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Leon's Blogs

Chinese Lessons

by Leon

Foreword

 

Dear Reader,

I lived in China for a year, and I really wanted to learn Chinese.  The best way to learn anything is to teach it.  So, that's what I've attempted to do here.  I apologize for the brevity.  It's a good start, though.

Please Note: pinyin (say: /pee-in/) is the Romanization of Chinese phonemes.  Mainland China may have different pinyin than the renegade province of Taiwan.  I use mainland China's pinyin.

Sincerely,

Leon
Contact Info

 

Pin Yin or Pinyin

First you must understand the phonetics of the Romanized Chinese, called "pinyin".

So, I'll attempt to teach that.

But before I do, IPA stands for International Phonetic Alphabet, and

APA stands for American Phonetic Alphabet.

Pinyin IPA APA sounds like... in... Miscellaneous Notes:
a a a a father  
b b b b boy  
c - - ts tents but ten times more asperated
ch ch ch chop stick if followed by an "i", it is the i(2) sound
d d d d dog  
e a ago  
ei ei _
a
ei eight  
f f f f fog  
g g g g go  
h - - - - Chinese "h" is more glottal than English "h"
i(1) i: _
e
y candy this phoneme occurs when the letter follows any consonant except "ch" or "sh" or "zh".
i(2) u oo cook this phoneme occurs when the letter follows "ch" or "sh" or "zh".
j j g gin "j" is usually followed by i(1) 
k k k k key  
l l l l love  
m m m m me  
n n n n neat  
-ng ng ng sing  
o o _
o
o note  
p p p p pass  
q ch ch Chinglish "q" is usually followed by "i", with the i(1) sound
r - - - - Sounds like a Spanish "r"
s s s s sue if "i" follows "s", it is the 
i(2) sound
sh sh sh shoe if "sh" is followed by "i", it is the i(2) sound
t t t t tie  
u u: oo too  
- - - - make the articulation of a "w" and squeeze the "ieu" of "adieu" through it
w w w w wander if followed by "u", there is no sound
wo w w wo wonder  
wu - - - - make the articulation of a "w" and "squeeze" the sound of a long "o" through
x sh sh shin "x" is either followed by "i", and it has the i(1) sound, OR followed by
y - - - - There is no sound.
It is used before "i" to make it look pretty, as in the word "yi" meaning "one".
z tz tz tz waltz  
zh j j jury if "zh" is followed by "i", it is the i(2) sound

 

Okay, now we can put the letters together to make words.  But, I will do this in the context of sentences or phrases.

For example:  ni hao  (sounds like: "knee how") word-for-word it translates to: "You -- good?".  It is a greeting, much like "Hi" or "Hello".  Literally, it would mean:  "Are you good?" or "Are you doing well?"

But, before I go any further, you need to know the tones.  Chinese is a tonal language.  It has four tones (and thank the heavens only four, because I don't think I can handle more than four).

Chinese Tones

Number Symbol Prosodic Features
1 higher than normal pitch, and a bit longer than normal
2 starts at one's normal pitch and rises
3 starts at one's normal pitch, falls, and rises back to the original pitch, because of the falling and rising, the length of the tone is inherently long
4 very short, stressed tone

 

But, since I don't have the capability to type the symbols (above), I will substitute thusly:

= i1

= i2

= i3

= i4

 

So, the sentence, "Ni hao?" actually should look like this: , but I shall write like this: Ni3 hao3?

Got it?  Good.  Moving right along.

 

Some Chinese Numbers

(with translation into English)

 

I always like to start with numbers, because they are the most exact and practical.  So, here they are:

1 = yi1 [remember "y" is silent ]

2 = er4 [ pronounced like IPA /ar/ ]

3 = san1

4 = si4 [ pronounced like IPA /su/ ]

5 = wu3

6 = liu4

7 = qi1

8 = ba1

9 = jiu3

10 = shi2       [ pronounced like IPA /u/ ]

11 = shi2 yi1 (ten + one)

etc.

