If your asking this question you’re already going about it the wrong way before you even start. Sure, learning Chinese is not a simple task for native European speakers, but that’s just because at first glance the language seems so different from what we know. When you break it down though, and set your mind to learning some of the basics you soon realise it’s not so alien as you first thought. The first hurdle is to get over your fears of learning a new language and have confidence in your own abilities. Giving up with a laugh and saying “I just don’t have the brain for languages” is not going to get you anywhere.
I’m particularly passionate about this because I see how much of a difference it makes when foreign tourists, students and interns make an effort to communicate with their Chinese friends and colleagues in Mandarin. Relationships in China are key to success in every walk of life. Even a simple sentence like “where are you from?” in Chinese demonstrates that you are open minded and eager to learn about your surroundings and the people you meet (even if you do not understand a word of the response!).
So, how do you begin to tackle the mountainous task of speaking Chinese? Where there is a will there is always a way. You just need to find the best way to make your memory work, this has to be personal to you I believe.
As inspiration for you all I’m going to give you a little insight into how my memory works…
Step 1. Start with the things that matter (i.e. food in my case). Choose a few of your favourite foods and cement those sounds in your mind with some word association.
Have you ever tried a ròu jiā mó (肉夹馍) for example? It’s a delicious stewed meat filled flatbread that sounds suspiciously like Roger Moore (otherwise known as 007):
Step 2. Next most important for me is something to wash the food down with, and since I live in Qingdao nothing can be better than a nice bottle of Tsingtao Beer. If you can’t find a single word to remember something by then start building a story to remember the sounds.
For example, Joe likes to drink beer. Sigh, but then he always needs to pee.
Pee Joe! Beer = pí jiǔ (啤酒)
Step 3. Once you’ve learned a few key words then you’re ready to start expressing your needs. Make yourself heard! When your colleagues are too busy trying to finish off their emails before lunch and your stomach is starting to growl with impatience it’s easy enough to let your imagination run wild…
Imagine Ursula the evil sea Queen from the Little Mermaid flipping her lid. I need food NOW! I’m starving = è sǐ le (饿死了)
Step 4. Then after a while you’re going to have to start recognising some of the more regular responses you hear in shops and bars in China.
The most frequent of these is méi yǒu (没有) meaning don’t have. “Do you have any Mayonnaise?” the foreigner asks with desperate hope in their eyes. “Meiyou” responds the shopkeeper with a incredulous laugh.
So you see! Easy, you just learned 4 things in the space of a few minutes.
I hope this encourages you to come out to China and try learning the language for yourself. It helps to get a good grounding in the basic grammar and pronounciation from a native Chinese speaker to get you started.
You can sign up for classes here in Qingdao, or in Chengdu, Dalian and Zhuhai too. Send an email to email@example.com for more information.
Mandarin Chinese. Notoriously one of the hardest languages in the world to learn, but you’ve put that aside and you have brought yourself to the other side of the world for the internship of a lifetime.
So in order to get you on your way, we are going to give you some essential words and phrases.
First let’s cover some of the basics:
As you know, Mandarin is a tonal language made up of four tones. These can’t be ignored. So when speaking Mandarin it is better to exaggerate them than to ignore them completely.
The First Tone:
This tone is a flat sound. In English, it is the same sound as when you don’t know something and you say ‘Eerrrrr’. This is the flat tone that you want.
The Second Tone:
The second tone is a rising tone. In English this tone sounds similar to how you would raise your voice at the end of a question e.g “Why?”
The Third Tone:
The third tone is a tone that falls and then rises again. This is a hard tone to master for English speakers. Imagine your friend has just told you something shocking and you reply with “Really!?”. Aim for a strong falling and rising sound.
The Fourth Tone:
The fourth tone is known as the angry tone. A short, sharp sound as if you were angry and telling someone “No!”
So you now recognise the tones but don’t understand the words being said to you?
There is a way to make sense of the Chinese words that you will hear, into words on a piece of paper that you can then read and visa versa.
This is known as Pinyin. This is the phonetic translation of Mandarin pronunciations of Chinese characters, into a Latin alphabet.
It’s important to learn how to pronounce the sounds of the Pinyin alphabet accurately, so it would be best to get the assistance of a Chinese teacher to learn the fundamentals as most don’t sound as you might expect them to be pronounced. In the same way that ‘J’ is pronounced differently in English and Spanish.
Above the pinyin, the tone that the word should be said in is always indicated to help you.
The great thing about pinyin is that you can then type it into a mobile dictionary like ‘Pleco’ and it will show you the meaning of the word and the Chinese characters.
Now that we have the basics down, let’s give you some essential phrases:
Apply here, to put your language skills to practise!