Learning To Speak Mandarin – The Road Ahead

When we talk about studying Chinese what we mean by that, in 2010, is really studying Mandarin, also known as standard Mandarin. Compared to Cantonese, which is the second most spoken out of around 50 languages ​​in contemporary China, Mandarin is far larger. Cantonese is pretty much confined to Taiwan and Hong Kong. Mandarin on the other hand is also spoken in both these areas, and the entirety of the rest of the country. This did not come about as an accident. 100 years ago there were more languages ​​and Standard Mandarin was not known as standard. The Mandarin of today is an amalgamation of different dialects but is mostly made up of the old Beijing one. The reason that it is so common today is that it has been artificially promoted by the central government for obvious reasons: one modern nation needs one common mode of communication.

When we talk about Mandarin language studies people often say that they are rather tricky. They are not a walk in the park, but it is my sincere belief that people make it out to be a much more difficult task than it is in reality. The thing we need to remember is that Mandarin is very different from languages ​​that have been derived from Latin or the Germanic branch of European languages. But once those differences have been deal with, learning the rest of the language is much less tricky than it would seem when you are just setting out on that particular journey. These initial bumps in the road can be categorized into two distinct groups; the difficulties of writing Chinese Mandarin and the difficulties of speaking Chinese Mandarin. I write difficulties but in reality it is less about difficulty and more about differences.

The first of these two categories, written Chinese, is mostly hard because there is no alphabet. Instead you need to memorize a great deal of pictures, aka characters. The key to success in this matter lies in not thinking of them as pictures when you try to commit them to memory but rather thinking of them in terms of their underlying structure. The two golden nuggets of information that you need to become familiar with is the building blocks that make up the vast majority of characters, called radical, and the way that these radicals are written, the stroke order. Once you have these two concepts firmly logged in your head you will begin to see the characters as a process of writing and not as a finished product. The picture is complicated but the way that it is formed is as easy as pie. It is a bit like riding a bike really – once you get up and going you will cover a lot of ground very quickly and you will never loose that initial effort you put in while learning the first couple of hundred or so the right way.

The second of the categories, spoken Chinese Mandarin, is mostly different in terms of pronunciation. The grammar really is not that hard. Chinese Mandarin pronunciation, however, is. It is hard because as we know Mandarin lacks an alphabet. Instead of being made up of letters that make a sound when put together we have pictures which give little or no indication regarding how the words sound when spoken. To muddle things up even more the Mandarin language is not only dependent on syllables, it also involves modulation of the pitch. This is what is more commonly known as tones, and it makes Mandarin a tonal language.

However, both the difficulties with getting to grips with Characters and their radicals and stroke order, and the trick to wrapping your tongue around tonal modulation while speaking, can easily be dealt with in a small class size. Learning Mandarin without the individual attention of a teacher is very hard, but once you have someone to correct your pronunciation and show you what you are doing wrong when writing, you are on the home stretch, speeding ahead to proficiency in the language that holds the key to the greatest paradigm shift of our century – the rise of China as economic and political super power.

Photography Backdrops And How To Select The Best One For You

You've studied all the different camera settings and by now you've learned all about the difference between shutter speed and f-stop. Thanks to your studies of lighting patterns, the difference between butterfly and split lighting is an obvious no brainer … Now, it's time to consider the backdrop.

In my experience, having over 6000 professional sessions under my belt, MOST people prefer to have a natural setting rather than a formal backdrop.

For example …

If you're shooting Indoors – possibilities may include placing your subjects on the floor around the fireplace, (always have a fire burning or it appears as nothing but a black hole in the final print), or they could be posed on and around their furniture in the living room, etc.

Outside portraits could be in their back yard, at the beach, a local park, etc. Anyplace that has meaning for THEM!

Most people just want a beautiful portrait that singles them out as individuals – rather than just another group posed in front of the same old pull down screen that everyone else uses.

Whenever possible, ALWAYS try for a location that has meaning for THEM …

However, if you must use a formal backup, here are a few suggestions …

First – buy a commercially available background stand to hold your backdrops. They do not cost much and for ease of use, stability, transportability etc. it's better than making your own.

For this discussion, I'm assuming you DO NOT own a professional portrait studio and are doing your sessions in your home (or your customer's home).

There are several types of backdrop materials:

Paper- Large rolls of paper come in most any color you can imagine. They can be purchased at many local camera stores and are relatively inexpensive.

Pros – They are readily available – are fairly inexpensive – come in most any color you can imagine. They can be used in a "sweep" so the model (s) can sit or stand on the paper and have it seamlessly up up behind them. Paper rolls come in two basic widths (around 4 feet and around 9 feet as I recall, I do not often use them).

Cons – The smaller size is not wide enough for much more than a head shot while the wider size is very heavy – difficult to transport – and most homes do not have enough "empty" space to sweep it without moving around the furniture. (People really do not like you redecorating for them!) The paper gets dirty, gets creased, tears and has to be constantly replaced. If there are animals in the session, the papery feel and crinkly sounds freak them out.

Painted Canvas – These can provide some truly stunning portraits. Many back suppliers create them and they can be ordered over the internet if you do not happen to be near a supplier.

Pros – Depending on the creator, they can be stunningly beautiful. There are thousands of colors and patterns available and if you have something unique in mind, you can have one created just for you, to match your exact specifications. They are very durable and will last years. They come in many sizes and can be used in a seamless sweep.

Cons – They are EXPENSIVE! EXPENSIVE! EXPENSIVE! Again, like paper, the wider ones are heavy, difficult work with and to transport. Like paper, size vs. living room furniture is a challenge.

Seamless paper and canvas backgrounds tend to be the province of professional studios – where they can be mounted on the walls and just folded down when needed.