20 = er2 shi2   (two x ten)

21 = er2 shi2 yi1   (two x ten + one)

but Chinese usually just say, "er2 yi1"   (two, one)

etc.

100 = bai3

1,000 = qian1

10,000 = wan4

0 = ling2

The best way to learn numbers is by rote... (practice, practice, practice)

 

Some Chinese Phrases & Sentences

[with translation into English]

Okay, enough of numbers.  I'm way beyond that.  Chinese numbers are so similar to the Sino-Korean numbers that it only took me a couple days to learn (since I already speak/read Korean).

Now, let's move on to some sentences.

But, before I do so.  I'm going to change modes of writing tones, because it is a pain in the neck to do the superscript numbers.  From now on, I'm going to put the tones in parentheses, like this: ni(3) hao(3).  It's so much faster and convenient to do so.

So, we already know the greeting in Chinese:  "You--good?" (or)  "Are you good?"

****The answer would be:  "Good."  in Chinese there really isn't a word for "Yes."  Nor is there a word for "No."

You can also phrase it as a formal question: "Ni(3) hao(3) ma(1)?"   [You--good, yeah?]

The reply in Chinese is NOT "yes".  The reply is: "Wo(3) hao(3)."  [I'm good] 

          or plain, "Hao(3)" [good].

And, if you are feeling particularly good, you can say, "Wo(3) hen(3) hao(3)."  [I'm very good].

 

English (Free Translation) Chinese (pinyin) English (Word-for-word Translation
I don't understand. wo(3) bu(4) ming(2) bai(2) Wo (I) bu (don't) ming-bai ("bright-white").
Thanks! xie(4) xie(4) Thanks! Thanks!
You're welcome. bu(2) ker(4) qi(4) Bu (Don't) Ker-qi (mention).
See you again. zai(4) jian(4) Zai (see) jian (again)
Please qing(3) qing (please)
Please, [Let me] ask: where's the washroom? qing(3) wen(4): xi(3) shou(3) jian(1)
zai(4) na(3) li(3)?
Qing (Please) wen (ask):  xi (wash) shou (hand) jian (room) zai (exists) na li (where)?
It's delicious. hao(3) chi(1) Hao (good) chi (eating)
[I'm] very happy to meet you. hen(3) gao(1) xing(4) ren(4) shi(2) nin(2) Hen (very) gao (high) xing (joy) ren shi (recognizing) nin (you)
What did you say?  nin(2) shuo(3) shen(2) me(4)? Nin (you) shuo (say) shen me (what)?
I understand completely. wo(3) wan(2) quan(2) ming(2) bai(2) Wo (I) wan quan (completely) ming (bright) bai (white).

 

Note:  I've been racking my brain, trying to comprehend why "bright-white" would mean "understand", but along the same times, I have racked my brain much more trying to comprehend why "under-stand" would mean understand.

If I'm standing under somebody or something, do I comprehend that person or thing.  I might comprehend how heavy that person or thing is and what that person or thing looks like from below, but I doubt I would gain any other comprehension.  What about what the person or thing looks likfe from above?  Wouldn't that seem important as well?

So, since the English word "understand" makes absolutely no sense what so-ever, I can accept that the Chinese word doesn't make sense either.

Incidentally, there's another Chinese word which means understand: dong(1), so, one can say, "bu(4)dong(1)" which means "[I] don't understand."

I think that now is a good time to stop and do pronouns and posessive pronouns.

