The Chinese language is nothing like the English language.
Well, maybe that’s not true. There is exactly one thing about Chinese that is similar to English: sentence word order. Simple Chinese sentences often have the same structure as English sentences – subject, verb, object. For example, “I want a cup of coffee” directly translates to “Wǒ yào yībē Kāfēi– word for word, it’s still “I want coffee.” Similarly, “I have two apples”= “Wǒ yǒu liǎng gè píngguǒ” and “I love you” is “Wǒ ài nǐ.”
So sentence word order – that’s okay. It’s just everything else that’s completely different.
My Chinese studies have occurred in phases. Phase one began when I moved to Jinan, Shangdong in early 2014 on whim, without fully realizing that this third-tier city was not a popular home for English-speaking expats. It was (unlike Shanghai) a completely foreign experience, one that I am so grateful for and reflect on fondly. It also forced me to learn basic vocabulary (greetings, numbers, food, directions for taxi drivers…) just so I could function in society.
Side note: I was offered introductory Chinese lessons by my employer in Jinan, which I accepted. The lessons consisted of a university-aged girl repeatedly asking me, “What do you want to know?” Um, I don’t know… how to communicate.
Phase two began during my first months in Shanghai, when I started to take real Chinese classes at a language training school. Although the classes focused on much of the vocabulary that I had picked up in Jinan, it’s emphasis on pronunciation was enlightening because it made me realize that theoretically knowing a word in Chinese is almost worthless unless you know how to say the word.
Pronunciation is key. Word tone is key.
Mandarin Chinese has four tone markers that affect the way a word is pronounced. Two words may have the same pinyin spelling, but their meanings could be completely different depending on the tone marker. Example: Mā (mama) and Mǎ (horse).
Pinyin – the official romanization of Chinese characters — attaches different pronunciation to certain letters. X is pronounced as “sh”; C is “ts”; Z is “ds” (as in the end of the word kids); Q is “ch” and the ZH combination is pronounced as “j”.
Back to the phases. Phase three is now and currently involves my lovely guide, “15-minute Chinese.” Now I know a lot of language guides end up being about as useful as a paperweight, but this one is laid out in a way that makes it easy for the user memorize vocabulary and review material. It also comes with an audio track to help with tricky pronunciation – a constant problem.
(Photo 1) The book’s cover flap can be used to hide the Chinese pinyin, so users can test themselves on vocabulary. (Photo 2) Each section begins with a warm up to review the previous days’ lesson.
Week one, as you can see, focuses on introductions – greetings, information about relatives and simple sentences. A lot of the early material is already known to me, but I’m going to follow the guide as it is. And I did learn two new phrases from lesson one:
Hěn gāoxìng rènshí nǐ (Nice to meet you!)
Míngtiān jiàn (See you tomorrow!).
So there you go, world… Hěn gāoxìng rènshí nǐ. Míngtiān jiàn!