Thanks so much for signing up to the mailing list and for downloading this document. We have put together a list of the most commonly asked questions through 2019 and 2020 on learning the Mandarin/Chinese language and put them all into this helpful list.
We touch on language and culture in this document. Hopefully you will learn something new and perhaps pick up a few new words.
We have also included a few short funny and highly visual stories with mnemonics in mind. You will see what we mean as you read on. Hope you find it useful.
If you have any questions about this document or about Mandarin/Chinese in general please let us know on firstname.lastname@example.org.
We appreciate your support!
The Mandarin Monkey Team
- How do Mandarin/Chinese names work?
- How do Mandarin/Chinese or Taiwanese people celebrate the New Year?
- Can Mandarin/Chinese speakers understand Cantonese speakers?
- How do you say ‘how are you today?’ in Mandarin/Chinese?
- How do you say ‘how old are you?’ in Mandarin/Chinese?
- Mandarin/Chinese, when to use de?
- Mandarin/Chinese, when to use le?
- Mandarin/Chinese, when to use ma?
- Mandarin/Chinese, where do I start?
- Where is the Mandarin/Chinese language spoken?
- Can I learn Mandarin/Chinese on my own?
- Can you learn Mandarin/Chinese without characters?
- Can I learn Mandarin/Chinese online?
- How can I learn Mandarin/Chinese fast?
- How can I learn Mandarin/Chinese in 5 minutes?
How Do Mandarin/Chinese Names Work?
So the naming format of Mandarin/Chinese names is a reverse of the western style of naming. So where as we may be called Susan Jones or John Smith, in China and Taiwan you would use surname first and the given name or first name last. For example -:
Huang <Family Name> Rou Yun <Given name/First name>
Sometimes, a child may be given a first name with only one syllable. It’s not very common and is considered ‘special’. For example -:
Xie(aka, Hsieh) <Family Name> Ho <Given Name/First Name>
How do people generally give their children names?
- Using a similar English pronunciation
- Given by a fortune teller who collects a child’s date and time of birth and picks a name.
- Names are related to the season of the birth. For example :-
Spring – 盛(shèng: blossoms ) 春(chūn:spring) 花 (huā: flowers) 櫻 (yīng: cherry blossom)
Summer – 日(rì-the sun) 烈 (liè:strong sun) 明(míng:bright) 焱 (yàn:fire,bright)
Autumn – 秋(qiū:Autumn) 果 (guǒ:fruit) 穗(suì:grain) 詩(shī:poem)
Winter – 冬(dōng:Winter) 雪(xuě:snow) 白(bái:white) 晶(jīng:crystal)
- Parent’s choice/preference/expectation
- Words from a popular poem
Here are some more examples of Chinese Names:
Family Name / Surname
伊美 Yi Mei
承志 Cheng Zhi
芷冉 Zhi Ran
鴻振 Hong Zhen
曉凡 Xiao Fan
Fun Story – mnemonics
Product – Chǎnpǐn (noun) – 产品, 產品
Jacky Chan holding a pin. He is telling you to remember this pin, it’s his new product. He is smiling at the camera, one of those cheesy smiles only used many years ago or in satire and promoting his new pin. It’s an amazing pin, to hold your clothes together while you use martial arts to get back a stolen treasure or something. Chan Pin.
How do Chinese or Taiwanese People Celebrate the New Year?
Chinese New Year (also called Lunar New Year) is a very important festival for Mandarin/Chinese speaking countries. This year (2020) we celebrate the year of the rat.
The main ways to celebrate the Chinese New Year is by getting together with your family and sharing a meal together.
Also, you may wish to decorate your house with lanterns or lucky symbols. The most common color for decorations is red as it’s seen as lucky.
A lot of the decorations you may see this year will be relevant to that of the years animal, the Rat.
In addition to having a meal with your family you may also exchange red envelopes called Hóngbāo, 紅包(Simplified:红包), which contain an even number of money. Typically, children and retirees will receive the red envelopes during Chinese New Year. The gift of money is meant as a gift and a blessing for financial success in the upcoming year.
