5 Ways Learning Mandarin Questions Is More Useful Than You Thought

Never too old to learn mandarin monkey

Everybody wants to have answers, but questions give us something far more useful—the ability to find even better answers. Or just find out where the nearest restroom is! 

The best way to learn Mandarin as a beginner is through questions. Why? Because they’re an easy way to introduce the basics of Mandarin, they’re useful for getting around (say if you’re learning Mandarin for travel, you want to know how to ask directions), and they lend themselves to practical conversation practice (because you need two people to ask questions, usually). 

But there’s more to the question. Here are 5 ways you didn’t know learning Mandarin questions could level up your learning beyond asking questions: 

1. Questions help you break out of your shell

Asking a question asks something from us. (See what we did there?) Unless we’re just asking ourselves a question (like to be or not to be?), there’s usually another person involved, which makes it a little scary. 

Not only that, but a question requires that you volley something over to them, for them to volley something back. It’s an exchange that requires a little vulnerability from us, and also courage. 

Because the nature of a question is interactive, you’re learning essential conversation skills as you practice questions. Now that’s pulling up two turnips with one tug (which is like the animal cruelty-free version of killing two birds with one stone).

2. Questions take the pressure off (sort of)

Questions are great for anyone just learning Mandarin because essentially the pressure is on the other person to answer. (Unless, again, you’re asking yourself!)

Asking questions gives you a free pass to practice your conversation skills without feeling like you’re on the spot. It’s the person you’re asking who’s on the spot to answer while you sit back and revel in the joy of asking something in Mandarin that someone actually understood! 🙌🏽

Are we suggesting you can learn Mandarin by just asking questions? Yup. In fact, 

we triple dare you to try it in the next Hangout

If you’re a Mandarin beginner, don’t be afraid to rely heavily on questions to help you ease into speaking. (And if someone answers your question with a question, well that’s just rude!😅)

3. Questions reinforce Mandarin sentence structure

Mandarin sentence structure and word order can be hard to get used to, especially for English speakers. Asking questions is the perfect way to practice because questions help you focus on the different parts of a sentence more pointedly. 

Because you’re actually trying to find out some piece of information, structure becomes more apparent in a question than in a non-question statement. 

For example, as you ask more questions about when someone did something, you’ll internalize the placement of the time element (hint: it’s always before the verb).


Subject + Time + Verb + Object + Question Particle: 

Nǐ zuótiān chī le wǒde jiǎozi ma?


[Did] you eat my dumplings yesterday?

Object + Subject + Time + Verb + Question Particle 

wǒde jiǎozi nǐ zuótiān chī le ma?


My dumplings, [did] you eat [them] yesterday?

(Remember that you can form a sentence by simply adding 吗 (ma) at the end of any statement.)

If you’re struggling with Mandarin word order, try turning statements into questions. It’s one of those weird tricks that just works. Try it!

4. Questions take the stress out of learning

This may seem like an obvious point, but the best thing about questions is that they free you from thinking you have to know everything. You don’t. When you don’t know something, what you can do is, you guessed it, ask a question! 

Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced Mandarin student, there’s always more to know. If you speak English, think about how many English words you don’t know. But you do know how to ask someone to explain what the word means using words you do know.

Questions allow you to relax a little and have more fun with your learning. You can always count on these handy questions whenever you don’t know something in Mandarin:

Zhège zhōngwén zěnme shuō?


How do you say that in Chinese?

Nà shì shénme yìsi?


What does that mean?

Don’t use them wisely, do use them often.

5. In the question lies the answer

This sounds like something Confucius said but like a lot of things attributed to the sagacious master, he probably didn’t.

As wise as this fake Confucius quote may sound, it’s actually really practical when learning Mandarin.

One of the coolest things about Mandarin questions is that most of the time you can answer them by just repeating the main verb. 


Nǐ zuótiān chī le wǒde jiǎozi ma?


[Did] you eat my dumplings yesterday?

To which you would answer:

chī le


[Yes], [I] eat

Of course, if you’re not a slippery dumpling thief, you would answer with the verb and a negation:

méi chī


[Did] not eat 

Of course, you could also answer any of the ways to say yes or no like a native speaker in Mandarin.

Ready to Ask More Questions in Mandarin?

You already knew that asking questions was an important part of learning Mandarin. Now you know some more ways questions are essential to leveling up your understanding no matter your level.

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