 

Pronoun / Language English Chinese (pinyin)
First Person I/me wo(3)
First Person Plural we/us wo(3) men
Second Person (familiar) thou/thee ni(3)
Second Person (honorific) you/you nin(2)
Second Person Plural you all/you all ni(3) men
Third Person he/she/it/him/her/it ta(1)
Third Person Plural they/them ta(1) men

 

Language
Possessive Pronoun
English Chinese (pinyin)
First Person my wo(3)de
First Person Plural our wo(3)men de
Second Person (familiar) thy ni(3) de
Second Person (honorific) your nin(2) de
Second Person Plural your ni(3)men de
Third Person his/her/its ta(1) de
Third Person Plural their ta(1)men de

* Linguistic Notes:  Although the second person familiar has fallen out of use in English, it has NOT in Chinese.  In fact, the general trend seems to be the opposite of English, i.e., the honorific second person is falling out of use.  However, I would recommend using the honorific second person to one's boss, or to persons much one's senior.

 

English (Free Translation) Chinese (pinyin) English (Word-for-word Translation)
You are my friend. ni(3) shi(2) wo(3)de peng(2) you same as "free translation"
I want to be your friend. wu(3) yao(4) shi(2) ni(3)de peng(2) you. Wo(I) yao (want) shi (be) ni de (your) peng you (friend).
One beer, please. qing(3), zai(4) lai(2) pi(2) jiu(3), yi(1) ping(2). Qing (Please), zai lai (bring) pi jiu (beer), yi (one) ping (bottle).
I'm sorry. dui(4) bu(4) qi(3) Dui (treat) bu (didn't) qi (arise)
Excuse me. dui(4) bu(4) qi(3) Dui (treat) bu (didn't) qi (arise)
Come in. jin(4) lai(2) jin (in) lai (come)
Go [someplace] q(4)  usage is different than English, "go",  Most Chinese use "walk", see below
Let's go. zou(3) ba zou = walk; "ba" is a verb suffix which means:
"how about [doing sth]?"
Go on an outing chu(1) exit, go out

*  Linguistic Notes:  The usage of words are not the same from language to language.  For instance:

1.  The usage of "qu" would be like... I'm going someplace.  (having a specific destination in mind AND stating the destination).

2.  If one merely wants to express "leaving" or "departing", the verb "zou" is used.

3.  The usage of "chu" is used to express going out of a building or going on an outing.

 

English (Free Translation) Chinese (pinyin) English (Word-for-word Translation)
I'm here! Wo(3) zai(4). I + [existential verb]
Mr. Li Li Xian(1) Sheng Li-First-Born
[Teacher] Mr. Li Li Lao(3) Shi(1) Li-Elder-Teacher
Is [Teacher] Mr. Li here? Li Lao(3)Shi(1) zai(4) ma(1)? Li-Elder-Teacher exists, yeah?
Isn't [Teacher] Mr. Li here? Li Lao(3)Shi(1) bu(2)zai(4)ma(1)? Li-Elder-Teacher doesn't exist, yeah?
Where is Mr. Li? Li Xian(1)Sheng,
zai(4)na(3)li(3)?
Li-First-Born, exists where?

*  Linguistic Notes:  Titles are definitely NOT uniform between various languages.  For instance(s):

1.  The Chinese title, "Xian(1)Sheng", can be used regardless of gender.  Usage is as a title of respect to an older person, (hence: "first-born").

2.  The Chinese title, "Elder-Teacher", could be translated in various ways, because the connotation is different from the denotation.  In Confucian-based societies, such as China, Korea, Japan, and VietNam, anyone who is older, is deserving of respect; and therefore, title "elder" connotates respect.  The title "teacher" connotates one who is a master of a certain art or discipline.  Thus, sometimes, one can see the translation: "venerable master", or more appropriately: "venerable maestro".  Yet, in Korea and Japan, for some unknown reason to me, the title "First-Born" is used to mean BOTH "Mr." AND "Teacher".

3.  When talking to or about a younger person, who is familiar to the speaker, one can use the given name, without any title, of course.  When talking to or about a younger person, who is NOT familiar to the speaker, one should use the full name (without any title,unless the person is a so-called professional or Ph.D., in which, the appropriate title should be affixed to the family name/surname).

 

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I know.  Too short.

If you'd like to learn more,

You may wish to consider the following books/tapes: