Learning Mandarin: Color words

Yet another useful group of words that are best learned as a set are the words to describe colors.

Now the general term for color is:

颜色 (Yánsè)

I can use it in a sentence like this:

那是什么颜色? (Nà shì shénme yánsè?) is basically "what is that color?" or better "what color is that?"

To answer it, here are some common colors:

红色 (Hóng sè) is red

蓝色 (Lán sè) is blue

黄色 (Huáng sè) is yellow

绿色 (Lǜsè) is green

黑色 (Hēi sè) is black

白色 (Bái sè) is white

褐色 (Hé sè) is brown

灰色 (Huī sè) is gray

粉色 (Fěn sè) is pink (although my mother in law says 粉红色 (Fěnhóng sè) which is like "pinkish red")

金 色 (Jīn sè) is gold

银色 (Yín sè) is silver

紫色 (Zǐ sè) is purple

橙色 (Chéng sè) is orange

This is a good general set to get started with. And of course, as we do in English, there are entire families of colors and shades associated with each of these.

For example, (Shēn) is deep and so it's no surprise that

深绿色 (Shēn lǜsè) is deep green or dark green.

Learning Mandarin

I'll write more soon on the best methods for learning. 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: More direction words

Another useful group of words that I learned are used to describe the position of something.

Here are the most common:

(Shàng) is up or on
(Xià) is below or under

(Qián) is in front
(Hòu) is behind

(Páng) is beside

(Lǐ) is in (like inside)
(Wài) is out (like outside)

(Yòu) is right
(Zuǒ) is left

Often these words are used with either (Biān) or (Miàn) to indicate the position. Both seem to be able to be used interchangeably, but I know most of my Taiwanese friends seem to use (Miàn) most of the time, except they seem to always use (Biān) for left and right.

You'll often hear these after a noun, to indicate a position, in relation to the noun. So

房子后面 (Fángzi hòumiàn) will be "rear of the house".

镜子前面 (Jìngzi qiánmiàn) is "in front of the mirror".

Learning Mandarin

I'll write more soon on the best methods for learning. 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: The direction words

I mentioned in an earlier post that I find it easier to remember groups of words, rather than trying to remember individual words. An interesting (and very useful) group of words, are the direction words.

The first of these are the compass directions.

In English, we say "north, south, east, and west". Directly translated, they would be:

北,南,东,西  (Běi, nán, dōng, xī)

Now I don't know how we ever came to choose that order to say them, and it's interesting that we go top, bottom, right, left.

Chinese don't do that. They say "east, south, west, and north". So, you'll instead hear:

东,南,西,北   (Dōng, nán, xī, běi)

As well as the basic directions, in English, we also say "northward, southward", etc. To indicate the "in a northerly direction", in Mandarin, the word  方 (Fāng) is appended. So:

北方  (Běifāng) is like "northward".

Another useful suffix word is (Biān) is like "side". So

北边 (Běibian) is the "north side".

Learning Mandarin

I'll write more soon on the best methods for learning. 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: Looks like, sounds like and more

I mentioned in an earlier post that I like to learn sets of words or phrases, rather than trying to learn words individually. In that post, I discussed "Electric Words". 

Another interesting word grouping, is what I call the "like" group.

起来 (qǐlái) can be used for a number of things, often like "up", or "stand up", or "add up" and so on. It's pronounced a bit like "chee lie".

In fact, our then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull upset a number of Chinese by altering the sentence 中国人民站起来了 (Zhōngguó rénmín zhàn qǐláile) which basically means "The Chinese people have stood up". This sentence has long been attributed to Chairman Mao at the opening of the PRC (People's Republic of China) on October 1st 1949. Turnbull said that now 澳大利亚人民站起来 (Àodàlìyǎ rénmín zhàn qǐlái) or "Australians stand up". Some Chinese were offended by that reference, even though many claim that Chairman Mao didn't ever say it anyway.

But the ones I wanted to talk about today are the 动词 (Dòngcí) ie: verbs, or more specifically "perception or sensation verbs", followed by 起来 (qǐlái).  

Here are some examples:

(Kàn) means to look, so 看起来 (Kàn qǐlái) means "looks like".

(Tīng) means to listen, so 听起来 (Tīng qǐlái) means "sounds like".

(Wén) means to smell, so 闻起来 (Wén qǐlái) means "smells like".

(Cháng) means to taste, so 尝起来 (Cháng qǐlái) means "tastes like".

