Chit-Chat Chinese: Beginner Lesson #5

The fifth lesson in this beginner learner series is up. This time we review asking and answering questions, and learn a new way to ask a question. We also have a new dialogue using everything learned so far. Check it out!

Beginner Mandarin Chinese Lesson 4

In this 4th lesson we get you started on verbs. Verbs are easy in Mandarin since there is no conjugation involved. You’ll get a dialogue at the end to tie everything together. Have a fun!

NEW Chinese Videos!

Nihao Chit-Chat Followers!

I am back and with a vengeance! I am beginning to create video lessons for learners, starting with this intermediate conversation lesson. Here I am chatting with a friend (all in Mandarin) about the Mandarin Meetup group I run in San Francisco.

 

 

YOUTUBE LESSON: What are Mandarin Meetups? (intermediate level)

rachel-and-isaac

VOCABULARY LIST AND FULL TRANSCRIPT included in each lesson (always pinned to the top of the comments in Youtube). Check it out and let me know what you think. Also taking theme suggestions. Go on send some my way!

TOTAL BEGINNER LESSONS COMING SOON!

 

 

 

Tone Robots (and How Not to Become One)

"Hello - we - are - tone - robots. Take - us - to - your - leader."

Sometimes you can be so right, you are actually wrong. You’re determined not to speak sloppy Mandarin. You’ve memorized the tone for every word (or character combination) you know. In every word you utter, the tone rings crystal clear and you know it. There is only one problem: You sound like a freaky robot.

You win some and you lose some with each style of learning Mandarin. Some of my students are “loosey goosey” with their tones, hitting on the right ones seemingly only by accident, yet somehow capturing some of the cadence of the language. Then there are some diligent students, with well-memorized tones, who may come off sounding, well, like robots. I’ve seen Mandarin teachers in my school, or native speakers in my San Francisco Mandarin group, giggle uncontrollably when hearing this kind of Mandarin; The kind where each morpheme is separated, thrown out into the air, and violently axed with a 100% accurate tone. Correct? Yes. Funny sounding? Affirmative.

The good news is if you are already speaking this type of Mandarin, you are probably a very good student. Now you’ve just got to smoke some reefer and loosen up. Or, if you’re not into that kind of thing, try this approach: Take some of your study time to focus on the cadence and melody of Mandarin. How does a whole sentence sound put together? When are tones emphasized or de-emphasized? What do native speakers really sound like? You may be surprised to hear tones almost lost in the cadence of speech, while others are clearly executed for emphasis. English is not that different. A learner of English could separately say each word, emphasizing what clear diction he has in the sentence “I – am – going – to – go – to – the – store”. Yet, he would also lose the feel of how an American might more naturally say “I’m gonna go t’the store.”

The best way to avoid becoming a tone robot is to listen to as much Mandarin as you can, and simply try to mimic what you hear. Pretend you are an actor who has to repeat the lines exactly as you hear them. This is the time to shut off your tone-focused brain, and concentrate simply on melody and cadence. If you don’t live in a country that speaks Mandarin, the best way to increase your exposure to the language are podcasts (try Chinesepod.com or do a Google search for others). Download lessons on to an MP3 player and carve out some time in your studies just for listening and absorbing the flow of the language.  Signing – off – now.  I  – do – hope – this – computes.

How To Say “And” in Chinese: Part Two

Here is part two on how to say “and” in Mandarin. Check out part one for the first half.

Conjunction Concept #5:
Use the word “with” to connect pronouns and nouns
跟                     我跟我妹妹去吃饭。
gēn                 EX:    Wǒ gēn wǒ mèimei qù chīfàn.
with, and                My sister and I are going to eat dinner.
NOTE: “Gēn” is generally used with the adverb “yìqǐ” (together)
跟 …  一起               我跟我妹妹一起去吃饭。
gēn …  yìqǐ            EX:    Wǒ gēn wǒ mèimei yìqǐ qù chīfàn.
together            My sister and I are going to eat dinner
(together).

