Learning Mandarin: Pinyin finals

In a previous post, I described the basics of Pinyin, and mentioned that words are made up of Initials (starts of words) and Finals. There are only a predefined set of each. Then in my most recent Learning Mandarin post, I described the Initials (or starts of words). In today's post, I want to look at Finals (or the ends of words).

a sounds like the a in mama
ai sounds like eye
an sounds like arn
ang sounds like ung
ao sounds like oww

e sounds like er
ei sounds like the name of the letter A
en sounds like un
eng sounds like ung
er sounds a bit like a pirate ARRGH

i sounds like the name of the letter E but can also sound like a short er
ia sounds like eeah
ian sounds like eeyan
iang sounds like eeyoung
iao sounds like ee-oww
ie sounds like air
in sounds like like "in" in English
ing also sounds like "ing" in English
iong sounds like ee-yong
iu sounds like ee-yo

o sounds like or
ong sounds like ong
ou sounds like oh

u sounds like uuww
ua sounds like wa
uai sounds like why
uan sounds like wan
uang sounds like wong
ui sounds like whey
un sounds like ewe-n
uo sounds like or

ū sounds like ewww
ūan sounds like ewww-en
ūe sounds like ewww-air
ūn sounds like oon

Words are basically made up of one of initials I mentioned last time, and one of the finals above. And that applies to people's names as well.

Now that's quite a list, but you do get used to them pretty fast, if you spend time listening carefully to someone speaking.

Learning Mandarin

I'll write more soon on the best methods for learning Mandarin. If you want to get a taste for it in the meantime though, my current favorite site is iTalki, and my favorite teacher by far is Amy He. If you decide to try it, click here and it's cheaper for both you and me.

Learning Mandarin: Pinyin initials

In a previous post, I described the basics of Pinyin, and mentioned that words are made up of Initials (starts of words) and Finals. There are only a predefined set of each.

What confuses many new learners is that while these look like our characters, they are often pronounced differently.

The character initials that are pretty much the same as ours are:

p, m, f, t, n, l, k, h, j, s, zh, sh, r

These are almost the same:

b, w, y

But the ones that are quite different are these:

d is closer to the t in stay, than the d in dog
g is closer to the k in skill than the g in gender
q is like the ch in chosen
x is like the sh in she
z is like the ds in buds
c is like the ts in cats

As an example, I previously mentioned:

(Cǎo) which means "grass", "C" is the initial, and "ǎo" is the final.

It's pronounced more like "tsow" than "cow".

Learning Mandarin

I'll write more soon on the best methods for learning Mandarin. If you want to get a taste for it in the meantime though, my current favorite site is iTalki, and my favorite teacher by far is Amy He. If you decide to try it, click here and it's cheaper for both you and me.

Learning Mandarin: Getting started with Pinyin

When first learning Mandarin, there are two significant challenges. First is obviously learning a whole range of new words, but the second is learning to understand the large number of characters. Unlike English, where we basically use 26 letters from our alphabet, Chinese is estimated to have anywhere up to about 30,000 characters. Fortunately, only about 2,500 of those are in common daily use.

To avoid the challenge of learning both a new set of words, and a new set of writing at the same time, a common starting point is to use what's called 拼音 (Pīnyīn). The first character basically means to spell, and the second character refers to sound.

Pinyin uses pretty much the same alphabet as we do, with a couple of exceptions. It doesn't use the letter "v" and it does add "ū" (which has a umlaut, and is a type of "eww" sound with a curled lip – and pretty familiar in many European languages).

Not all combinations of letters make sense. Words are based on an initial and a final, and there are a defined set of each. For example, in the word:

(Cǎo) which means "grass", "C" is the initial, and "ǎo" is the final.

As another example:

(Céng) which means "floor" (as in a building floor), has the same initial "C" but a different final "éng".

But not all words that start with "C" have the same initial. For example:

(Chī) which means "eat", has the initial "Ch" and the final "ī".

Note also that the other strokes above the letters, different to the umlaut I mentioned before. These represent tones, and I'll talk more about them soon.

