Reading Chinese


Reading Chinese is Easy!

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Now that you’re starting to get comfortable looking at the pieces of Chinese Characters, let’s take another look at the 50 Basic Phrases you just learned a few days ago.  This time, we’ll read them in their Hanzi form.

ㄋㄧˇ  ㄏㄠˇ Hello.
ㄗㄞˋ   ㄐㄧㄢˋ Goodbye!
ㄉㄨㄟˋ  ㄅㄨˋ  ㄑㄧˇ Sorry!
ㄇㄟˊ  ㄍㄨㄢ  ㄒㄧ˙ No problem.
*If someone apologizes to you.
ㄅㄨˋ  ㄏㄠˇ  ㄧˋ  ㄙ˙ Excuse me.
ㄒㄧㄝˋ  ㄒㄧㄝˋ Thank you.
ㄅㄨˊ  ㄎㄜˋ  ㄑㄧˋ You’re welcome!
ㄨㄛˇ  ㄐㄧㄠˋ  Doug My name’s Doug.
ㄋㄧˇ  ㄐㄧㄠˋ  ㄕㄣˊ  ㄇㄜ˙  ㄇㄧㄥˊ  ㄗ˙ What’s your name?
ㄑㄧㄥˇ  ㄗㄞˋ  ㄕㄨㄛ  ㄧ  ㄘˋ Please say again?
ㄏㄣˇ  ㄍㄠ  ㄒㄧㄥˋ  ㄖㄣˋ  ㄕˋ  ㄋㄧˇ Nice to meet you!
ㄧˇ  ㄕˋ  ㄘㄨㄥˊ  ㄋㄚˇ  ㄌㄧˇ  ㄌㄞˊ  ㄉㄜ˙ Where are you from?
ㄨㄛˇ  ㄕˋ  ㄇㄟˇ  ㄍㄨㄛˊ  ㄖㄣˊ I am American.
*Feel free to look up the word for YOUR country, and add a flashcard to say that word instead ^^
ㄨㄛˇ  ㄕˋ  ㄧㄥ  ㄨㄣˊ  ㄌㄠˇ  ㄕ I’m an English teacher.
*Again, look up the word for YOUR occupation, and add that flashcard to your deck.
“___”,  ㄓㄨㄥ  ㄨㄣˊ  ㄗㄣˇ  ㄇㄜ˙  ㄕㄨㄛ How do you say “___” in Chinese?
ㄨㄛˇ  ㄊㄧㄥ  ㄅㄨˋ  ㄉㄨㄥˇ I don’t understand.
ㄨㄛˇ  ㄅㄨˋ  ㄓ  ㄉㄠˋ I don’t know.
ㄘㄜˋ  ㄙㄨㄛˇ  ㄗㄞˋ  ㄋㄚˇ  ㄌㄧˇ Where is the bathroom?
ㄨㄛˇ  ㄧㄠˋ  ㄓㄜˋ  ㄍㄜ˙ I want this.
*Good when you are buying something.
ㄓㄜˋ  ㄍㄜ˙  ㄉㄨㄛ  ㄕㄠˇ  ㄑㄧㄢˊ How much does this cost?
ㄨㄛˇ  ㄜˋ  ㄌㄜ˙ I’m hungry.
ㄋㄧˇ  ㄧㄠˋ  ㄑㄩˋ  ㄔ  ㄈㄢˋ  ㄇㄚ˙ You want to go eat?
ㄏㄠˇ Okay. Good.
*Another way to say “yes” to an offer, or just “okay” when someone tells you something.
ㄋㄧˇ  ㄧㄠˋ  ㄅㄨˊ  ㄧㄠˋ You want it or not?
ㄧㄠˋ I want it.
*A way to say “yes” if someone asks if you want something.
ㄏㄠˇ  ㄔ Delicious!
ㄨㄛˇ  ㄒㄧˇ  ㄏㄨㄢ I like it!
ㄋㄧˇ  ㄧㄠˋ  ㄇㄚ˙ You want?
ㄨㄛˇ  ㄅㄨˊ  ㄧㄠˋ I don’t want it.
*For saying “no” to an offer. Often said by screaming children as well.
ㄅㄨˊ  ㄩㄥˋ I won’t use it.
*A more masculine way to say “no” to an offer.
ㄋㄧˇ  ㄏㄨㄟˋ  ㄕㄨㄛ  ㄓㄨㄥ  ㄨㄣˊ  ㄇㄚ˙ Can you speak Chinese?
ㄨㄛˇ  ㄏㄨㄟˋ  ㄕㄨㄛ  ㄧ  ㄉㄧㄢˇ  ㄓㄨㄥ  ㄨㄣˊ I can speak a little Chinese!
ㄋㄧˇ  ㄏㄠˇ  ㄇㄚ˙ How are you?
*Actually, Chinese speakers tend to reserve this question for friends and family, because it’s considered a bit personal. However, so many Chinese 101 textbooks teach the phrase, that everyone will expect you to know it from day one!
ㄏㄣˇ  ㄏㄠˇ, ㄒㄧㄝˋ  ㄒㄧㄝˋ。 ㄋㄧˇ  ㄋㄜ˙ Very good, thank you. And you?
*The TEXTBOOK answer to the question above!
ㄏㄞˊ  ㄏㄠˇ I’m so-so.
ㄨㄛˇ  ㄏㄣˇ  ㄌㄟˋ I’m tired.
ㄨㄛˇ  ㄐㄩㄝˊ  ㄉㄜ˙  ㄅㄨˋ  ㄕㄨ  ㄈㄨ˙ I feel bad/sick/weird…
ㄋㄧˇ  ㄧㄠˋ  ㄑㄩˋ  ㄋㄚˇ  ㄌㄧˇ Where do you want to go?
ㄋㄚˋ  ㄌㄧˇ There.
ㄓˊ  ㄗㄡˇ Go straight.
ㄧㄡˋ  ㄅㄧㄢ Right.
ㄗㄨㄛˇ  ㄅㄧㄢ Left.
ㄓㄜˋ  ㄌㄧˇ  ㄐㄧㄡˋ  ㄏㄠˇ Here is okay.
ㄊㄧㄥˊ  ㄒㄧㄚˋ Stop!
ㄒㄧㄠˇ  ㄒㄧㄣ Careful!
ㄐㄧㄡˋ  ㄇㄧㄥˋ  ㄚ˙ Emergency! Help!
ㄏㄨㄛˇ  ㄚ˙ Fire!
ㄐㄧㄠˋ  ㄐㄧㄥˇ  ㄔㄚˊ Call the police!
ㄨㄛˇ  ㄒㄧㄤˇ  ㄧㄠˋ   ㄧ  ㄅㄟ  ㄆㄧˊ  ㄐㄧㄡˇ I would like a glass of beer.
ㄍㄢ  ㄅㄟ Cheers!

