Sunday, 10 June 2012

Lesson 004: Chinese is Music

Chinese is a musical language. Click here to listen to the Chinese tones, like music. There is an introduction piece of music, but listen to the man speaking and the tones he's using. Sulan has converted this to English for you.



Going for a Walk

We went for a walk in the field; my mother, my wife and my son.

Initially, my mother was not keen to come out. She was old and not in good heath. She felt exhausted with long walks. I said to her: “You need to walk more because of that.” She nodded with belief, and went to get her coat. Nowadays, my mother listened to me, just like I listened to her when I was a child.

It was an early spring. The open country, with big pieces and small pieces of farmland, was covered in green. Some pieces were heavy and others light.   Tender leaves on the trees were getting thick; winter water in the fields started glistening. All of these reminded people of one thing – Life.

My mother and I walked in the front, followed by my wife and son. All of a sudden, my son shouted: ”In the front are mother and son; at the back are also mother and son.” We all laughed. 

Later on, we had a decision to make.  My mother wanted to get on the main road since it was flat. My son, however, wanted to take the track because it was fun. In the end, they would all look to me for a decision. Mother was old; she had become used to listening to her strong son. My son was still small and he would go with his big Daddy’s suggestion. My wife, as usual, always agreed with me when we were out. Instantly, I felt a strong sense of responsibility. I wanted to satisfy both sides but there was no way to do so. Then, I wanted to split the group into two and each could choose what they wanted. But we could not agree on that. On second thought I decided to let my son make the compromise. I would have a much longer time to be with him in the future. I said: “Let’s take the main road.” But my mother had changed her mind by the time I said so. She rubbed my son’s little head and said: “Let’s take the track.” 

She looked into the direction of the track; there was an expanse of golden rape flowers; along the track, two parallel rows of white mulberry. At the far end was a pond with clear ripples. “ Carry me if we come across anywhere I can’t walk pass.” My mother said to me.

 In the sun, we headed towards the golden rape flowers, the white mulberry and the pond. We came to a place where I knelt down to carry my mother on my back. My wife also knelt down and carried my son.  Steadily and slowly, my wife and I walked with great care, as if we were carrying the entire world.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Beginner 002: Nǐhǎo


Nǐhǎo is simply "Hello", or as we say in New Zealand "G'day". It's pronounced "knee-how". The little symbols above the ǐ and ǎ are tones. Don't worry about tones in this lesson. In fact, it really doesn't matter what tones you use to say Hello in Chinese, most people will understand you and be pleased that you are attempting to learn their language.

That's one of the things that I was worried about when I first started learning. I thought that some Chinese might be offended if I pronounced something wrong, used the wrong tones, or even the wrong words. But this could not be further from the truth. All of the Chinese people that I have met are wonderful people that are always happy when I say something even simple in Chinese. My partner will correct me of course because I have asked her to, but others will just be very friendly and pleased that you are trying.

So Nǐhǎo to you on this journey.

So now you have learned two words, yes that's right, two. You see, Nǐhǎo literally translates into "you good". It's like saying "how are you" in English - well, almost. So Nǐ (knee) means "you" and hǎo (how) means "good". two words, you and good, that can be used in other sentences.

But Nǐhǎo is a statement like "Hello". In English, we might say "Hello, how are you?", but in Chinese we simply put a question after Nǐhǎo - remember, it's the context in which things are said, the "indicator", not the different spellings etc that English has so it's a lot easier than other languages.

So to say "Hello, How are you?" in Chinese, we simply add the question indicator "Nǐhǎo mā". Ma is a short "Ma" like in "Mama (& Papa)". So the actual translation is "(are) you good?".

Let's jump ahead to a conversation. You are talking to a friend you have not met in a few days.

You: Nǐhǎo
Friend: Nǐhǎo mā
You: Hěnhǎo hěnhǎo, nǐ ne
Friend: Wǒ hěnhǎo, xièxiè

Confusing? I should think so! But lets take a look at it, you'll recognise the first two sentances. That conversation is translated as..

You: Hello
Friend: How are you?
You: Very good very good, and you?
Friend: I'm very good, thank you

Hěnhǎo is another two-word combination that means "very good" Hěn (pronounced "hen") and you should recognise hǎo already from Nǐhǎo - meaning "good".

So already we are using the same words in a different context. "you good" and "very good" as "Nǐhǎo" and "Hěnhǎo".

Do you also recognise the Nǐ as in Nǐhǎo used here in Nǐ na? Yes, Nǐ means "you". "Na" used here means a question "and" in "and you?". So "Hěnhǎo hěnhǎo, Nǐ ne", means "Very good very good, and you?"

"Wǒ hěnhǎo, xièxiè" means "I'm very good, thank you". Wǒ is I, so again, Chinese have done away with saying "I am" here because it's obvious what you are saying, just say "I" for "I very good". Wǒ hěnhǎo - I'm very good.