You might also wonder why the Chinese don't just use pinyin all the time, as the characters are easier to write, than their normal characters. The primary reason is that many words have different written characters, but the same pinyin.

(Mǎ) means "horse" and (Mǎ) means "code" but they have identical pinyin representations, including the same tone.

In the next two posts on Learning Mandarin, I'll write about Initials, then write about Finals.

Learning Mandarin

I'll write more soon on the best methods for learning Mandarin. If you want to get a taste for it in the meantime though, my current favorite site is iTalki, and my favorite teacher by far is Amy He. If you decide to try it, click here and it's cheaper for both you and me.

Learning Mandarin: Left and Right is Approximately

In English, we have a variety of ways to say "approximately". There are several in Mandarin as well.

大概 (Dàgài) is pretty common
大致 (Dàzhì)
大约 (Dàyuē) is also pretty common
差不多(Chàbùduō) is literally like "less not more" and is often used for "about" but it's closer to "almost"

But the one I wanted to highlight today is a less obvious one:

左右 (Zuǒyòu) is literally "left right" but is used for "approximately" or "roughly".

It's a great example of how Chinese often uses opposites in a simple way.

Learning Mandarin

I'll write more soon on the best methods for learning Mandarin. If you want to get a taste for it in the meantime though, my current favorite site is iTalki, and my favorite teacher by far is Amy He. If you decide to try it, click here and it's cheaper for both you and me.

Learning Mandarin: Demonyms (Naming people based on where they came from) are easy

In English, we often name people based on where they came from. However, the rules for doing that are very complicated.

  • From England, we get English.
  • From Australia, we get Australians.
  • From Poland, we get Polish.
  • From China, we get Chinese.

But some get really, really messy. For example:

From Paris, we have Parisians. (That's not too bad)
From Greece, we get Greeks.
From Newcastle, we get Novocastrians. (Woah)
From Seattle, we get Seattleites.

How is someone learning the language meant to learn that?

In Mandarin, this is generally easy.

The word for person is (Rén) which even looks a bit like a person.

That gets added to the end of the name of the place:

中国人 (Zhōngguó rén) – Chinese
法国人 (Fàguó rén) – French
德国人 (Déguó rén) – German

Note that (Guó) means country. So it's often just country name + country + person. Some are a bit different and don't have the word for country in the name of the country:

墨西哥人 (Mòxīgē rén) – Mexican

Cities are OK too:

伦敦人 (Lúndūn rén) – Londoner
巴黎人 (Bālí rén) – Parisian
墨尔本人 (Mò'ěrběn rén) – Melbournite
上海人 (Shànghǎi rén) – Shanghainese

Learning Mandarin

I'll write more soon on the best methods for learning Mandarin. If you want to get a taste for it in the meantime though, my current favorite site is iTalki, and my favorite teacher by far is Amy He. If you decide to try it, click here and it's cheaper for both you and me.

Learning Mandarin: Doubling Verbs

In a previous post, I talked about how adjectives are often doubled in sentences, typically for emphasis. Verbs can also be duplicated, but that is used to soften the verb or mood. It also generally indicates that the action won't take too long, or won't be too hard.

The formal term for this in Mandarin is reduplication of the verb. (Mind you, that doesn't make sense to me as duplication should mean two, and reduplication should then mean four).

For example, the sentence:

请看看。(Qǐng kàn kàn.) means "Please take a look".

As well as (kàn) which means to look, it's often used with these:

(Tīng) -> listen
(Dú) -> read
(Xiǎng) many meanings but in this case probably -> think
(Zǒu) -> go or walk
(Pǎo) -> run
(Tiào) -> jump
(Wén) -> smell

Two word verbs can also be doubled, but unlike adjectives where AB becomes AABB, with verbs AB becomes ABAB.

For example:

讨论讨论 (Tǎolùn tǎolùn) means to discuss

UPDATE: Quick thanks to John fan Zhang for reminding me about another related pattern. I meant to include it in this blog post but for some reason, I forgot.

