Friday, July 29, 2011

Summer Fun - How to Relay Sordid Details of an Awful Vacation in Chinese

In my last post, I gave you an uncomfortable tour of my kitchen and introduced you to some kitchen words in a way that probably gave you nightmares or at least drove you to your nearest therapist in a state of confusion.  I was so proud of my last post that I gave myself a couple months off from blogging to celebrate (and to throw birthday parties, celebrate anniversaries and the like, and take a much needed vacation with the kids which, unfortunately, involved more than one person getting the flu and many, many saltine crackers).  So now I'm back again, exhausted from all the activities and slightly delirious, which is just how I like to be when I'm writing.

In this post, I'm going to share with you some easy Chinese phrases to help you describe a horrible vacation.  These words might come in handy if, say, you're complaining to a tour director who put you on the wrong bus, or perhaps the boating crew who accidentally left you behind in the middle of the ocean during a snorkeling trip at the Great Barrier Reef.  These words are so useful that they may become your favorites (especially if you're one of those grumpy old people who likes to complain about everything and probably gets their food spit on at restaurants on a regular basis), so take the time to learn them well.

Let's start with the simple phrase, "I'm dissatisfied."  - "" ("Wǒ hěn bùmǎn.").  This phrase comes in handy for situations where, say, you ordered fish tacos and the waiter has brought you pork bellies, or if you asked for a window seat on the tour bus and they've seated you in the luggage compartment.  If you happen to speak English with a heavy Jamaican accent, you can remember the word "dissatisfied" ("" - "bùmǎn") easily by imagining yourself booing something ("Boo man!").  You can also remember this easily if you're a street vendor competing with another food cart that's infringing on your turf - if their business is booming ("bùmǎn"), you'd be pretty dissatisfied with your situation.  As an aside, if you choose to use this phrase, don't be surprised if you get a negative reaction from the persons at whom you direct your scorn.  Be prepared.  They may say you're contrary, but you can just tell them, "No, I'm not," - "我是。" ("Wǒ bùshì."). That'll fix 'em.

Next, how about a phrase that might be perfect for when you book a hotel room online and arrive to find that "luxury hotel" really meant "well built hut with complementary security guard who fends off looters for you".  The phrase is "I want a refund." (“我退款”- “Wǒ yào tuì kuǎn. ”).  A good way to remember the main part of this phrase - "to want a refund" (退款 - yào tuì kuǎn) is to imagine that you're a waiter at a questionable restaurant who's being asked to serve a plate of completely unappetizing appetizers to that group of tourists at table seven.  You reason with the cook, hoping maybe he can at least throw some parsley on the plate or something, but he won't budge.  Finally out of frustration you scream, " How am I supposed to get them to eat any part of this!?" to which the cook responds, "Yell, 'take one!'" (退款 - yào tuì kuǎn - which is pronounced "yahw twee kwahn").  The point here is that they might, in fact, take one - but they're still going to want a refund

Now let's say that you're on the road and humming along in your rented Saab, windows down, wind blowing through your tastefully designed toupee that "no one will ever know isn't real".  You're probably thinking to yourself, "Hey, this trip is going pretty well!"  Your kids are napping peacefully in the back seat, your lunch went down and stayed that way, and your wife hasn't called you an imbecile once since you told her how attractive she looks in her new mom jeans - which was a blatant lie, but at least she's happy and you can hear yourself think.  Here's where things get dicey.  You hear a "pop" and the next thing you know you're sitting on the side of the road with a flat tire ("气 不 足 的 轮 胎。" - Qì bùzú de lúntāi.), watching everyone else drive happily past you without stopping to blink (or lend you a cell phone) because no one wants to hear your Saab story (sorry, I know that one was bad, but it was too ripe to pass up...). 

Okay, so our phrase here is "flat tire" ("气 不 足 的 轮 胎。" - "Qì bùzú de lúntāi.").  This is pronounced something like. "chee boozoo duh loon tahy", and, to me, sounds like "cheap Bozo'd loon tie".  You know, like a poorly-made crazy necktie with an ugly image of Bozo the Clown stamped onto the front of it.  Perhaps you bought the tie at the last gas station thinking that your family would find it humorous.  Your wife probably told you it made you look attractive, but now that you're thinking about your less than genuine complements about her mom jeans, you're beginning to wonder whether she might have had similar "just to shut you up" type motives.  So now you're stranded on the side of the freeway with a flat tire ("气 不 足 的 轮 胎。" - "Qì bùzú de lúntāi."), wondering if you'll ever make it to that Bozo convention before the final seltzer water demonstration, feeling pretty down - oh, and you're wearing an ugly tie. 