(Mō) means to touch or feel, so 摸起来 (Mō qǐlái) means "feels like".

It's worth noting at this point though, that this last phrase is a great example of how tools like Google Translate are awesome, but often have "interesting" translations when taken out of context. It says the last one means "touch up" or to "grope". Bing Translate says "Feel it".

I'd be guessing that a sentence like 你的床摸起来很舒服。(Nǐ de chuáng mō qǐlái hěn shūfú.) is more likely to be "Your bed feels very comfortable", even though, that would probably be better translated as 你的床感觉很舒服。(Nǐ de chuáng gǎnjué hěn shūfú.)

很舒服 (hěn shūfú) basically means "very" and "comfortable". All of the phrases above would typically be followed by an adverb and an adjective like this.

Learning Mandarin

I'll write more soon on the best methods for learning. 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: The curious word "le"

One word that seems obvious at first when you start learning Mandarin, yet is actually pretty tricky, is the word (Le).

Most people start out thinking that it changes a sentence to the past tense. Here's an example:

我吃。(Wǒ chī.) could be translated as "I eat".

In this case, adding 了 (Le) to the end of the sentence changes the tense:

我吃了。(Wǒ chīle.) could be translated as "I ate".

But it's not always like this. A more general case is that it represents a change of state.

他七岁了。 (Tā qī suìle.) says "He is 7 years old".

In this case, the represents that age has changed. In fact, it's a bit like indicating that he's "already" that age, without spelling out the "already".

我在墨尔本住了十二年。(Wǒ zài mò'ěrběn zhùle shí'èr nián.) is basically "I lived in Melbourne for twelve years. In this case, note that the 了 follows the 住 (zhù) which means to live somewhere (or "reside").

But the meaning of the sentence changes subtlely when a second is added.

我在墨尔本住了十二年了。(Wǒ zài mò'ěrběn zhùle shí'èr niánle.) is interesting. Google translates both sentences the same, but this latter one indicates that the action is ongoing (i.e. and I'm still living there).

他们都知道。(Tāmen dōu zhīdào.) is "They know" or perhaps "They all know".

他们都知道了。(Tāmen dōu zhīdàole.) subtlely changes this to a bit like "They already know".

Curiously 了 has a number of other uses. Another simple example is an indication that something is about to happen.

快下来了。 (Kuài xiàláile.) is basically "It's coming down soon".

Learning Mandarin

I'll write more soon on the best methods for learning. 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.

SDU Tools: T-SQL tools for working with Chinese Calendars and Years in SQL Server

To celebrate Chinese New Year this week, I thought I should write about some options that we recently added to our free SDU Tools for developers and DBAs, for working with Chinese calendar concepts.

Let's start with the basic one: when is Chinese New Year? We added a function called DateOfChineseNewYear. You just supply our year number (Gregorian calendar), and it will tell you when Chinese New Year is.

You can see it in use in the image above, along with the much more cute function that tells you what the Chinese Zodiac animal is for the year. It's called ChineseNewYearAnimalName.

So next year (2020), Chinese New Year is January 25th, and it will be the year of the Rat.

These functions all work for years 1900 to 2099.

We also added a useful view called ChineseYears for working with these. It contains the following:

You can see them all in action here:

To become an SDU Insider and to get our free tools and eBooks, please just visit here:

http://sdutools.sqldownunder.com

Happy new year to all my Chinese buddies

Just a quick post to say Happy New Year to all my Chinese buddies and family members, and welcome to the year of the pig.

新年快乐 (Xīnnián kuàilè)

is pretty much "Happy New Year" directly translated. It's pronounced pretty much like "shin neean kwai ler", so remember to say that to your Chinese friends.

But you'll often also hear:

恭喜发财 (Gōngxǐ fācái)

which is pretty much "wishing you happiness and prosperity". It's pronounced pretty much like "gong she far tsai".

恭喜恭喜 (Gōngxǐ gōngxǐ)

is a phrase you'll often hear just for "congratulations".

Thank you to all those who've helped me with my continued learning of the Chinese language and culture.

 

Learning Mandarin

I'll write more soon on the best methods for learning. 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 Sound Groups

In an earlier post, I described the use of Pīnyīn (拼音). It allows us to enter Chinese characters quickly, using a keyboard that's designed for Western languages like English.

When you first look at the characters though, you might not realize that there isn't a random pattern to them, the characters are constructed from particular groups of sounds.

