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.

Directional Commands: First the Quiz

"Mandarin directionals muddle one's mind"

At some point in my Mandarin studies I realized I was completely confused about directional commands (e.g. “come here”, “go there”, “come in”, “go out”, etc.). Finally I sat a teacher down to get it all straight.  Now,  first let’s see if you’ve already got it straight. Here are some directional commands in English. Let’s see if you know the Mandarin equivalent (answers in follow up post in a few days).  Please post in English and ones you think I missed:

“Come in”

“Go out”

“Come up”

“Come down”

“Go up”

“Go down”

“Pick up”

“Put down”

“Put on” (clothes)

“Take off” (clothes)

“Put in”

“Take out”

Get on (vehicle)

Get off (vehicle)

Put off (pin, barrett, hat, decoration to wear)

Take off (pin, barrett, hat, decoration to wear)

“Come over here”

“Go over there”

“Get up”

“Stand up”

“Sit down”

“come back”

“go back”

“bring with” (2 ways to say, i.e something you take with you, and another thing you take away with you – as you go off somewhere)

“bring back to” (like a book you bring back to the library)

“bring back with” (like going to the library and bringing the book home with you)

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 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

“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.