“Gēn” should be used to to link pronouns or nouns, but not verbs. It should follow this pattern:

(Noun/pronoun) + gēn + (Noun/pronoun) + Verb + Object

Conjunction Concept #6:
Use a sentence pattern as a connector

Here are two common sentence patterns used to connect two adjectives or verbs. It is used to say something or someone is both one thing and another:

Sentence pattern #1
又 … 又 …
yòu … yòu
(both one thing and another)

You should follow this grammatical structure:

Subject + yòu+ adj/verb + yòu + adj/verb.

Examples of the “yòu…yòu…” pattern

他又高又瘦。
Tā yòu gāo yòu shòu.
He is both tall and thin.

她又漂亮又聪明。
Tā yòu piàoliang yòu cōngmíng.
She is both beautiful and intelligent

他又不懂英文又不懂中文。
Tā yòu bù dǒng Yīngwén yòu bù dǒng Zhōngwén.
He neither understands English nor Chinese.

Sentence Pattern #2

Here is another pattern that can be used as a connector

一边…   一边…
yìbiān…  yìbiān…
(to do something while doing something else)

This pattern should follow this structure:

Subject + yìbiān + verb + object +  yìbiān + verb + object.

Examples of the “yì biān…  yì biān…” pattern

他一边吃饭一边看电视。
Tā yìbiān chīfàn yìbiān kàn diànshì.
He eats dinner and watches T.V (at the same time).

我在台湾一边教英文一边学中文。

Wǒ zài Táiwān yìbiān jiāo Yīngwén yìbiān xué Zhōngwén.
While in Taiwan I studied Chinese and taught English.

My Favorite Vague Chinese Words: Part 2

#4 怎么样? zěnme yàng ?= “How’s it going?”; “How’d it go?”; “What’s it like?” “What’s happening?”; etc.
You probably have already come across this one. Very useful, very vague, and very multi-purpose. From “Wha’s up, yo?” to “How’d it all go?”. Find yourself unsure how to plug in a follow up question? No need to look further than“zěnmeyàng

Example: 纽约怎么样?
Niǔyuē zěnme yàng?
How’s New York?/ What’s New York like?

#5 不好意思 bù hǎo yìsi = “How embarrassing”; “Whoops, thanks”; “Oh thanks, I could have gotten that”, etc.
You drop something on the floor; someone is doing you a favor; you need help with something and it is obvious: These are all bù hǎo yìsi moments. Literally it is “not + good + meaning”, but its really used in moments we might say in English “oh, thanks”, or “ oh, I could have done that….”.

#6 随便 / 随便你 suíbiàn / suíbiàn nǐ = “It’s up to you”; “You decide”; “Whatever you want”
Don’t feel like ‘taking the bull by the horns’? I’ve got just the expression for you: suí biàn nǐ. Leave it up to the other person with this expression. It is as vague as it comes, litereally “casual + you”. You are

#7 无所谓 wúsuǒwèi = “It doesn’t matter to me”; “I don’t care”; “Either way is fine with me”
You don’t have much of an opinion about the matter; you’d like the questioner to make the decision; you simply don’t care which choice is made: These are all excellent wúsuǒwèi moments. Someone asks if you prefer to order a chicken dish or a beef dish, and either are fine with you, just simply answer wúsuǒwèi.

Stay tuned for Part 3…

My Top-Ten Favorite Vague Chinese Words – Part One

Vague words are awesome for language learners. Keep a few in your pocket and you can pull them out any time you’re in need of “beating around the bush”, or you simply can’t find the specific word in Mandarin. These same words native speakers also use to talk around a subject or get out of giving the details.

#1 有事 yǒu shì = to have some matters (to tend to)
Man, I love this word! You can use it for almost anything. You can’t make it to a party; you cancel an appointment; you want ‘out’ of doing something; any time is a good yǒushì time. In Chinese, this is a universally accepted vague answer:

Usage: Subject + yǒu shì.

Example Sentences:

对不起, 我不能来,因为我有事。
Duìbùqǐ, wǒ bù néng lái yīnwèi wǒ yǒu shì.
Sorry, I can’t come, because I’ve got something going on.

我星期五晚上不行,因为我有事。
Wǒ xīngqīwǔ wǎnshàng bù xíng yīnwèi wǒ yǒu shì.
Friday night isn’t possible for me; I’ve got something going on.

