Thursday, March 31, 2011

Is America beautiful?

Few posts ago, I asked “Why is America called美国 (Měi Guó)?” Just in case you already forgot, 美国 (Měi Guó) translates to beautiful country.

(Měi): beautiful

(Guó): state

Well, it could just be because the Chinese people think that America is beautiful. No matter how the Sino-US relations maybe, I have generally found a fondness for America among the Chinese people. I don’t really know why America was named 美国 (Měi Guó), but I think the explanation given by a friend of mine is worth sharing.

(Měi) from 美国 (Měi Guó) sounds very similar to the second syllable in America. And since (Měi) has a good meaning as well, the Chinese people decided to name America as 美国 (Měi Guó). And she gave me few other examples too, which really convinced me:

(Dé Guó): Deutschland (Germany)

(Dé): virtue, morals

(Yīng Guó): England

(Yīng): brave

(Fǎ Guó): France

(Fǎ): law

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Chinese sounds

Many people struggle with Chinese pronunciation, and looking at the Chinese characters doesn’t really help much. Thank god we have pinyin. Pinyin is an officially adopted system of writing Chinese using the Latin alphabet. It was developed to help people with the accurate pronunciation of Chinese words. So far in my posts, I have included pinyin after each Chinese character to give everyone an idea of how those characters are pronounced. While most of the pinyin alphabets are pronounced like they would be in English, there are some notable exceptions:

C is pronounced TS, example: Cong

Q is pronounced CH, example: Qi

Z is pronounced DS, example: Zun

X is pronounced SH, example: Xi’an

U is pronounced OO, example: Hu

UI is pronounced AY, example: Sui

OU is pronounced OH, example: Zhou

ZH is pronounced JH, example: Zhou

To look at more examples and listen to audio clips, visit the National Gallery of Art website.

And here is a video that might help

Sunday, March 27, 2011

As tall as Yao Ming

My Chinese teachers in China used the following examples all the time:

姚明很高 (Yáo Míng hěn gāo): Yao Ming is tall

姚明是高高的(Yáo Míng shì gāo gāo de): Yao Ming is very tall

像姚明一样高(xiàng Yáo Míng yīyàng gāo): …as tall as Yao Ming…

And my favorite response was:

我比姚明高(wǒ bǐ Yáo Míng gāo): I am taller than Yao Ming

Yes, the Chinese people love their Yao Ming. For those of you who don’t know, Yao Ming is a 7 feet 6 inch basketball player from China. His Wikipedia page says that he is currently the tallest player in NBA, and he has also been the richest celebrity in China for six straight years. Being a basketball star in basketball-crazy China has made Yao Ming, in my opinion, the most well known Chinese athlete in China. Maybe that is why you see Yao Ming posters all over China and Yao Ming examples all over Chinese classrooms.

By talking about how tall Yao Ming is, we just looked at different ways of making comparisons in Chinese language. The following are the sentence structures:

A B (A bǐ B gāo): A is taller than B

A 是最高的 (A shì zuì gāo de): A is the tallest

A 一样高 (xiàng A yīyàng gāo): tall as A…

And by now you should know that (gāo) means tall.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The four tones of Chinese

Many of you have wanted to know more about the tones, and seems like some of you have a wrong understanding of what the tones are. A friend of mine asked me if tones in Chinese were like English words with multiple pronunciations and meanings. He used the word polish as his example.

pol·ish [pol-ish]: to make smooth and glossy, especially by rubbing or friction

Po·lish [poh-lish]: of, pertaining to, or characteristic of Poland, its inhabitants, or their language

When said differently the word polish can mean two completely different things. While I like his analogy, the Chinese tones are not exactly the same. So I thought it will be a good idea to write one more post on the tones. Let’s look at a different example this time.

1st tone (flat): (dī): low

2nd tone (rising): (dí): flute

3rd tone (falling & rising): (dǐ): bottom

4th tone (falling): (dì): land

Maybe this video will help

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Middle Kingdom

China is called 中国 (zhōngguó) in Chinese.

(zhōng): middle

(guó): state

中国 (zhōngguó): Middle Kingdom

Maybe the map below will help us explain why China is called the Middle Kingdom.

“The map is similar to many present-day Chinese world maps in that it positions at the centre of the map China (which used self-confidently to refer to itself as the “Middle Kingdom”), and not Europe.”

One theory, among few others, says that China is called the Middle Kingdom because its rulers believed that China is in the center of the world as shown in the map above.

But why is the United States called 美国 (měiguó)?

(měi): beautiful

(guó): state

Friday, March 18, 2011

How to say Hello in Chinese?

Most of us already know 你好 (nǐ hǎo). But what are some other ways of saying Hello in Chinese? Use one of the following rather than saying 你好 (nǐ hǎo) and you will definitely make some Chinese friends.

大家好(dàjiā hǎo) : Hello everyone

你好吗? (nǐ hǎo ma?) : How are you?

怎么样? (zěnme yàng) : How is it going?

好久不见 (hǎo jiǔ bù jiàn) : Long time no see

The following are also commonly used:

你身体好吗? (nǐ shēntǐ hǎo ma?) : How is your health? /How are you?

你吃过了吗? (nǐ chī guò le ma?) : Have you eaten yet?

And how do you respond to these questions? Well, you could always just reply 你好 (nǐ hǎo), but below are few possible responses which will make people believe that you know Chinese.

很好 (hěn hǎo) : Good

非常好 (fēicháng hǎo) : Very good

不错 (bùcuò) : Not bad

还好 (hái hǎo) : OK

And my personal favorite:

马马虎虎 (mǎmǎhǔhǔ) : so-so

Next time you have to say Hello in Chinese, don’t just say 你好. Try one of the above and make a good impression.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Don't get toned out...

My Chinese professor always commended my reading and writing skills, but I struggled when it came to speaking. Chinese language has four tones and it took me a while to get used to them. If said with a different tone, the same word can mean something completely different. The most common example is:

1st tone: (): mother

2nd tone: (): hemp

3rd tone: (mǎ): horse

4th tone: (): scold

Now you don’t want to call your mom a horse or the other way around (unless you are a horse of course).

Using the wrong tone can also get you into trouble (or maybe not depending on how it ends). Look at the following two meanings for wen:

(wěn): kiss

(wèn): ask

Make sure that you don’t say “Can I kiss you?” to someone when you meant to say “Can I ask you?”

To complicate things even more:

(wěn): kiss

(wěn): cut one’s throat

I know both of them have the same tone.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Why write this blog?

I fell in love with the Chinese language during my semester in China. While I continued taking Chinese classes upon my return, keeping up with Chinese has been pretty challenging since graduation. After almost two years of break, I have decided to begin the second phase of my Chinese learning experience.

Blogging is another activity I have always wanted to get into, but never knew what to blog about. I will use this blog to take notes as I learn Chinese, with the hope that it will help me keep my Chinese learning schedule on track. I welcome everyone to use the contents of this blog as it benefits them. But please keep in mind that I might be making mistakes and feel free to correct me if you notice one. Also please leave a comment, suggestion or a criticism. I love them all.

Blogging and learning Chinese are somewhat similar in a way. While both are attempted by many, only few are successful. I have tried to do both at once. Wish me Luck!!!


(Hello everyone! My name is Ma Si Wen. I am a student of Chinese language. This is my attempt to learn Chinese. Shall we start?)