Hello! my friends. My name is Yangyang. I am a full time Chinese teacher. Here, I am going to answer some of the most commonly asked basic questions regarding the Chinese language. Here we go:
1.What’s the difference between Chinese and Mandarin?
Well, Chinese is the language Chinese people speak. It includes Mandarin, Cantonese, Shanghainese, etc, etc. Mandarin is the language most Chinese people speak. People from mainland China, Taiwan, Singapore all speak Mandarin. People from Hong Kong and Guangdong province speak Cantonese.
2. What’s the difference between simplified Chinese characters and traditional characters.
Well, simplified Chinese characters are used mainly by people from mainland China and Singapore. Traditional Characters are used by people from Hong Kong and Taiwan. So, the majority of the Chinese-speaking world uses simplified characters. It will be one of the most rewarding investments you will ever make in your child's life.
3. What is pinyin?
Pinyin is the Chinese phonetic system. If I throw a Chinese character at you, do you know how to pronounce it? Probably not! But with pinyin, you can. It represents every single Chinese sound out there. So if you master pinyin, being able to pronounce it very clearly. You will not no problem sounding immediately like a real Chinese person. However, you need to know that even though pinyin uses the roman letters, you cannot pronounce it as if it were English. You have to learn how to associate pinyin, with the unique Chinese sounds.
For example, ben, fourth tone, dan, fourth tone, in Chinese means idiot. Now you say it. Did you say Ben Dan. Nope, the correct way of saying it is ben4 dan4. So, don’t call someone an idiot in Chinese before you master pinyin, because or else, nobody would understand what you are talking about.
Let me give you another example, if someone gives you a business card. On the business card, you know this person’s last name is Quan. How would you pronounce that? Mr Quan. Wrong. It’s supposed to be Mr. Quan.
So, again, you can’t pronounce pinyin as if it were English.
So how important is Pinyin? Very very important. It is the very first thing Chinese kids learn in school, and it is the number one tool for foreigners to learn the correct way of pronouncing the Chinese words. I strongly suggest you putting in some effort and time to learn this if you want to seriously learn some Chinese.
4. Do I have to learn Chinese characters to learn Chinese?
Well, in my personal opinion, you don’t have to learn Chinese characters to learn how to speak Chinese. Actually, trying to know all the characters, including reading and writing will seriously slow down your progress of speaking and listening. However, if you plan to be able to speak Chinese on an advanced level, learning Chinese characters will help. So my suggestion to my beginner students is always focus on speaking and listening using pinyin first, and if you want to learn Chinese characters later on, you can always do that. But at that time, you already have a foundation to build on. The worst thing that can happen is that you get so drained at the beginning by spending hours and hours on practicing Chinese characters and you lose interest in this beautiful language as a whole.
I have quite a few non-Chinese students who don’t know any characters but can speak Chinese quite fluently. You can be one of them.
5. Is Chinese really that hard?
Yes and No. Let’s say why it’s hard.
Chinese is hard for several reasons:
First, Chinese characters are hard to learn. If I throw an English word at you, you may not know what it means, but you know how it’s pronounced. However, If I give you a Chinese character, you know what it looks like, but you don’t know what it means and how it’s pronounced. Two parts out of three are missing. How it’s written and how it’s pronounced are not necessarily relevant, different from English. Associate all three elements is not an easy task. So in my opinion, it’s the reading and writing of the Chinese characters that make the language difficult. However, as I said before, you don’t have to learn Chinese characters to learn this language.
The second reason why Chinese is hard is also because there are four tones. That’s something you do not find in English. So you’ll have to get used to that. We will talk more about it in our future lessons.
Now let’s talk about why Chinese is NOT hard:
First, Chinese grammar is relatively easy. The word order of a simple Chinese sentence is exactly the same as it is in English. When it comes to long sentences, you just need to remember some simple rules and then you are good.
In addition, we don’t conjugate verbs in Chinese, no female or male, like most other European languages.
Oh, I have always told my students that actually, the more you learn Chinese, the easier it will get. What does that mean?
Well, recently, there is a flu called swine flu. I didn’t know what swine means, and later learned that it just refers to a kind of pig. Well, it’s very confusing that in English, you have pork, boar and pig. Even though they all have something to do with pig but you can’t really tell these three words are related. In Chinese, it’s different. Pork is pig meat, boar is a wild pig. So if you know how to say pig, it’s easier to pick up other words that have something to do with pigs.
For example, in Chinese, movie is dian4 ying3, which means electronic shadow. Telephone is dian4 hua4, which means electronic speech, computer is dian4 nao3 which means electronic brain. Let me give you another example, a cell phone is shou3 ji1, which means hand machine. An airplane is fei1 ji1, which means flying machine. And a helicopter is zhi2 sheng1 ji1, which literally means straight ascending machine.
So the more Chinese you learn, the more building blocks you will be building, and then you can just move around what you already learn and learn new words based on the old ones. The more you learn, the easier it gets. No joke!
I hope I have helped you understand some of the basics of the Chinese language. If you have any questions, please email me and I will try my best to address them in my future videos. Thank you for watching and I will see you next time.
Written by: Yangyang