Posts tagged: how to learn mandarin chinese

Jan 27 2010

因人而异 – yinreneryi

因人而异 – yin1ren2er2yi4

Literal meaning of each character = because – people – and/yet/but – different

This is a fairly self explanatory idiom when you read the meaning of each character.  It basically means “everybody is different”, “differ from person to person” or “vary with each individual”

I first came across this idiom when talking about language learning and comparing languages with a taxi driver.  I gave my opinion about Chinese being easy and French being hard and I also said that it was only my opinion and someone else may feel differently.  I also comparing my learning Chinese faster than french and so on and at some point in the conversation he said this idiom.

So I now use it when talking about language learning to say that some people learn faster than others.  It isn’t to say that anyone is a better person than anyone else, it’s just that they are “different”.   However I am pretty sure that it can be used to other situations when talking about peoples individual abilities or maybe even tastes etc.

Dec 30 2009

Chinese Language Immersion

We all know that one of the best ways to learn or improve in a language is through immersion.  It’s why children who immigrate to other countries pick up the language so quickly.

I also took this step 2 years ago when I moved to China.  I had been learning Mandarin for 3.5 years already when I hit a plateau or bottle neck in my language progress.  This is something that happens to everyone on a regular basis when learning any language.  So I thought the best way to break through this bottle neck was to move to China in order to be immersed in the language.

Of course I personally haven’t noticed much of an improvement over the past 2 years, but if I were to return home and talk to my Chinese friends I am sure they would sing my praises and be blown away with my improvement.  This is because we never notice our own improvement in language learning, especially after the first few years are over.  It becomes a very slow gradual process the same way in which our body grows.  Children growing up don’t actually notice themselves get taller but if they see someone whom they haven’t seen in a while then that person notices how much taller they are.

So if you are considering re-locating to China for a short or long time I would certainly recommend it for your Chinese learning.  There’s no doubt that being fully immersed in the language helps you to reach the goal of fluency.  However with that comes a lot of other problems like home sickness and culture shock.  I have sure had my fair share of Chinese culture shock and may write about it in the future.  I miss home a lot, but I know being here is the best thing for my Mandarin learning and reaching the eventual goal of being a simultanious translator.

So if you are thinking of coming here it’s quite easy.  There are tons and tons of English teaching jobs.  You would have no trouble getting work and living here is quite cheap.  In fact your standard of living would likely be higher than at home and you would only need to work about 15-20 hours per week.  The work however is something I personally hate but others love it.

If you have any feedback or comments feel free to leave them below.

Dec 08 2009

Why Learn Mandarin Chinese ?

When I first started learning Mandarin it was only as a hobby.  But after I started getting good at it I started to think of the practical uses being proficient in this language would bring.

China is quickly becoming a power house on the world scene.  It’s economy continues to grow even with the world experiencing economic crisis, China’s economy continues to grow (all be it at a slower rate than before).

Further when you look at the minorities in various countries around the world, which minority has the largest amount of people ?  Is it not the Chinese ?  At least that’s what I have noticed.

Moreover, have you not noticed that more and more schools are offering Mandarin courses and even some middle schools have made Mandarin mandatory ?  What does that say about the government’s view to this language ?  What that tells me is they are realizing the value and importance of this language.

As a result I am very happy I started learning Mandarin when I did.  I somewhat feel like I am a little ahead of the pack now and I am confident I will be able to use this skill in the future working as a translator/interpreter or even a Mandarin teacher.

Dec 06 2009

Basic Chinese Pronouns

When learning a language we all need to start somewhere, and perhaps the best place is the pronouns.

I = Wo3

We = Wo3 men

You = Ni3

You PLURAL = Ni3 men

He/She/It = Ta1

They = Ta1 men

Notice in Mandarin you can simply add the word “men” to pluralize pronoun. “I” becomes “WE” simply by adding “men”.   So you only need to learn 4 words :

wo3, ni3, ta1, & men

With those 4 words you are able to say :

I, We, Me, Us, He, She, It, Him, Her, They, Them

Notice in English we have “I” and “ME”.  Because we would never say “please give it to I”.  We must change “I” to “ME” but in mandarin this phenomenon doesn’t exist, again making it that much easier to learn this language

Dec 05 2009

How To Ask Questions in Mandarin Chinese

Asking questions in Chinese couldn’t be easier.  Let’s first compare English statements to questions

He is big

Is he big ?

In English we need to reverse the order of the verb and the pronoun in order to create a question.  However we also have another way to ask questions and that is using intonation.  If we were to make the statement “he is big” but at the end of the sentence raise our voice this conveys the idea of asking a question.  It’s not grammatically a question as the tone cannot be conveyed on paper unless of course we write the question mark like “he is big?”.