Xièxiè is a word that you'll get the hang of soon enough and you can use it even when you can't say anything else. It just means "Thank you" and is pronounced shea-shea as in shearing a sheep - shea(r)-shea(r). It's normally said quickly.

So, xièxiè for reading today's post and I hope you'll join me again next lesson.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Beginner 001: Learning Mandarin

I'm learning Mandarin. I hope you’ll join me in my learning. I’ve labelled my learning as “Beginner” to help you find the beginner posts among the other "Intermediate" posts.

Languages are not the easy thing they were when I was young.  I learned just a little German a few years back and it was easy. Most of the time the words sounded similar to my own English and the sentence structure may not have been the same, but at least it was also similar.

Mandarin however was very different. It's not just the words and the sentence structures that are different; it’s the way they are said, the tones, that also come into play. There are also some sounds that we are not used to. Thankfully, Chinese words can be read in pinyin which uses alphabetical characters, but again, they are not the same. "Q" in pinyin is actually pronounced "CH" rather than the "Q" we know.

On the other hand, there are a number of things that make Mandarin a little easier. Mandarin has no gender, and no tense. What I mean by tense is that in English, we might say "I rode my bike yesterday and will ride my bike tomorrow".  In Mandarin we simply say "Yesterday I ride bike and tomorrow I ride bike". By using a time indicator (yesterday or today), Chinese know when you are on the bike, they don't have to choose a different tense to describe it, it’s obvious. 

You don't even have to change words just to make them plural - think about it. If I said "one bike" you know there is only a single bike, so why should I have to change that word when I describe many of them, "two bikes". Again, the Chinese know how many by the way you describe it - not because you put an "s" on the end or changed the spelling. Consider one foot and two feet.

So Mandarin has some strange tones, reading pinyin takes a little getting used to, but once you get over that fact, it's a reasonably straight forward language.

Lesson 003: Queen's Birthday

Today is Queen’s Birthday. How old is she?  21, perhaps.  We heard guns fired 21 times.

The weather was really nice; bright sunshine with gentle breeze.

We had a walk along Oriental Parade. Lots of people there! We saw children riding their bikes, youngsters jogging and some of them playing volleyball on the beach.

We chatted about learning Chinese as we walked and sipped coffee at the same time. We started with weather. We described today’s weather as “风和日丽” , which can be literally translated into English as “wind is gentle and sun is bright”. Easy! Well, not always the case. Try this “心花怒放”. This Chinese phrase means something like overwhelmed with joy in English. If we translate it word by word, it goes like this: “heart flower angry open”.  It doesn't make any sense, does it?

Very often, language translation can’t be done word by word.  For this one, at least it is a laugh. Salute, the Queen!



我们沿着海滨路散布,人很多;有小孩子们在蹬车,年青人在跑步, 还有一些人在沙滩上打排球。

我们一边聊学中文,一边饮咖啡。从聊天气开始。今天的天气可以说是“风和日丽”。这个中文词组可以逐字翻译成英文“风是温和的,太阳是灿烂的。”很容易嘛!那可未必。试试这个词组“心花怒放”。它的中文词义跟英文的非常高兴差不多。但是,如果我们将它逐字翻译成英文的话,就成了“heart flower angry open.” 驴唇不对马嘴,是不是?


Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Lesson 002: Sulan and Steve go Shopping


We go shopping for groceries at  many places. We can go to different supermarkets, we can go to a Chinese grocery store, or we can also go to the Sunday market at the waterfront.

We have a choice of supermarkets and the one we like to go to has Tsingtao beer from China. We normally take the car to the supermarket so we can bring lots of groceries back.

We live close to a Chinese grocery store where we can get items that we can not find in supermarkets, for example, snacks from China.

The Sunday market is fun. There are not only lots of fresh fruit and vegetables but also hot foods to taste and buy. We often meet friends at the market and go to a coffee after shopping.


第二课 - 购物





Sunday, 20 May 2012

Lesson 001: Finding an Apartment


Sulan and Steve looked hard for an apartment in central Wellington. We looked in Trademe and we looked in the local newspaper and we asked friends. We looked at many apartments.

Finally we found our apartment in Southern Wellington. It has 2 bedrooms on the bottom floor, along with a big bathroom. 1 bedroom is smaller and can have 2 single beds but the main bedroom is big enough to have a queen sized bed. The top floor has a large living room and a kitchen and a nice balcony. This floor also has a dining room and a small corner office space.

It is a nice apartment because it is a warm and spacious apartment. It has windows looking both east and west so we get sun all day long. We have a little car that we park in the car park for the apartment. We can both walk to work so the car is only used when we want to go somewhere.


第一课 - 找公寓