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)


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!





Big Noses Can’t Really Learn Chinese

" Your Average Big Noser"

Do you ever get the feeling that Chinese people think you can’t really learn to speak their language? There is a Chinese restaurant I have frequented in San Francisco for almost two years now. Each time I go in to get take out, I chat with the staff and laoban (boss) while waiting. They are all native Cantonese speakers, sometimes struggling to find the right word in Mandarin.  Many times I’ve guessed what they were trying to say and helped them with the Mandarin word or phrase. Nevertheless, something humorous and very telling happened last time I went in.

One woman with whom I am very friendly said in Mandarin “Can I ask you something?” I said “sure”. And she replied “I hope you won’t be bothered by what I am going to ask, but, all this time we’ve been speaking with you, have you really understood us or are you just pretending.” Wait a second, I was thinking, I am the one who corrects your Mandarin!  She has heard me having complex conversations with the laoban, who has more fluent Mandarin. Why would she ever imagine I could pull off such a complex hoax, including guessing entire conversations and making up answers in Mandarin, all while having no idea what I am saying? Yet, I think I know why. I think she falls into the category of Chinese people who simply don’t believe it is possible to speak or understand Chinese if you are a “Big Noser” (Chinese slang for the ethnically non-Chinese).

I can never guess who will be a person who eases into a conversation, briefly complimenting my level in Mandarin, but immediately accepting the concept of a Big Noser actually conversing in Mandarin. It is impossible to predict. I have interviewed Mandarin teachers, people whose profession it is to look at big noses and try to get them to learn Mandarin, who cannot accept really speaking in Mandarin with someone sporting a schnoz larger than their own. I had one teacher unable to concentrate, laughing and saying “I just can’t believe it!” while interviewing her in Mandarin for a teaching position. At one point she covered her eyes and said “If I just do this, I will then think you are Chinese and not find it so funny”.  Then there have been others with little to no exposure to Westerners, let alone ones who speak Mandarin, easing right into it and going with the flow.

There have been some posts, including one of my own, about people not speaking Chinese to Westerners. The assumption has been that they prefer to practice their English. This may be true, but I also think some of these people actually don’t believe it can be done. No matter if you have been conversing with the person on a weekly basis for two years. It must be a ruse, smoke and mirrors, a carnival trick. How I wish I could do that, and skip the nearly two decades of study.

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

“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

Tā yòu gāo yòu shòu.
He is both tall and thin.

Tā yòu piàoliang yòu cōngmíng.
She is both beautiful and intelligent

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

Tā yìbiān chīfàn yìbiān kàn diànshì.
He eats dinner and watches T.V (at the same time).


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.

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
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)
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
Zhè yàng de shìqing zhēn ràng rén shēngqì.
Things like that really can make a person angry.

“like that” Zhè yàng
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.


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
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