#2 这样(子) Zhè yàng (zì) = like so, as such, in such a way, things like that
I remember the day I discovered the “zhè yàng” trick and have been a “zhè yàng zì” addict every since. It is so non-specific you can use it in many situations from responding vaguely to something someone said to showing somebody how to do something (without having to say the details):

The “like so” zhè yàng
你可以这样做。
Nǐ kěyǐ zhè yàng zuò.
You can do it like this.

The “In that a way” zhè yàng
哦, 结果你是这样做的。
O, jiěguǒ nǐ shì zhè yàng zuò de.
Oh, so in the end that’s the way you did it.

“oh, so that’s the way it is” Zhè yàng zì
(in response to something someone said)
这样子。
Zhè yàng zì.
“Oh I see” / “So it was like that”/ “Ah that’s what happened”/ “So that’s the way it gonna be.”

“things like that” Zhè yàng
这样的事情真让人生气。
Zhè yàng de shìqing zhēn ràng rén shēngqì.
Things like that really can make a person angry.

“like that” Zhè yàng
如你这样做,我不会把你当朋友。
Rú nǐ zhè yàng zuò wǒ bú huì bǎ nǐ dāng péngyǒu.
If you are going to do it like that, then I’m not going to be your friend.

#3 那个,那个 nà ge, nà ge = ummmm (expression to buy time while speaker thinks)

Need time to think because the Chinese isn’t flowing out of your mouth at the moment? Look no further. Just like our “ummmm” in English, this word can be repeated two or more times to show you are searching for the word or to not leave blank air time during your conversation.

Example:

他说他要请我吃饭, 然后带我去… 那个,那个,那个… 新的博物馆。
Tā shuō tā yào qǐng wǒ chīfàn , ránhòu dài wǒ qù … nàgè ,nàgè ,nàgè … xīn de
bówùguǎn.
He said he wants to take me out to dinner, and then take me to that new, ummmm, museum.

More to come… stay tuned for Part Two

How to say “and” in Chinese: Part One

How to say “and”: Part One

Connecting words or phrases and clauses in Chinese is a tricky thing for learners. Teachers hear all the time students trying to force “hé” to serve the role that “and” would in English. Unfortunately, “hé” is only meant to connect nouns/pronouns and nothing else. The English “and” is a handy-dandy, multi-purpose word that can connect just about anything. It can even dangle in the air on it’s own when one is thinking of the next thought you want to connect as in “and, so…” And, so, westerners have a problem replacing this concept as we move beyond the beginner level in Mandarin and hope to string together more complex sentences. It is something I tackle in my textbook “Chit-Chat Chinese” (to be published by Far East Publishers in 2009) in two parts. (I also have a handy table I created with all the top connectors, but I can’t seem to upload it here). Here we go:

Conjunction Concept #1:

The “Skip It” Approach: Don’t use a conjunction at all

Here is a radical concept: In Chinese you can often just skip the “and” conjunction. Places where in English you are required to say “and” in Chinese you can often just skip. Here is how ‘skipping it’ works:

Example 1: 我爸爸妈妈去吃饭看电影。
Wǒ bàbamāma qù chī fàn kàn diànyǐng.
My father and mother are going out to eat and going to
the movies.

Example 2: 他不会看书不会写字。
Tā bú huì kàn shū bú huì xǐezi.
He doesn’t know how to read and doesn’t know how to write.

Conjunction Concept #2:

Use a popular conjunction to express “and”



and

Hé is commonly translated as “and”; however, it can only be used to connect pronouns, nouns and noun phrases. It may not be used to connect verbs, verb phrases and clauses, as you would be able to do with “and” in English.

Examples of how “hé” may be used

他爸爸和妈妈都是美国人。
Tā bàba hé māma dōu shì měiguórén.
His mother and father are both American.

他会说中文和英文。
Tā huì shuō zhōngwén hé yīngwén.
He knows how to speak Chinese and English.

Example of how “hé” may not be used

我去他家和吃饭。
 Wrong: Wǒ qù tā jiā hé chīfàn.
Wrong way to say “I go to his house and eat dinner”

To correct this simply use the “skip it” approach

我去他家吃饭。
√ Correct Wǒ qù tā jiā chīfàn.
I go to his house and eat dinner.

