A brief introduction to Mandarin: Cairns

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Yirong Li (Teacher Li). Assistant Professor, Chinese language & Culture. In Cairns.  

Mandarin is the official language of mainland China. Note: Mandarin is a Western term for Chinese language. The local term is Putonghua which literally means ‘standard language’. The majority of mainland Chinese people speak Mandarin or one of its sub-dialects. A minority speak Cantonese (mainly in the southeast). All Chinese students learn Mandarin in school.






Western languages: have alphabets and are phonetic. This means that we can always sound out a word that we don’t know in order to understand its meaning.

Chinese language ‘汉语’ is different: Mandarin is pictographic. This means that we can’t know the meaning of a word or character by sounding it out. Each character must be memorised: i.e., we either know it or we don’t. If you wanted to read a Chinese newspaper in Mandarin, you would need to be familiar with 4-5000 characters.

Pīnyīn: Although it would be helpful to know a few basic Chinese characters, it is not necessary to do so. The transcribing of characters into an alphabetical writing system called Pīnyīn has made learning Chinese much easier: e.g., when the characters for Chinese language ‘汉语’, are transcribed into Pinyin they become, Hàn yŭ’.



Here are some common English words and phrases which have been translated into Pīnyīn. 

  1.  Welcome                             Huān yíng  
  2.  Hello                                    Nǐ Hǎo
  3.  Yes                                       Shì de         
  4.  No:                                       Bù shì
  5.  I                                            Wǒ
  6.  You (single & plural)             Nǐ / Nǐmen                                   
  7.  Please                                  Qǐng    
  8.  Thank you                            Xiè xiè
  9.  You are welcome                 Bù kèqì
  10.  Sorry                                    Duì bù qǐ                                                 
  11.  How are you?                      Nǐ hǎo ma?
  12.  I’m fine, thank you               Hěn hǎo, xiè xiè
  13.  Come in please                   Qǐng jìn               
  14.  Can I help you?                   Wǒ néng bāng nǐ ma?  
  15.  What’s your name?             Nǐ jiào shén me míng zì?    
  16.  My name is …                     Wǒ jiào…
  17.  I’m pleased to meet you      Jiàn dào nǐ hěn gāo xìng
  18.  Wait a moment please        Qǐng děng yī xià
  19.  It doesn’t matter                  Méi guān xì
  20.  Goodbye                             Zài jiàn
  21.  Take care                            Xiǎo xīn
  22.  Chopsticks                          Kuài zǐ
  23.  Room number                     Fáng jiān hào
  24.  How much?                         Duō shǎo qián?
  25.  How many?                         Duō shǎo?
  26.  Follow me please.               Qǐng gēn wǒ lái                                               



Four tones: Pīnyīn has four different tones. Each tone alters the sound of the word. This changes the meaning of the word.

      Altering the sound: e.g.,

  1.  high level tone:            e.g.,
  2.  rising tone:                   e.g.,
  3.  falling & rising tone:     e.g.,
  4.  falling tone:                  e.g.,

      Changes the meaning of the word, ma: e.g.,

  1.  mā  means:  mother
  2.  má        “         hemp
  3.  mǎ        “         horse
  4.  mà        “         scold

            ma (no tone) at the end of a sentence, changes the sentence into a question.

Grammar: Unlike Japanese language, Chinese grammar is simple. The structure follows a basic subject-verb-object configuration. More complex rules can be learned as you go along.

Pronunciation: The pronunciation of Pīnyīn is a little more complex. Although the English alphabet is used to write Pīnyīn, some sounds and combinations of sounds vary from standard English pronunciation. Thus it may be necessary to devote a little time to mastering this skill. A qualified teacher of Mandarin could be a great help. 



 Yirong Li.  Email: liyirongplum@gmail.com 





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