Fireworks and firecrackers also play a big role in the celebrations of Chinese New Year. There will be large fireworks displays organized some costing into the millions of dollars. Most families will have their own private celebration and use firecrackers out on the street.
Here are some things to say during Chinese New Year :
Happy New Year!
Wish you good luck in the year of _____
_____nián xíng dà yùn
Wish you prosperity and wealth!
Peace all year round
Suì suì píngān
Wish your business success
May fortune come to you
We also wish people luck by saying sentences that contain elements of the zodiac. For example, this year (2020) is the year of Rat, you can use words or phrases that have a similar pronunciation as “shǔ”.
Wish that you have countless money
Cáiyuán gǔngǔn shǔ bù wán
All the best belongs to you
Hǎo yùn fēi nǐ mò shǔ
Wish that lovers get married
Yǒuqíngrén zhōng chéng juàn shǔ
Happily count money for the whole year
Shǔ qián shǔ dào shuǎng
Fun Story – mnemonics
Anaesthetic/anesthetic (noun) – Mázuìjì 麻醉劑 麻醉剂
“Horse mouth gee”. I heard of a terrible condition in medieval England called ‘Horse mouth’. It was an affliction that only brewers would develop. After brewing beer for long periods of time without rest, the brewer would start to develop large sagging lips. The lips would extend to such a degree the locals nick named it horse mouth. The treatment for horse mouth was the use of alcohol as an anesthetic and the surgical removal of the buildup of fat around the lips. People would often see brewers and say this guy has ‘horse mouth geeze’.
麻 – Má – Hemp
醉 – Zuì – Drunk
劑 – Jì – Agent
Associations/Similar Sounding but different tone/character.
Zuǐ – 嘴 – Mouth/Lips
Mǎ – 馬 / 马 – Horse
Can Mandarin/Chinese Speakers Understand Cantonese Speakers?
Short Answer: Not if they don’t speak it.
Mandarin and Cantonese are two very different languages. We found this out practically whilst travelling to Hong Kong to tackle Disney.
Coming out of an elevator we were greeted by an elderly lady who asked us something at the top of her lungs.
I looked at Ula thinking perhaps I missed something, or maybe there was a large portion of my Mandarin learning that I had neglected for too long. Perhaps I misheard. To my surprise Ula’s face was also blank. Ula asked the lady in Mandarin if she could repeat what she said. The lady immediately switched to English and offered us some food from her food cart she was hiding around the corner.
So, in short the answer is, if mandarin speaker doesn’t know how to speak Cantonese, then no, they won’t be able to understand each other.
A lot of Cantonese speakers are now learning Mandarin/Chinese as a second language, but there are many that still won’t understand Mandarin/Chinese.
How do you say ‘How are you today’ in Mandarin?
This is said by using the following formula / sentence structure…
Subject + Time Word + Verb + Question particle
Nǐ jīntiān hǎo ma?
Literal translation: You today ok?
How do you say ‘how old are you’ in Mandarin?
Subject + 几岁/幾歲 jǐ suì (Question word)?
Nǐ jǐ suì?
Literal Translation: You how many years old?
Fun Story – mnemonics
Air (noun) – 空氣 kōngqì
Practising the ancient martial art of Kong Qi is something to be immensely proud of. You must summon the energy from within with a deep inward breath and hold the air in your lungs for as long as possible, then slowly release the air while stretching your arms palms facing outwards. The second breath of air is forced through your nose moving the ground beneath your feet. The third is gentle, an exhale of air through the mouth being one with the wind. Kong Qi the art of the air.
Fun Story – mnemonics
Rice (noun) – mǐfàn
“Did you say rice? Caveman, would you like rice?”
“Yes, Me fan.”
“Oh you are a fan of rice?”
“Yes me fan!”
“It’s, I’m a Fan. Caveman.”
“Ok, Me fan Caveman!”
“Nevermind. Enjoy the rice.”
Mandarin/Chinese, when to use ‘de’
So, ‘的de’ can be used as a noun modifier, a verb modifier and adjective modifier.
If the above doesn’t make much sense, please read on.