Conjunction Concept #3:

Use another popular onjunction to express “and”

You learned this conjunction in chapter 5 to mean “also have” (háiyǒu). It also can mean “and”

还有
háiyǒu
and, in addition, else, also have

Háiyǒu is similar to hé in that it is used to connect nouns; however, it is not commonly used to connect pronouns. Also, like hé, it may not be used to connect verbs and clauses. It has an additional use of expressing “and” as in the tag “And, what else?” or “And who else”:

Examples of how “háiyǒu” is used like “hé”

我有一个姐姐, 两个妹妹,还有一个弟弟。
Wǒ yoǔ yíge jiějie, liǎngge mèimei, háiyǒu yíge dìdi.
I have an older sister, two younger sisters and one younger brother.

Examples of “háiyǒu” expressing “And, (what else)…?”
Additionally háiyǒu may be colloqially used to express “And, what else?”, or simply “And?” as shown below:

还有呢?
Háiyǒu ne?
And (what else)?

还有谁?
Háiyǒu shéi?
And, who else?

你有这个还有什么?
Nǐ yǒu zhège háiyǒu shénme?
You have this and what else?

Conjunction Concept #4:

Use yě (also) to express “and”

The word “also” in Chinese can be used like the English conjunction “and”. This should be done to connect verbs and verb phrases only. Here are some examples:

他不懂中文也不懂英文。
Tā bù dǒng zhōngwén yě bù dǒng yīngwén.
He doesn’t understand Chinese and he doesn’t understand English.

他们要去北京学中文也要去上海玩儿。
Tāmen yào qù Běijīng xué zhōngwén yě yào qù shànghǎi wǎnr.
They want to go to Beijing to study Chinese and they want to go to Shanghai to have fun..

Summary –
Handy Rules of Thumb

• When in doubt just use nothing – you’ll often be right.
• When connecting pronouns at the beginning of a sentence use hé
• When listing things or people use hǎiyǒu

Stay tuned for Part 2!

How to Foil an English Pirate

First encounter:

Foreign National: 你好, 你叫什么名字?
Chinese National: Waaaaa, you Chinese soooo good!
F: 没有, 没学了多久.
C:  Yes, so good. Where you learn?
F: 我在北京待了差不多一年。。。
C: You must be very smart…

Has this happened to you? If so, were you thinking: 如我中文那么好你为什么跟我说英文? (If my Chinese is so good, why the heck are you speaking to me in English then?).  Yes, my fiend you have encountered what is known in the “lǎowài” community as the dreaded “English Pirate”. They come out of the shadows intent on stealing free English lessons; no matter what you say in Chinese they are always ready to respond in English. Finally, worn down, you lose the battle and switch to English.

Now, here is what I think the rules of engagement should be:

•    A student of your language in your country (they have traveled quite far after all just to learn your language!) should be addressed in your language.
•    If the person addresses you in English, and you know English, or the conversation cannot go further because they do not know your language well enough, fair enough to switch to English. But give them a shot!
•    Likewise, in the U.S, if you are a student of Chinese, you should not try to use Chinese expats as a tool to teach you Chinese. They may be here to learn English and you should help them out.

More importantly, how does one foil an English pirate? Aaarggh!

•    Try as long as you can to stick to Chinese… they may give up before you do.
•    Identify the English pirates in a social group and avoid them.
•    Fix your attention on people who are interested in you as a person, and not you as a free English lesson.
•    You can try to pretend you’re from a country that does not speak English (ashamed to say I have done it a few times), but it’s not honest and doesn’t feel good in the end.
•    You can be upfront and say “I came here to learn Chinese, would you mind only speaking in Chinese with me for a while?”
•    All in all, the best way to avoid one is to identify one and retreat. There are plenty of Chinese nationals happy to speak their language with you.

The thing with English pirates, as is with anyone more interested in getting something out of you rather than knowing you, is they probably won’t pan out to be your best friends. Ironically, I found the people most willing to speak to me and other lǎowài in Mandarin in Taiwan spoke more English than the pirates in the end. As they became a part of our group, naturally we all switched to English at times.

“Hello, My Name is Have-No-Honor”

shame

Choosing a good Chinese name is a delicate matter and should be handled by the experts only, that is to say only well-educated native speakers. First, allow me to start with a cautionary tale: The story of how I ended up with the name “Have-No-Honor” in Chinese (or something that sounded exactly like that) and how I ran around Taiwan for 6 months introducing myself as a person “without a good reputation”.

I started learning Chinese at the age of 14 in my high school. The teacher asked us if we would like a Chinese name and I said I would like one with the character jade in it. He then gave me the name “míngyù” (明玉) and I was known as “brilliant jade” in Chinese class until my graduation four years later.

Off to college, and the more stuffy atmosphere of Mandarin classes at Georgetown University. The first day of class I was asked my last name in English, which is Meyer.  The teacher then chose the last name “méi” (梅), or Plum Blossom, and I was known as “Classmate  Mei” (梅同学) for the next four years in Chinese class. Then I was off to Taiwan after graduation. I thought, all I had to do was now put my first name with my last name and, voilá, I would have a full Chinese name.

Not so fast! The problem with just throwing together characters is that there are a lot of homophones in Mandarin and the chances of things going seriously wrong abound. In this case my placing of Méi Míngyù together created something that sounded exactly like “without a good reputation” (没名誉), not exactly the image I was trying to give off as a expat sorting her way through socializing in Mandarin.

Finally, one evening lying in my bunk in my dorm room, one of my 3 roommates approached me; she had prepared a little mini-speech in English (clear by the piece of paper she pulled out of her pocket and began to read from). “You name very shameful. It mean… have no honor!  You need new name. Your new name is “Méi Jiérú”, it much better.” And that’s how I got the name I have today, which I am told consistently is a good name. So, do you need a Chinese name and if so how do you get a good one?

You will need a Chinese name if you ever intend to write your name in characters. If you are learning only pinyin and not the writing system, you could get away with saying your name in English, particularly if it is a common one such as David or Nancy. The only problem is that if you really want to speak Chinese with your counterparts, saying your name in English will encourage the conversation to turn to speaking English. Also, if your name is not that common or you are speaking with someone who doesn’t know English, it will be hard for the listener to say or remember your name. It’s the same reason most Chinese expats in the U.S. take on an English name. So here are some tips on choosing a name:

•    If you have a common given name there is usually a set of characters typically associated with your name. You can look this up then have a native speaker help you choose a last name that is close to your surname, or one that goes well with those characters.
•    If you do not have a common name, you should choose a name with a meaning that you like. For example, a person I know with the name “Forever Beautiful” is not a name I would want, just too much pressure. Girls usually are given names that mean ”beautiful”, “white”, “pure”, “clean”, etc. and boys are more likely to be given names with characters such as “brave”, “intelligent”, and “strong”. But names run the full gamut and you can have a native speaker help you choose something meaningful and poetic to you. There are plenty of characters that form beautiful names such as “cloud”, “jasmine”, “poetry”, “dragon”, and many more.
•    ONLY have an educated native speaker help you choose a name. Someone serious about the assignment will not choose one on the spot, but will take some time and talk to other Chinese people to get their feedback. Likewise, before you take on your new name, ask a few native speakers what they think of the name chosen for you.
•    Learn what each character in your name is associated with, this is how you will be expected to tell people your name each and every time you meet someone new.  I, for example, have to say each time when asked which characters are in my name that they are “mei, as in plum blossom mei”, “jie as in clean jie” and “ru as in if ru”. People will often also imaginary write the characters on their own hand for the viewer to see which character they mean.
•    If you just want to play around with choosing a Chinese name, check out this site: http://www.mandarintools.com/chinesename.html – but remember to run the results by a native speaker before adopting the name.
•    Here is a list of English names transliterated into Chinese: http://chineseculture.about.com/library/name/blname.htm – these are not real Chinese names, but instead just the sound of your English name transliterated into Chinese. You know the guys who sit on the sidewalk and tell tourists they will write their English name in Chinese? That’s what they are doing. Just writing out characters to mimic the sound of your English name. So, here a name like “Barbara” becomes “Ba-ba-la”. A real Chinese name would only be one or two characters for the given name and only one for the surname.

Any good stories on how you got your name in Chinese?