The words are constructed from 声母(Shēngmǔ) or "initials" and 韵母(Yùnmǔ) or "finals".

The initials come from this list of single characters:

b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, x, z

and this list of double characters:

ch, sh, zh

The finals come from this list of single characters:

a, o, e, i, u, ü 

and this list of double characters:

ai, ei, ao, ou, ui, iu, an, en, in, ün, er

and finally, this list of triple characters:

ang, eng, ing, ong

You'll find that all words are created from this list of initials and finals.

Learning Mandarin

I'll write more soon on the best methods for learning. 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: Electric words

I mentioned last week that the word for computer 电脑 (diànnǎo) was wonderful because it was literally "electric brain".  I tend to learn words in groups rather than individually, and the words related to electricity  (diàn) are fun.

I love the allusions that they bring forward, and I thought you might enjoy knowing a few of them.

电力 (Diànlì) or "electric power" means just what it says but is often used for just electricity.

电子 (Diànzǐ) could be translated like "electric child", so that one's a bit odd. It means "electronic" as an adjective, and "electron" as a noun.

电梯 (Diàntī) or "electric ladder" is an elevator.

电影 (Diànyǐng) is one of my favorites. It's close to "electric shadow" and means "movie".

电话 (Diànhuà) or "electric speech" is "telephone".

电视 (Diànshì) or "electric vision" is "television".

电信 (Diànxìn) or "electric letter" is "telecommunications".

A less common one today 电报 (Diànbào)  or "electric newspaper" is "telegram".

电池 (Diànchí) or "electric pool" is "battery".

电车 (Diànchē) or "electric vehicle" is "tram".

电灯 (Diàndēng) is literally "electric light".

电线 (Diànxiàn) or "electric line or pipe" is "wire".

Also, some the other way around like:

闪电 (Shǎndiàn) or "flash electricity" is "lightning".

And there are many, many more. I really love the way that many of these have been formed.

Learning Mandarin

I'll write more soon on the best methods for learning. 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: Using measure words

Over the years, I've enjoyed attending trivia nights at local pubs and schools. It's fun to try to stretch your thinking, and of course, fun to meet up with lots of interesting people. I can't tell you how many times though, I've been asked about collective nouns for words in English.

"Group" is a common enough word, but if you use it all the time, you won't be considered very literate. While you can say "There is a group of dogs", it's more correct to say "There is pack of dogs". Instead of "There is a group of sheep", you say "There is a herd of sheep".

A similar thing applies to individual items within a collection. We could say "This is a paper", the meaning isn't the same as if we say "This is a piece of paper". The word "piece" is a type of word that's used to measure part of a collection i.e. it's a "measure word". "Three coffees" isn't quite as meaningful as "Three cups of coffee". If you said "Three pieces of coffee", you'd probably get strange looks.

A similar thing happens in Chinese, but it's even more pronounced. That's most likely because it doesn't have separate words for singular and plural nouns like we do. We know that when we say "goose" we mean one, and by "geese" we mean more than one.

The general word for a unit is  (gè). While you could use it for almost anything, you'd sound like you can't speak properly. So part of the trick is learning a bunch of measure words. So, instead of

那是一个狗。(Nà shì yīgè gǒu.) or "that is a dog"

you'd instead say 那是一只狗。(Nà shì yī zhǐ gǒu.)

or even 那是一条狗。(Nà shì yītiáo gǒu.)

Note that the measure word for dog is  (zhǐ) but (tiáo) is also a generic measure word for long skinny things. It can be used for dogs, but also applies to snakes, fish, etc.

So, previously I mentioned "a piece of paper". That would be: 一张纸 (Yī zhāng zhǐ) In this case (zhāng) is the measure word  or 量词 (Liàngcí) for paper (). So three pieces of paper is: 三张纸 (Sān zhāng zhǐ)

And while it's important to learn that  (Chuán) is a ship or boat, it's just as important to know that five ships is 五艘船 (Wǔ sōu chuán) where  (sōu) is the measure word for ships. And two books is 两本书 (Liǎng běn shū) where  (běn) is the measure word for books. One computer is 一台电脑 (Yī tái diànnǎo) where  (tái) is the measure word for computers.

By the way, the word computer 电脑 (diànnǎo) is wonderful. It's literally "electric brain".

This is a pretty good reference for these measure words: 

http://www.languagerealm.com/chinese/chinese_measure_words.php

Learning Mandarin

I'll write more soon on the best methods for learning. 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.