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► THE CHINESE LANGUAGE
Chinese, when referring to language, describes a group of languages that are related but not necessarily mutually intelligible. Linguists describe them as belonging to the Sino-Tibetan language family. With there being roughly 1.3 billion Chinese alone in the People’s Republic of China, as well as it being a recognised language of Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Singapore, it is spoken as a first language by around a 5th of the world’s population.
Although described as one language with different dialects by native speakers, the language differences between the dialects are really as great as the differences are between French and Spanish. Despite the different pronunciations they all share a common writing system, albeit having been split into the traditional characters and simplified versions of them that were introduced into the mainland to attempt to increase literacy since the 1950’s. Hong Kong and Taiwan still use the traditional characters.
The History of Standard Chinese
Putonghua or Standard Chinese language as it is also called, comes from the Beijing dialect of Mandarin and is the official language of the mainland and Taiwan but Cantonese is still widely spoken in Guangdong and Hong Kong.
Chinese can be traced all the way back to the earliest written records over 3,000 but has developed and diversified over it’s many years of existence, intertwining itself with regional dialects and languages that it encountered through the spread of Chinese people through Asia. There wasn’t, however, a standard national language until it was decided that the Northern Chinese dialect would be taken on as the common tongue in the 1930’s. The Communist revolution saw this putonghua “common speech” cemented and nowadays it is used by all on the mainland and Taiwan as well as being taught in schools in Hong Kong to the extent that most understand it.
Learning at least some Chinese goes down very well witht he guides on our China tours.
Practice your Chinese using the sections below divided into different themes
Contributed by Phil Stanley.
|► 发音 PRONUNCIATION|
Guide to Pronunciation
There are four tones in Mandarin that must be followed for proper pronunciation. If you are not used to tonal languages then the importance of these tones cannot be emphasized enough. Consider a vowel with a different tone as simply a different vowel altogether, and you will realize why Chinese will not understand you if mess this up — mǎ is to mā as "I want a cake" is to "I want a coke".
|► 短语 BASIC PHRASES|
The Essential Basic Phrases in Mandarin
These are the essentials that you will find make a difference to your how you experience China so are well worth learning on the plane over if not before! Good luck!
- Hello 你好。 Nǐ hǎo
- May I please ask, what is your name?
- Who are you? 你是谁？ Nǐ shì shéi?
- Is there someone here who speaks English?
- Help! (in emergencies) 救命！ Jiù mìng!
|► 问题 PROBLEMS|
Dealing with Problems
It is highly unlikely you will experience the need to use any of the words and phrases listed below as China is one of the world’s safer destinations for travellers. The one exception is getting lost but you will find that if you get lost passers by will do their best to help you out even if they have little idea where they are themselves!
- Leave me alone. 不要打扰我。 búyào dǎrǎo wǒ
- I want to talk to the American/Australian/British/ embassy/consulate.
|► 计数 NUMBERS & COUNTING|
Numbers & Counting in Mandarin
0 〇 líng
11 十一 shí-yī
21 二十一 èr-shí-yī
100 一百 yī-bǎi
101 一百〇一 yī-bǎi-líng-yī
110 一百一十 yī-bǎi-yī-shí
111 一百一十一 yī-bǎi-yī-shí-yī
200 二百 èr-bǎi
300 三百 sān-bǎi
500 五百 wǔ-bǎi
1000 一千 yī-qiān
2000 二千 èr-qiān
half 半 bàn
Below you can also see how the Chinese count with their hands. Keep an eye out and you will notice this all the time. Learn some yourself to bring a smile to the most jaded market trader.
|► 时间 TIME|
Telling the Time in Chinese
now 现在 xiànzài
before 以前 yǐqián
noon 中午 zhong wu
evening/night 晚上 wǎnshàng
What time is it? 现在几点？ Xiànzài jǐ diǎn?
later 以后 yǐhòu
morning 早上 zǎoshàng
afternoon 下午 xiàwǔ
midnight 半夜 banye
_____ minute(s) _____ 分钟 fēnzhōng
Weekdays in Chinese are easy: starting with 1 for Monday, just add the number after 星期 xīngqī.
Monday 星期一 xīngqīyī
|► 购物 SHOPPING|
Chinese Phrases for Shopping
- Do you have this in my size? 有没有我的尺寸？ yǒu méiyǒu wǒde chǐcùn?