Getting Down With The Hanzi

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As you learn more and more characters, you will slowly begin to notice the reasoning behind the way many characters are made.  Some radicals add meaning to a character, while some give information about its pronunciation.

Before you go nuts, there are just a few more things you should probably know about the Chinese language, that I’ve held off teaching until now.  This mostly regards pronunciation, and will help you to navigate some of the common beginner’s pitfalls.

Unwritten Tone Change Rules

Some characters will change tone in certain words, purely for ease of pronunciation.  To prevent confusion over what the “basic” tone is, these changes are usually not written in the dictionary (although sometimes they are!).  These changes are regular, so if you learn them now, you can better match your speaking and listening to the pronunciation of a native, without forgetting what the tone is when the character appears in other words.

There are three basic rules:

1. 不 ~ This character is usually pronounced with the 4th tone 「ㄅㄨˋ」, but when in appears before another 4th tone, it changes to a 2nd tone 「ㄅㄨˊ」.  So 「不是」 is pronounced 「ㄅㄨˊ ㄕˋ」.

2. Double 3rd Tone ~ Saying two consecutive low tones within a word, in words like 你好「ㄋㄧˇ ㄏㄠˇ」 sounds a bit weird, so native speakers will instead change the first 3rd tone in a phrase to a 2nd tone.  So 你好 will be pronounced「ㄋㄧˊ ㄏㄠˇ」, even though in dictionaries it is still written 「ㄋㄧˇ ㄏㄠˇ」.

This rule does not apply when the double 3rd tone occurs between two separate words that are next to each other.  For instance, the phrase 沒有雨衣 has two 3rd tones in the middle: 「ㄇㄟˊ ㄧㄡˇ ㄩˇ ㄧ」.  But since they are split between the seperate words 沒有 and 雨衣, they are left as they are.

3. 一 ~ When 一 appears as a lone or low number (like when saying a phone number), it is pronounced with its basic 1st tone, 「ㄧ」.  When it appears before a 4th done, it changes to 2nd, exactly like 不 does.  When it’s a part of another word (including high numbers), it changes to 4th tone.  So, 一月 is pronounced 「ㄧ ㄩㄝˋ」, 一個 is pronounced 「ㄧˊ ㄍㄜˋ」, and 一起 is pronounced 「ㄧˋ ㄑㄧˇ」.

Confused yet?  Actually, most native speakers I talk to don’t know any of these “rules” (and I use that term loosely); they just pronounce the words naturally, by instinct.  You should probably try to do the same, through frequent listening and repeating during your Language Exchanges.

Characters with Multiple Pronunciations

Unlike the Unwritten Tone Change Rules, which are done for ease of pronunciation and not written in the dictionary, some of the 漢子 you will encounter will have entirely different pronunciations when appearing in certain contexts.  In these words, the meaning will usually change as well.  For example, 行 is pronounced 「ㄒㄧㄥˊ」 when used as a verb; but it’s pronounced 「ㄏㄤˊ」 when appearing in words like 「銀行」.  These characters are called 「多音字」 (many sound characters), and make up about 20% of the common 漢子.

English has some equivalents to this; for instance “I like to read,” vs. “I read it yesterday.”  Or “He’s putting his toys away,” vs. “He’s putting the golf ball.”  However, English doesn’t have nearly as many of these as Chinese does.  Be thankful you’re not learning Japanese though!  In Japanese, every single characters has at least two or three pronunciations!

A Note on Toneless

About half of the 多音字 only change their tone, with many just dropping their tone and becoming toneless.  For instance, the characters 子 and 頭 (“child” and “head”, respectively) can also serve as “meaningless” noun suffixes.  As they drop their original meanings, they can also drop their original tone.  叉子 「ㄔㄚ ㄗ˙」 is “fork” (not “fork-child”), and 饅頭 「ㄇㄢˊ ㄊㄡ˙」 is “steamed bun” (not “steamed bun-head”).

These characters, as well as characters like 麼 「ㄇㄜ˙」 and 們 「ㄇㄣ˙」, are what I call “true toneless” characters.  In contrast to these are characters which, in many dictionaries, seem to lose their tones only in certain words.  那裡 「ㄋㄚˋ ㄌㄧˇ」 is often written as 「ㄋㄚˋ ㄌㄧ˙」.  姊姊 「ㄐㄧㄝˇ ㄐㄧㄝˇ」 is often 「ㄐㄧㄝˇ ㄐㄧㄝ˙」.  I call these characters “false toneless”.

These tone-dropped pronunciations are written in some dictionaries for learners of Chinese, because they more accurately reflect the way native speakers actually say the word.  However, they are not considered “correct” writings by native speakers, and many dictionaries don’t recognize them as 多音字.  To be honest, they are not much different from the other Unwritten Tone Change Rules in the section above, except for the fact that they are not rules but exceptions.

In the flashcards on my website, I have omitted most of the “false toneless” readings, and instead used the character’s original tone in words where there is a difference.  I believe this will make it easier to remember tones, as every different word that contains a certain character will provide an opportunity to practice that character’s true tone.  To match the pronunciation of a native speaker, just continue using all the words you learn, in language exchange and in real life, and always try to copy the pronunciation of native speakers.

That “ARR” Sound

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If you haven’t noticed yet, people from Mainland China like to say “ARR” at the end of many of their words.  This sound has no literal meaning, and is represented in writing with the 兒 symbol, which in other contexts means “child”.

To native Chinese speakers who don’t use it (Taiwanese for example), this sound is considered more formal and old fashioned.  As such, it may still be found in songs and official documents, even in areas where it isn’t used in common speech.

The confusing thing about this sound is that it can replace the last half of the character before it.  Where Taiwanese say 一點「ㄧˋ ㄉㄧㄢˇ」, Chinese say 一點兒「ㄧˋ ㄉㄧㄦˇ」.  The difference in sound isn’t that difficult to get used to, but the way it’s normally transcribed is not really accurate.  For instance, the dictionary will usually write 一點兒 as 「ㄧ ㄉㄧㄢˇ ㄦ˙」, even though there is no ㄢ sound.  Another example is the word 一會兒, which is transcribed as 「ㄧ ㄏㄨㄟˋ ㄦ˙」, but is really pronounced more like 「ㄧˊ ㄏㄨㄦˋ」.

Pinyin does the same thing, by the way, writing 一點兒 as “yīdiănr”, when it really should be “yīdiăr”; and 一會兒 as “yīhuìr”, when it really should be “yīhuàr”.

By the way, all the examples of 一 in the words above undergo a tone change, even though it’s not written in many dictionaries!  Without looking, can you guess the correct way to pronounce 一點 and 一會兒? 🙂

Surprise! It’s More Flashcards!!

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You can find the flashcards for this Hanzi-Improved version of the 50 Basic Phrases in the Flashcards Deluxe Shared Library.  In the app, go to Decks and press the “+” sign, then Shared Library >> Search and type “DLB Chinese” into the search bar.  Then find the one that says “DLB Chinese Phase I: Basic Phrases (Hanzi)”.

Once downloaded, lets change some settings.  Using the Back button in the top left, go back to the main screen.  Select the deck you just downloaded (DLB Chinese Phase I: Basic Phrases (Hanzi)), and then select the gear icon in the top right.  From there, select:

Card Order Spaced Repetition


Font / Alignment Font Size Text 1 x-Large

Back Back Back


And that’s it!  Now give ‘em heck!

Today’s Quest

Download the flashcard deck titled “Basic Phrases (Hanzi)”, and go through them until you have moved all 50 cards from “New” to “Active”  Tomorrow, when they show up as “Due”, knock ‘em out again.

I should remind you that you should be completing ALL the Due cards from ALL FOUR decks, EVERY SINGLE DAY.  Don’t get lax with your review, or else you’ll have to relearn them all again later!

Tomorrow, I’ll introduce some software tools that will be instrumental to not only your Chinese study, but also your daily life.  These include plugins, apps, and most importantly, the input methods for Typing Chinese!

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Next: Typing Chinese