- 的 (de) for modifying nouns
- 得 (de), for modifying verbs
- 地 (de), for modifying adjectives (into adverbs)
Modifying Nouns 的de
Subject + 的 + N
As a noun modifier it’s typically used to indicate that an object belongs to someone or something (possessive). Like, those are ‘Ula’s Keys’ or ‘Tom’s Motorbike’.
Ula的鑰匙/ Ula 的钥匙 （Ula de yàoshi） : Ula’s Keys
Tom的摩托車/ Tom 的摩头车（ Tom de mótōchē） : Tom’s Motorbike
Adjective + 的 + N
It can also be used to add an attribute (attributive) to a noun. like ‘a red pen’ or ‘a blue bike’.
一支紅色的筆 / 一只红色的笔（yìzhī hóngsè de bǐ）：a red pen
一台藍色的腳踏車 / 一台蓝色的脚踏车（yìtái lánsè de jiǎotàchē）：a blue bike
Modifying Verbs 得de
There is no direct English equivalent of this but ‘得de’ in this instance would be used to indicate an outcome of a verb.
Verb + 得 + adjective
‘She ran very fast’
Tā pǎo de hěn kuài
Adjective + 得 + comparison word(eg.more/less)
You can also use ‘de’ to show a comparison for example :
London is colder than Taichung.
Lúndūn bǐ Táizhōng lěng de duō
Ula is a lot prettier than Tom
Ula 比 Tom 漂亮得多/Ula比Tom漂亮得多
Ula bǐ Tom piàoliàng de duō
Modifying Adjective 地de
‘地de’ is used to modify adjectives into adverbs, much like the English ‘-ly’. For example:
Adjective + 地 + Verb
He slowly left the house.
Tā mànmànde líkāi jiā.
She blankly stared at him
Tā mángránde dèngzhe tā
She jokingly punched him.
Tā kāiwánxiàode zòu tā
Mandarin/Chinese, when to use ‘le’
This is a complex and detailed question which requires a detailed answer. We made a series of 5 videos explaining the uses of ‘le’. Please have a look.
or the less tech savvy. You can click on the links above or you can copy and paste (ctrl + c & ctrl + v) them into your browser.
Mandarin/Chinese, When Do I Use ‘ma’?
嗎 (Traditional) / 吗 (Simplified) is a question particle in Mandarin/Chinese and is used at the end of a yes/no question. 嗎ma is pronounced in a neutral tone, put at the end of a sentence and forms a question.
In English we tend to drift upwards in inflection when asking a question, in Mandarin/Chinese altering the tonality of the final word could change the meaning entirely. So, we use ma. For example -:
你好嗎？ – 你好吗？- Nǐ hǎo ma? – How are you?
你喜歡它嗎？ – 你喜欢它吗？- Nǐ xǐhuān tā ma? – Do you like it?
吃飽了嗎？- 吃饱了吗？- Chībǎo le ma? – Have you eaten?
You can add ‘嗎ma’ to the end of a statement to make a question sentence. That’s yours, I’m tall, you are American. They would become -:
- 那是你的吗？那是你的嗎？Nà shì nǐde ma? – Is that yours?
- 我高吗? 我高嗎? Wǒ gāo ma? – Am I tall?
- 你是美国人吗？你是美國人嗎？Nǐ shì měiguó rén ma? – Are you American?
Mandarin/Chinese, where do I start?
Start with why. People without a good ‘why’ tend to lose motivation or quit sooner rather than later.
Why do you want to learn? People, in our experience want to start learning Mandarin/Chinese for one or a mix of the following reasons -:
- Self improvement
Work. ( CEFR B1 is the minimum requirement in Taiwan)
If you are learning Mandarin/Chinese for work this is a valid and important driver for growth. Your boss may wish for you to have a basic understanding of Mandarin/Chinese so you can deal with overseas investors, factories or service providers. Alternatively, you may be required to be business level fluent within 12 months. Which would require a great deal of attention, motivation, effort and planning.
This investment would be a very intense course of completely surrounding yourself with everything Mandarin/Chinese and not allowing yourself out of it until you understand it all. Daily private lessons of some hours, talking through the foundations of the language and trying to understand structures. Then back home to watch Mandarin/Chinese only shows and listen to Mandarin/Chinese only music, memorising lyrics and reciting your favorite lines and speeches.