- I need... 我要__ wǒ yào __
...toothpaste. 牙膏 yágāo
...a toothbrush. 牙刷 yáshuā
...tampons. 卫生棉条 wèishēng miántiáo
...soap. 肥皂 féizào
...shampoo. 洗发精 xǐfǎjīng
...pain reliever. 镇痛剂 zhèntòngjì
...cold medicine. 感冒药 gǎnmào yào
...stomach medicine. 胃肠药 wèicháng yào
...a razor. 剃刀 tìdāo
...an umbrella. 雨伞 yǔsǎn
...sunblock lotion. 防晒油 fángshàiyóu
...a postcard. 明信片 míngxìnpiàn
...postage stamps. 邮票 yóupiào
...batteries. 电池 diànchí
...a pen. 笔 bǐ
...glasses. 眼镜 yǎnjìng
...English-language books. 英文书 Yīngwén shū
...English-language magazines. 英文杂志 Yīngwén zázhì
...an English-language newspaper. 英文报纸 Yīngwén bàozhǐ
- black 黑色 hēi sè
- white 白色 bái sè
- gray 灰色 huī sè
- red 红色 hóng sè
- blue 蓝色 lán sè
- yellow 黄色 huáng sè
- green 绿色 lǜ sè
- orange 橙色 chéng sè
- purple 紫色 zǐ sè
- brown 褐色 he sè
- Do you have it in another color? 你们有没有另外颜色? nǐmen yǒu méiyǒu lìngwài yánsè ?
|► 食物 FOOD|
Food & Eating Out in China
One of the great pleasures of any trip to China is the food which is usually of excellent quality, fresh and cheap. You will quickly realise that the Chinese food we have in the West is mainly Cantonese style and that there is a lot more to Chinese cuisine than that so go out, experiment and enjoy!
- Can I look at the menu, please? 请给我看看菜单？ qĭng gĕi wŏ kànkan càidān?
- Do you have an English menu? 你有没有英文菜单? nĭ yŏu méi yŏu yīngwen càidān?
Listen for... “Yes, we have one” : 有 yŏu
Or, “No, we don't.” : 没有 méi yŏu
- I'm a vegetarian 我吃素的 wŏ chī sù de
Look for these characters to get an idea of what you're ordering.
- dīng 丁 (cubed/diced)
- piàn 片 (thinly sliced)
- sī 丝 (shredded) kuài 块 (bite-sized pieces)
- qiú 球 (curled)
- chăo 炒 (stir-fried)
- zhá 炸 (deep-fried)
- kăo 烤 (dry-roasted)
- shāo 烧 (roasted w/ sauce)
- breakfast 早饭 zǎofàn lunch 午饭 wǔfàn
- dinner 晚饭 wǎnfàn beef 牛肉 niúròu
- pork 猪肉 zhūròu mutton 羊肉 yángròu
- chicken 鸡 jī fish 鱼 yú
- eggs 鸡蛋 jīdàn bread 面包 miànbāo
- noodles 面条 miàntiáo fried rice 炒饭 chǎofàn
- dumpling 饺子 jiǎozi rice 米饭 mĭfàn
- coffee 咖啡 kāfēi juice 水果 shuǐguǒ
- milk 牛奶 niúnǎi sugar 糖 táng
- tea (drink) 茶 chá green tea 绿茶 lǜ chá
- scented tea 花茶 huāchá black tea 红茶 hóngchá
- water 水 shuĭ beer 啤酒 píjiŭ
- red/white wine 红/白 葡萄 酒 hóng/bái pŭtáo jiŭ
- bottled water 矿泉水 kuàngquán shuǐ
- It was delicious. 好吃極了。 hǎochī jí le
- The bill, please. 请结帐。 qǐng jiézhàng
|► 啤酒 DRINK|
Drinking in Mandarin
There is no shortage of drink in China and some of the local beers such as Qingdao and Yanjing are not bad at all. Be wary of imbibing too much Chinese Rice Wine (Baijiu) though as it can have thoroughly nasty side effects the next morning and you don’t want to miss that travel connection do you!?
|► 住宿 ACCOMMODATION|
Mandarin to use in Hotels
- Do you have a safe? 你们有没有保险箱？Nǐmen yǒu méiyǒu bǎoxiǎn xiāng?
|► 方向 DIRECTIONS|
Guide to Directions in Chinese
The words here are particularly useful for taxi drivers but we strongly recommend that you make sure you have addresses written down in Chinese with the telephone number of the place you are trying to get to so the driver can call for further directions if necessary.
- How do I get to _____ ? 怎么去_____ zěnme qù _____?
...the train station? ...火车站? ...huǒchē zhàn?
...the bus station? ...汽车总站? ...qìchē zǒngzhàn?
...the airport? ...飞机场? ...fēijī chǎng?
street 街 jiē or you can use 路 lù
- Turn left. 左拐 zuǒguǎi
- Turn right. 右拐 yòuguăi
- Go straight 一直走 Yìzhízŏu
- I arrived. 到了到了 Dàole dàole!
- U-turn 掉 头 Diàotóu!
The proper way to address a taxi driver 师傅 shīfu
Please use the meter machine 请打表 Qǐng dǎbiǎo
- left 左边 zuǒbiān
- right 右边 yòubiān
- straight ahead 往前走 wǎngqián zǒu
- north 北 bĕi
- south 南 nán
- east 东 dōng
- west 西 xī
- Taxi 出租车 chū zū chē
- Take me to _____, please 请开到_____。 qǐng kāidào _____。