Now we'll explore another possible source of vacation troubles - the weather.  Nothing is quite so disappointing as a highly anticipated picnic at the lake thwarted by a freak thunderstorm with hail the size of baseballs.  We're going to keep it simple here, but you can anticipate a whole post sometime in the future devoted entirely to complaining about the weather.  The weather is, of course, a favorite source of disdain for most people groups as far as I'm aware, and we want to think globally after all, but I digress.  Let's just keep it short and sweet - "It rained."  ("下雨。" -  "Xià yǔ.") 

Let's assume that your mother has been hounding you day in and day out to take those "sweet little children of yours" on a nice outing to get some fresh air.  First of all, it's painfully obvious that she's unaware of just how horrifying your children can be.  If she had any sense at all, she would be telling you to hire an exorcist or something and she'd be out hunting for useful Christmas presents like a deadbolt for your bedroom door or perhaps a bear-proof padlock for the knife drawer.  She's also clearly not heard the new science about how too many outings in the country can squelch a child's IQ - but then again, neither have you.  Anyways, you've finally caved to her demands (which were no less frequent than all those birds in that Alfred Hitchcock movie), and you've got a lovely day of chasing after two legged monsters planned.  After four hours of packing everything and everyone perfectly into your tiny little "bought it before I had the family" car, you sail over beautiful hills and past lovely scenes like the ones you might have seen in that movie you wanted to see (people with kids get to do things like visit mental institutions instead of seeing movies).  You're mother was still bothering you right up until you left your house.  The phone was ringing off the hook and every call was from her with last minute ideas for your picnic, like bringing the baseball bat and glove which you "accidentally" forgot to do because you knew that it would be you and not the baseball that they'd be aiming at.  So you're feeling pretty proud of yourself for getting this whole thing together and you might even be starting to feel a bit optimistic about the day. 

You park the car next to a beautiful lake where a picturesque little grove of willow trees is swaying in the breeze (huh, it wasn't windy at all when you left...) and a few odd birds are chirping happily.  You release the children and they take off like a pack of wild dogs, looking for something to bother.  Your wife heads on over to a nice little grassy knoll to lay out the picnic blankets.  The term "grassy knoll" bothers you for some reason, but you can't recall in particular any grassy knolls that gave you trouble, so you let the thought pass.  The next two hours are spent unloading everything from every nook and cranny of the car - including the baseball bat which - it seems - your wife was kind enough to remember and toss in at the last minute. 

You fire up the charcoal grill.  As you stand, feeling completely victorious, you begin to admire the beautiful steel colored clouds that you hadn't noticed before.  Isn't it funny how we often let little things like clouds pass over us without giving them so much as a second thought?  You angle yourself so that you're standing directly in front of the fire so that the wind doesn't blow ashes everywhere (wait, wasn't it just a breeze a moment ago?...).  The steaks are just beginning to look tasty.  Then mother nature unleashes a catastrophe the likes of which your mother will never be able to comprehend.  Rain gushes from every corner of the sky and in moments your little picnic is a soggy mess.  As quickly as possible, you load every bit of junk that you "couldn't do without" back into the car while your wife tries unsuccessfully to get your little mud dragons back into your vehicle without creating Jackson Pollock type art on what had been freshly shampooed carpets.  

You know right away where you're headed next.  You ride along in silence, face red with - well it isn't "delight", but if you're thinking of an emotion you're on the right track.  Even the kids seem to sense that they'd better not kick the back of your seat or make any loud noises, and your wife is just sitting there looking at you with an expression that says "it could have happened to anyone, but it always happens to us".  Then her expression changes and you know she's just figured out that you aren't headed home.  A few moments later you're parked in front of your mother's home (which, by the way is bathed in sunlight as the clouds seem to have been over your picnic alone).  You unload every scrap of gear onto her front lawn as she comes creeping out her front door looking bewildered.  She waltzes up to you, as you stand dripping on the sidewalk and begins to question you as to what you're doing at her home and why you've piled all of these mucky things onto her lawn.  She also mentions that since the moment she saw you she noticed you were absolutely drenched and asks you what in the world is going on.  You wring out your shirt, hop back in the car (the kids can spend the night at grandma's tonight) and lean your head out the window just to inform her that, "It rained" ("下雨。" -  "Xià yǔ." - pronounced "shah you", which sounds like "saw you"). 