If this is you, we salute you!
Love is a great motivator for learning Mandarin/Chinese. Perhaps you want to find the man or woman of your dreams. You are enthralled by the culture of Mandarin/Chinese speaking countries and wish to surround yourself with the language. You respect the culture enough to start to learn the basics and if you find the ‘one’ then that’s double awesome.
Perhaps you have already found that special someone but their English isn’t relationship ready, so you decide to make the commitment to learn their language instead.
Having someone who doesn’t speak English very well is a great way to learn as it forces you into uncomfortable situations where your brain needs to adapt and learn quickly.
Those familiar with the ‘No English’ method will know this.
These are the people who are enthralled by the culture, the writings and the history of the language they are learning.
We have found that these students are very attentive when it comes to every detail of why something is the way it is. Why do we use a certain particle or grammar point that way, why do people structure the sentences a certain way etc.
You love the artistry of the Mandarin/Chinese characters and aim to master how to write the most difficult with the exact stroke order.
We know a lot of polyglots who are learning Mandarin/Chinese because it was next on their list of languages to learn.
Usually, these people already have some kind of a learning system and if not they are avid students of knowledge. The type who learn something just to increase their brain power.
Sometimes, someone just wants to challenge themselves and choose Mandarin/Chinese because they hear ‘it’s hard’. Bravo to you!
Travel is also an important one. This was on my list before I decided to move to Taiwan, I wanted to at least speak enough of the language to get by in my travels around Taiwan and China.
The learning here is slightly more limited as usually you would stop after learning some of the very basic phrases. ‘thank you’, ‘your welcome’, ‘help me’ and ‘one beer please’.
Still a very valid reason to learn.
Whatever your motivation is for learning Mandarin/Chinese you should always start with why you want to learn. Once you understand your true motivation you will be able to mark out your goals a lot easier.
After finding your motivation you will need to consider ‘how’ you like to learn.
You like to see information in the guise of images. You like charts and graphics, bright colors and relationships between them.
You like listening, you absorb everything audio. You also like to say new words and patterns outloud.
You are a reader, you like your eyes running across the pages of wise tomes and prefer to grasp a new structure by reading and re-reading. You like quizzes and supporting documents.
You like to get involved with the learning, you like to touch things and learn best by doing rather than sitting back and listening.
Now after understanding why and how, you can move on to some of the more practical.
Use it every single day
- Find a language exchange partner or start private lessons with a native
- Use Mnemonics to help remember vocabulary (use spaced repetition software like Anki)
- Mistakes are you friend, write them down if you can
- Create personalised learning activities
- Follow a textbook (reading/writing learner)
This section could go on for some time, but as the question was only ‘where do I start?’ we should probably stop there.
Where is the Chinese/Mandarin language spoken?
Mandarin Chinese is spoken in the following places -:
China – Standard Chinese – Simplified & Pinyin
Taiwan – Taiwanese Mandarin – Traditional
Singapore – Singaporean Mandarin – Simplified & Pinyin
Macau – Official language is Cantonese
Hong Kong – Official language is Cantonese – Hong Kong Cantonese
The picture shows the different areas of dialect in China. The official language is of course Mandarin but each area has a very distinct accent and sometimes different words.
From the Wiki:
‘Chinese varieties differ most in their phonology, and to a lesser extent in vocabulary and syntax. Southern varieties tend to have fewer initial consonants than northern and central varieties, but more often preserve the Middle Chinese final consonants. All have phonemic tones, with northern varieties tending to have fewer distinctions than southern ones. Many have tone sandhi, with the most complex patterns in the coastal area from Zhejiang to eastern Guangdong.
Standard Chinese, a form of Mandarin, takes its phonology from the Beijing dialect, with vocabulary from the Mandarin group and grammar based on literature in the modern written vernacular. It is one of the official languages of China.
Taiwanese Mandarin is one of the official languages of Taiwan. Standard Singaporean Mandarin is one of the four official languages of Singapore. Chinese (specifically, Mandarin Chinese) is one of the six official languages of the United Nations.’