Instead of just VV for a doubled verb, it's also common to put 一 (Yī) in between the two verbs. So, instead of just VV, it's V yi V. That means that instead of this:

看看 (Kàn kàn)

It's common to hear:

看一看 (Kàn yī kàn)

The same pretty much applies to any of the verb doublings.

Learning Mandarin

I'll write more soon on the best methods for learning Mandarin. If you want to get a taste for it in the meantime though, my current favorite site is iTalki, and my favorite teacher by far is Amy He. If you decide to try it, click here and it's cheaper for both you and me.

Learning Mandarin: Doubling adjectives

One thing that fascinates me in Mandarin is the number of times you see a word repeated in a sentence. This can commonly occur with adjectives.

The simplest example would be a single character adjective that is repeated.

她的脸红红的。(Tā de liǎnhóng hóng de.)

This literally means "her face red red" or more likely "she blushed". But the word for red (Hóng) is repeated, in this case for emphasis.

Instead of saying:

你的眼睛真大的。(Nǐ de yǎnjīng zhēn dà de.) which says "your eyes are really big",

you get a similar effect by doubling the word for big:

你的眼睛大大的。(Nǐ de yǎnjīng dàdà de.)

Now where the fun begins is that many adjectives involve two characters, and instead of A becoming AA, the effect is that AB becomes AABB. (Not ABAB)

高高兴兴 (Gāo gāoxìng xìng) where 高兴 (Gāo xìng)  means happy.

漂漂亮亮 (Piào piàoliang liàng) where 漂亮 (Piào liàng) means beautiful.

Learning Mandarin

I'll write more soon on the best methods for learning Mandarin. If you want to get a taste for it in the meantime though, my current favorite site is iTalki, and my favorite teacher by far is Amy He. If you decide to try it, click here and it's cheaper for both you and me.

Learning Mandarin: Relative times for Years

I wrote in previous posts how Chinese refer to relative days , relative weeks and relative months in Mandarin. In this last post of this short series, we'll look at how they refer to years.

(Nián) is the word for Year. It's pronounced roughly like "knee-en".

今年 (Jīnnián) means "This year"

Years don't use up and down words like weeks and months. Instead:

去年 (Qùnián) means "Last year" (where Qù means "Go" – or in this case gone)

明年 (Míngnián) means "Next year" (where Míng literally means "Clear or bright")

Other periods are a bit different though. You don't double up the words like they do with weeks:

前年 (Qiánnián) is "The year before last". Qián usually relates to "in front of".

次年 (Cì nián) can be used for "The year after next", although there are alternatives to this.

Learning Mandarin

I'll write more soon on the best methods for learning Mandarin. If you want to get a taste for it in the meantime though, my current favorite site is iTalki, and my favorite teacher by far is Amy He. If you decide to try it, click here and it's cheaper for both you and me.

Learning Mandarin: Relative times for Months

I wrote in previous posts how Chinese refer to relative days and relative weeks in Mandarin. In this post, we'll look at how they refer to months.

(Yuè) is the word for Month.

这个月 (Zhège yuè) means "This month"

Similar to weeks, the words for up and down are used to make previous and next months:

上个月 (Shàng gè yuè) means "Last month" (where Shàng means "Up")

下个月 (Xià gè yuè) means "Next month" (where Xià means "Down")

Other periods are a bit different though. While you can double the ups and downs like we could with weeks:

上上个月 (Shàng shàng gè yuè) is "The month before last" or literally "up up month".

下下个月 (Xià xià gè yuè) can be used for "The month after next", even though Google translates it as "Next Month" (I think it's just wrong on that).

More commonly, I seem to hear these variations used:

前一个月 (Qián yīgè yuè) can be used for "The month before last" or "The previous month". Qián means "In front of".

下个月之后 (Xià gè yuè zhīhòu) seems pretty common for "The month after next". The zhīhòu part means pretty much "after that".

Learning Mandarin

I'll write more soon on the best methods for learning Mandarin. If you want to get a taste for it in the meantime though, my current favorite site is iTalki, and my favorite teacher by far is Amy He. If you decide to try it, click here and it's cheaper for both you and me.