They are really difficult to work with in the field.

I recommend that you go to the fabric store and get strips of material. As wide as is available and about 12 feet long. Getting some sort of material that either does not easily wrinkle, or where wrinkles will not matter is best.

Pros – Choose the type and colors you like, you can get any color, style and texture that suits your fancy. It can be hung bunched up (like theater curtains) behind the subject, or stretched flat if only one piece is needed. One piece can also be used as a seamless sweep.

You can use one piece or thirty – no matter how wide your back needs are, you can easily accommodate them.

It's easy to store and transport (just fold up the strips and put them in a box in the back seat of your car!) Material is very inexpensive compared to a painted canvas (which can run into the thousands of dollars) It's reusable so it works out to be cheaper than paper in the long run.

Use another piece of two for the flooring and since it's flexible, it can be flowed around furniture. Animals have no problem walking on it. (It's washable too!).

Cons – If you want multiple strips (and you do!), You may have difficulty finding enough of the same material. If you live near the garment district in a large city, they may have it. Otherwise you may have to have your local fabric store special order it for you.

These are the major background considerations and you should have no trouble finding the perfect backdrops for YOUR creative vision!

5 Deadly Financial Mistakes You Should Avoid Now To Keep Out Of Debt Later!

Every year more families are going to the brink of financial ruin because they never properly considered their financial future. For some, it's just to stressful or emotionally uncomfortable to think about and important financial decisions get put off indefinitely. For many, they do not know and were never taught some basic financial planning tips to keep them out of debt in the future. Here are five financial mistakes you should avoid now to keep your financial future bright:

5 Financial Mistakes To Avoid:

1. Buying on credit: Today's interest rates are fairly low, but this does not mean you should buy excessively on credit! Carrying a large balance on credit cards month to month is a recipe for disaster. Finance charges alone can slowly eat you up. Buying a car on credit ties up even more of your future earnings for debt repayment.

Just a few decades ago buying so much on credit was unheard of. Children were taught early on what a huge mistake this was. We all need to relearn this lesson and eliminate buying on credit to keep ourselves out of debt

2. Making financial decision based on emotion: When you are going through great stress or emotional turmoil you are most vulnerable to making disastrous financial financial decisions. It is when you are feeling some king of pressure that you are most likely to make silly decisions that get you into trouble later. Do not make a big money decision when you are emotionally vulnerable.

3. Not adequately insuring against catastrophic risk: Every year families are financially devastated because they are not protected against disaster. Loss of home and assets to fire and flood are very common events that a surprising number of people do not protect against with insurance. You should also protect against disaster common to your area. Earthquakes and tornadoes for example. Just as important is some kind of life insurance to protect your loved ones in case of death.

4. Falling for the slick salesmen pitch: They say a sucker is born every minute. And you can be sure there is a slick salesmen waiting to take advantage of every one of them! You should never enter into any financial decision based on salesmen pressure tactics or one-time offers. Great deals that can not wait for you to think on it or obtain a second opinion are often financial disasters waiting to happen.

5. Not planning out your financial future: For many people it is so much easier to put off the tough financial planning right now and get to it someday in the future. Well we know how that story goes. Years into the future many families are neck deep in debt with no relief in sight. And it could of all been avoided with some sensible planning. Talk to a financial planner today so you can be debt free tomorrow!

There you have it. Five important financial mistakes to avoid so you can be both debt and worry free in your future. No matter where you are at right now financially, it's not to late to get started. Make an appointment with a financial planner today and get your financial future properly planned out. It's one of the most important things you can do for your family and for yourself.

Graphic Design: Degree Or No Degree?

Through my design career I have come across many job adverts for a graphic designer 'with a degree'. It always made me feel a little frustrated – "If I do not have a degree do you automatically assume I will not be good enough to join your company?". Surely a designer's portfolio and / or experience should say more than a piece of paper with a qualification on it.

I studied for a higher national diploma in graphic design at college and when the course finished I had the chance of pursuing a degree in graphic design or go for an advanced diploma in art and design. One of my lecturers told me that the degree contained more theory work where the advanced diploma was more practical. I opted for the practical work … after all that's what graphic design is.

The advanced diploma was only a year of study but most of the work was project based even if the deadlines were a bit too generous at times. However, since leaving college (armed with my qualifications) I admit that I learn more during my first design role and by teaching myself. That kind of education never stops with the design world and technology continuously changing.

This led me to question the importance of a degree as a designer and I know that I'm not the only one to ask this. In my honest opinion a degree does not automatically make someone more creative and successful than a designer who is self taught or who has learnt on the job. Their portfolio should be the strongest reflection of their skills and abilities especially when it comes to finding employment. Do companies advertising for a designer 'with a degree' honestly think that they are going to employ a better designer or is it a status thing?

Now I know that things have changed since I was at college so I thought I had a look at what degree courses my local college offers and found that they offer a BA in Art and Design. Here are the modules:

Year 1: Visual arts; applied crafts; digital arts; site specific design; graphic design; performance related design; web design; animation; self-employment; video production; community art; textile design; teacher or lecturer.

Year 2 : Creative skills and concepts; integrated project; visual literacy; digital applications; specialist options: skills development; contextual studies; personal development planning.

Year 3: Creative practice; contextual practice; specialist options: skills application practice; research skills; critical and contextual studies; pathways and concepts; professional and studio practice; professional and contextual studies; creative futures.

I did not study most of this stuff and I've spent 9 years in design studios working on a wide variety of projects of all sizes and with good feedback. I'm now working full-time as a freelancer trying to grow my own business. I like to think that I turned out okay without a degree.

So I guess my question is … does a degree make a better designer or is it all down to natural creative flair, experience and keeping up-to-date with the latest trends?