Fun Story – mnemonics
Pirate (noun) – hǎidào
Hi dao! Arrrrgh. Caption Dao, leader of the Penghu Pirates. The most feared bunch of ingrates to sail the seven seas. Captain Dao would not come out from the captains quarters without the whole crew shouting ‘HI DAO’! No one knows why. Although the rumour is that Captain Dao enjoyed being high, while on the high seas. So that could explain it. Hi Dao.
Can I Learn Chinese/Madarin On My Own?
Of course you can!
But we would suggest getting a language exchange partner or a private teacher to help you on your way.
Actually, very typically we meet a lot of learners who are learning on their own. Only by joining a community of similar learners can you get to enjoy each others struggles with the language and discuss common pain points.
You can, of course, lone wolf it. Perhaps that’s the way you prefer to learn and that’s completely doable
Can You Learn Chinese/Mandarin Without Characters?
If you want to learn how to speak Mandarin Chinese only then you don’t need to learn the characters. It’s not essential. You will, however, need to learn how to read Pinyin, the romanized version of Mandarin/Chinese.
If you do decide to learn the characters you will have a better grasp of the tones and sounds of words than people who just stick to Pinyin.
Can I Learn Chinese/Mandarin Online?
Yes you can.
There are plenty of online learning solutions out there. The first, most obvious and cheapest is YouTube. You can find a bunch of very informative videos and walkthroughs on Mandarin on YouTube.
Once you feel comfortable with the tones and basic structures you can find a language exchange partner (we Googled it for you) or get an online Chinese teacher and bolster your efforts.
How Can I Learn Chinese/Mandarin Fast?
There is no sure fire way to learn Mandarin/Chinese very quickly. The quickest way is full immersion. You would need to surround yourself with the language 24/7 and try not to utter a word of English (or another language) for a few months.
You need a strict study plan and to stick to it no matter what. For example -:
Wake up 7am – Have conversation with yourself in shower and whilst brushing teeth
Have breakfast 8am – Describe all the things on the table using a Mandarin/Chinese English dictionary
Work at 9am – Listen to Mandarin/Chinese TV shows and Radio shows, perhaps podcasts
During Work – Continue to study with apps, podcast and text books during any and all breaks during your day. When planning out your work tasks, checking your emails, look up the words to describe your situation and try and think as much as possible in Mandarin/Chinese. Unless working in Taiwan or China people won’t be speaking to you in Mandarin/Chinese so you will need to have a conversation going on in your head wherever possible.
Leave work – Drive home reciting the directions home and describe anything you see in as much detail as you can.
At home – Grab an online course, use a private tutor or buy a textbook you can follow along with and go to town! Take notes on everything you learn and apply them to your next day.
Rinse and repeat.
How Can I Learn Mandarin/Chinese in 5 Minutes?
Short Answer: You Cannot. But you can learn a little!
Best you can do is learn how to say Hello, I love you or thank you in 5 minutes. But no one is learning Mandarin/Chinese in only five minutes, even if you are a savant.
Hello = 嗨/嗨 Hi
I love you = 我愛你/我爱你 Wǒ ài nǐ
Thank You = 謝謝/谢谢 Xiè xiè
It’s ok. = 沒關係/没关系 Méiguānxi
Much like you cannot get a summer beach body in five minutes.
Perhaps consider plugging yourself into the matrix or plan out at least a few months (usually years) of practice and study.
Mandarin Monkey is a media company that teaches Mandarin/Chinese in a variety of ways. We have a popular podcast in which one presenter will speak only Chinese while the other speaks mostly English so beginners can hone their listening skills while following the context of the conversation. We also host group hangout sessions which are designed to allow learners to use their mandarin/Chinese as much as possible, along with providing private one on one sessions with only native speaking teachers online. Tom is a native of the United Kingdom but has been living in Taiwan for many years. Mandarin Monkey has run a YouTube channel since 2016 and continues to provide straight teaching, vlog, fun, craft and grammar based videos on a regular basis. Ula, is a native of Taiwan and has been teaching for many years both online and in a classroom. They both set out on a mission to help Mandarin/Chinese learners in anyway they could in their learning journey and continue to strive to do so.
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