In mandarin however they have what I like to think of as a verbal question mark.  In Mandarin Chinese any statement can be turned into a question by simply saying the word “ma1” (1st tone) at the end.  So in the example above you would have :

He big

He big “ma” ?

I think this is a great feature of Mandarin Chinese making it very easy to learn.  Also notice the lack of the verb “to be” in the examples above.  In English we really overuse the verb “to be”.  We have to say “He IS big” but in mandarin it isn’t necessary as it is logically implied.  If we say “he” and then an adjective, logic implies that he IS that adjective.

There is also another way to make a question and that is to say the following :

He big not big ?

So if you don’t want to put “ma” at the end of a sentence to make it a question you can simply give the positive and negative options.  This and the use of “ma” are essentially only useable with yes/no questions.

Finally there is one more way to ask questions that is probably less common and I didn’t know until moving here.  Therefore this method may only be idiomatic or “street chinese” so it may not sound good to every Chinese speaker.  Similar to putting “ma” at the end of a sentence to make it a question you can also put “mei2you” or even just simply “mei2”.   So using our example above you could ask :

He big mei2you ?

He big mei2 ?

But remember this is something I heard after moving here so it could be street slang or whatever.  Use this method carefully.

So there you have it.   Asking a question in Mandarin Chinese is as simple as making a statement and adding the question tag word “ma” at the end or just stating both the positive and negative in the same sentence.

Of course when using actual question words like “who,what, when, where, why, how” etc you wouldn’t use any of the above structures because by using question words it’s already obvious you are using a question.  This is a mistake many foreigners make when speaking Chinese.  They get so used to saying “ma” at the end of a question that they even say “ma” when asking a who,what, when, where, why, or how question.  So try to be careful of that bad habit.

Dec 05 2009

Mandarin Chinese Basic Sentence Structure

Here I will explain some basic Mandarin Chinese sentence structure and grammar.

First of all when speaking mandarin you will want to put the time element of any sentence at the beginning of the sentence.  Further you will also want to put the people or nouns near the beginning too.  For example the English sentence :

Would you like to go to the movies with me tomorrow ?

Notice the structure in English.  The word “tomorrow” is the last word in English but in Chinese it would be the first word.  Further the second last word in English is “me” but in Chinese that needs to be near the begging close to the word “you”.  Let’s look at how this sentence would be said in Mandarin Chinese (without changing the words into Chinese for simplicity)

Tomorrow you would like with me to go to the movies ?

Here is another English sentence that we can change into Chinese Grammar :

I am going to America next year with my wife

The Chinese version would be :

Next year I and my wife are going to America

If that seems strange to you don’t worry.  You get used to it and it feels totally natural.  In fact I sometimes find myself speaking that way in English.  I guess that’s how you know you are really getting into the language when your mother tongue begins to be influenced.  It’s an interesting phenomenon.

Dec 03 2009

Easy Verb Conjugations

Taking English as an example I will demonstrate how easy Mandarin Chinese is.  English (and many other languages) have multiple verb conjugations depending on the pronoun used.  For example the verb “to be”

Infinitive = to be



He/She/It IS

Notice that “to be” becomes “am”, “are” and “is” depending on the pronoun used.

Now, how think about how easy would English be if we spoke like this instead? :

Infinitive = to be



He/She/It TO BE

Notice in my hypothetical example above the infinitive “to be” never actually changes when using “I” “You” or “He/She/It”.   If you know any French then you will know the infinitive of the verb “to be” is “etre” but when using pronouns French renders it “Je suis” “Tu as” “Il/Elle est”.   Here again French also changes the verb for each pronoun the same as English.   French also takes it one step further in complication.   In English we say “We ARE” which is the same conjunction as “You” i.e. “You ARE” but French have yet ANOTHER conjugation for “WE” making their language just that much more difficult!

Now let’s get back to Chinese.   Chinese does exactly what I have illustrated above.   The infinitive of their verbs NEVER EVER change!!! When I learned this I was so happy! One of my most hated things about French was the endless verb tables we had to learn.   There were regular verbs and irregular verbs,  so hard to remember all the rules and then the exceptions to the rules!!!

With Mandarin Chinese,  none of that is a problem.   In Mandarin Chinese the verb “to be” is “shi4” (pinyin spelling with tone #).   So when saying:  I am, You are, He/She/It is – in Mandarin Chinese you say “shi4” each and every time regardless of the pronoun.   Isn’t that really easy?

So when learning English, a foreign speaker must remember:  “to be”, “am”, “are”, & “is”,  but when learning Mandarin Chinese we only need to remember 1 word “shi4”.   This rule is repeated for EVERY SINGLE verb in the language without exception! Therefore you have just cut your language learning workload down by 75% if you choose to learn Mandarin.

In my next article I will show you how incredibly easy Mandarin Chinese is to express Past tense verbs. Yet another challenge for me when I was learning French.

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