a bit different at the beginning, middle or the end. A lot of alphabets look so similar except the placement of the dot(s). Arabic pronunciation is quite hard in a way that it contains a lot of throat sounds that are uncommon in other languages.
Arabic alphabet song
Uighur, a Turkish tribe lives in Xinjiang of Northwest China, with a language is similar to Turkish, but they used a script similar to Arabic, while Turkish is written in a script similar to Latin languages.
Uighur alphabet song
Turkish alphabet song
Tibetan who lived in China-occupied Tibet has to learn both Tibetan and Mandarin Chinese. While most Tibetan who lived in India would learn Tibetan, Hindi and English. Tibetan script looks similar to Hindi, although Tibetan language and Chinese are often regarded as the same language family.
Although Japanese and Korean both borrowed a lot of Chinese words in ancient time, but actually they are from a different language family that the grammar is totally different. Some linguistic experts think that Japanese, Korean, Mongolian, Manchurian, Turkish are from the same Altaic language family, sharing the same sentence structure and grammatical rules. A lot of nomadic tribes migrated from East Asia to Central Asia and Eastern Europe; probably that’s the reason why these languages are related.
Both Japanese and Korean invented their own alphabets at a later time, and thus their alphabets seems quite organized and logical. The 51 alphabets in Japanese are arranged in rows with different consonants, with each rows contains alphabets with the five different vowels a, i, u, e, o. Japanese pronunciation seems relatively simpler than a lot of languages and not too far from Latin too, which makes learning Japanese pronunciation much easier than Chinese for Europeans.
Korean alphabets are also well-organized and logical, in a way that a set of symbols are used for vowels and consonants are grouped into a few types of symbols. I can’t find any alphabet song yet, but here is a good explanation of its alphabets:
Korean Alphabets 한글 (Youtube)
Mongolian is complicated in a way that there are two different scripts. Cyrillic alphabets are used in Mongolia because of Russian influence, while the traditional alphabets are used in Inner Mongolian province in China. However, Mongolian people in China are required to learn Mandarin Chinese, and one would find Mongolian text alongside with Chinese in Inner Mongolian province. I can’t find an alphabet song with subtitles, but here are samples of Mongolian Cyrillic and traditional script. Traditional script are written from top to bottom.
There is no such thing as “alphabet” in Chinese. That’s why Chinese is probably the hardest language to write. But the pronunciation of Mandarin Chinese is relatively simple if one has mastered the phonetics. All the “Chinese alphabet songs” on youtube are actually songs of phonetics, and they are not commonly known at all.
This is a Mandarin Pinyin (romanization) song:
Chinese (Mandarin) Alphabet Song
I can’t find any Cantonese phonetics song, but here is a very good introduction to the pronounciation:
Chinese children usually start learning how to write characters with the numbers 一, 二, 三, 四. And they learn how to calculate multiples by a memorizing this table called 九因歌 (The Song of 9×9 Multiples):
That’s all so far. Sorry that there are still a lot of languages I haven’t covered here yet, e.g. Scandinavian and a lot of Eastern european languages. I’ll update it later. Thanks for reading!
p.s. a lot of people has asked me the difference between Cantonese and Mandarin. I guess I’d better write it as an FAQ so that I don’t need to answer this question again.
1. Cantonese is only used by around 10% or less of Chinese people who live in Guangdong province near the City of Gunagzhou, Hong Kong, Macau and part of Guangxi province. However, a lot of Cantonese people migrated overseas earlier than other parts of China. That’s why Cantonese is still often heard within overseas Chinese communities.
Mandarin is used by the majority in Mainland China and Taiwan, with minor differences in pronunciation though. In Taiwan, Min-nan (or Taiwanese Hokkien) is also an official language, alongside with Hakka and Formosan languages of aboriginal tribes.
2. Cantonese has nine tones. (Some scholars regarded it as six tones plus three tones with stopping consonants.) Mandarin only has four.
3. Cantonese’s pronunciation is much closer to classic Chinese in Tang and Song dynasty. “Entering tone” (words which stop with a consonant) is preserved in Cantonese and some other dialects, but not in Mandarin, which has been much affected by northern tribes such as Mongolian and Manchurian (that’s probably why it’s called Mandarin).
4. Cantonese and Mandarin are almost incomprehensible to each other. I would say the difference between Cantonese and Mandarin is much bigger than the difference between Portugese and Spanish.
5. We share the same written language, with minor discrepancies and usage of words. Mainland China uses simplified Chinese character which is a new invention by the communist party since the 1950s, while the traditional character is still used in Taiwan, Hong Kong & Macau.