Mandarin Monday, 第一课

by Sue

Since the summer, I’ve been researching Chinese environmental laws, and I came across a few documents that were only available in Chinese. After a few years studying Chinese in high school and college, I was frustrated that I was only able to read a few sentences without the use of a language translation dictionary, and even more frustrated to realise that there were some words in the files that I should have known because I had already learned them in school!

So I need to brush up on my Chinese writin’/ readin’ skillz, especially considering my future career plans… And since I learn best when I’m teaching or discussing what I know with other people, I thought I could do it through this medium and call it Mandarin Monday.

I’ve come across a lot of other sites that teach several lessons of basic Chinese, complete with pinyin, vocabulary with sentences, and pronunciation audio files. I’m not sure how I want to go about utilising/ handling Mandarin Mondays yet since this is a rather impulsive decision, but I would appreciate feedback and welcome any questions. My e-mail is sue[@]madeinkowloon[.]com for anyone who wants to contact me privately.

Sidebar: I am using simplified Chinese for a variety of reasons; the most important one is that it’s less difficult to write, if you choose to practice doing so. Besides, most people learning the language nowadays (excluding Hong Kong students) are using simplified characters anyway. There was also a recent article about simplifying the already simplified, but I’ve misplaced the bookmark, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Without further ado, I present a lesson in Greetings.

你好!/ 您好!
nǐ hǎo! / nín hǎo!
Break down: 你/ 您 means “you” and means “good.” = How do you do?/ Hello.

Both mean ‘Hello!’ but the former is less formal than the latter. You would use with an elder, someone of importance (think diplomat or something) or a person you’re just meeting for the first time.

To turn the “Hello” into “How are you?” one simply needs to insert the interrogative particle“” at the end. Like so:

你好吗?/ 您好吗?
nǐ hǎo ma? / nín hǎo ma?

To respond:

我很好.
wǒ hěn hǎo.
“me/ I” “very” “good” = I’m fine.

Of course you’re going to be polite by asking the other person how they’re doing. Like with everyday English conversation, you needn’t re-ask the above question (though that is your prerogative should you choose to do so but it just sounds kinda silly); simply tack on “你呢?” at the end. Like so:

我很好, 你呢?
wǒ hěn hǎo, nǐ ne?
“you” (interrogative particle, like “”) = I’m fine, and you?

您贵姓?
nín guì xìng?
“you” “honorable” “surname” = What is your surname?

Chinese names always begin with your surname followed by your personal/ given name, but a person is seldom referred to by the surname alone. Traditionally in China, when you first meet someone, it’s more polite to inquire about the family name before asking the personal names. It’s more common to have monosyllabic surnames written with only one character, though there are occurrences where it can be written with two. For your curiosity, here are the top 100 common Chinese surnames.

你叫什么名字?
nǐ jiào shénme míngzi?
“you” “call” 什么 “what” 名字 “name” = What is your name?

Most times, personal names are made up of two characters. The first is the name that follows some traditional family rule and links with your last name. The second character is what families and close family friends call you by; it links with your first character to create a name with auspicious meaning.

For example, my Chinese name is 廖树婷 (Liào shù ting). “tree” “dainty/ graceful.” Together, it’s supposed to mean “tree growing gracefully/ healthily” or something to that affect. And just as Robert becomes Bobby, for a child and as an endearing nickname used by friends and family, they’d “shorten” my name by duplicating the second name: 婷婷.

So before I leave you to practice and ponder over today’s phrases, one last important one:

再见!
zài jiàn
“again” “to see” = See you again/ Goodbye.

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