Well there you are.  Now you have a few helpful little phrases which hopefully won't come in handy when it comes time for your next vacation.  There are many more phrases that I could use to describe vacations that I've had (and with my luck, vacations that are coming), but I don't want to spoil the surprise for you.  May all your vacations lack the building blocks for "sordid tales" to recall upon your return home, and may you never forget that some people don't have the privilege of vacationing at all - and that those are the people who you should steer clear of next time you come home from what was never meant to be a "nice outing in the country". 

For a quick and easy way to learn this post's vocab for good, check out the corresponding vocabulary list on  By the way, it's fast, free and fun - so no excuses.

Image courtesy of Alan Vernon via Flickr.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Simple Household Items in Chinese Part Two: A Mnemonic Tour Of My Kitchen

In a further attempt to introduce you to words for items you might commonly see in your home (also see Simple Household Items Part One: Livingroom), I'd like to now take you on a weird and wonderful tour of "my kitchen".  You may see some things that will confuse or surprise you, perhaps leeching into the most brainy brain-like parts of your cerebellum.  That is, in fact, my goal.  Let's begin.

As you enter my kitchen, you'll first notice that my cabinets look as though they're made out of chocolate.  In fact, they look so good that you're going to want to chew on them (cabinet = "wǎnchú" 碗橱 pronounced like want without the "t" plus chew).  You'll want to chew on my wǎnchú (碗橱), but please don't as I've just had them installed not too long ago and I'd prefer not to go through all of that again - it was traumatizing.

Next you'll notice my stainless steel refrigerator which sings opera.  Yes, you read that correctly.  If you ask him nicely enough, my fridge may sing a big song (refrigerator = bīngxiāng 冰箱 “bing shee ahng”) for you.  Just don’t encourage him too much or he’ll sing for hours and hours and you’ll be stuck there watching a bīngxiāng (冰箱) sing opera.  Poorly.

While you’re listening to my bīngxiāng (冰箱) sing his big song, you’ll have ample time to notice my matching freezer which brays like a donkey.  The sound isn’t actually coming from the freezer himself, but from a donkey which was surgically implanted in his iron lung when he was just a lad.  My freezer has a “lung donkey” (freezer = lěngdòngguì 冷冻柜 “lung dahng gway”).  You should check your own lěngdòngguì (冷冻柜) to see whether he or she might also have a lung donkey.  Lung donkeys require specific care and when they reside in a freezer they need plenty of blankets and the occasional bonfire to stay warm.

If you aren’t too distracted by my braying lěngdòngguì (冷冻柜) and my singing bīngxiāng (冰箱), you might take notice of my sink, which is full of holes.  Most sinks have one or two drains, but mine was used by the Allied Forces during World War II for artillery practice, so it bears a striking resemblance to a piece of Swiss cheese (sink = shuǐchí 水池 “schway chee”).  Some call it leaky, but it suits my needs - though doing dishes in my shuǐchí (水池) is admittedly draining.

If you’re a secure person, you may also want to check out my stove which has a passion for insulting and mocking me.  It frequently calls me a loser (stove = lúzǐ 炉子 “loo zuh”).  My lúzǐ (炉子) often makes me cry and has sent me straight to therapy on more than one occasion.  She doesn’t get the better of me any more though, as I have started throwing insults right back at her.  She’s hot headed, and gassy - so insulting her is less of a challenge and more of an exercise in Kindergarten level communications.  

After my lúzǐ (炉子) has made you feel like a loser, you should look to my stove to help you take your mind off of your insecurities.  My oven will gladly distract you with a bovine themed serenade.  Yes, my oven loves a good cow song (oven = kǎoxiāng 烤箱 “cow shong”).  It all began when we left some country music playing in the kitchen while gone for a week on vacation.  Since then, the oven has had a strange love for cows and sings about them at every opportunity.  It’s gotten so bad that she won’t even cook us a London Broil anymore.  We’re beginning to suspect that she may soon become a vegetarian, which may be a problem at our next Thanksgiving turkey dinner.  For now, we just join in any time our kǎoxiāng (烤箱) strikes up a nice cow song, hoping to get on her good side - or at least get her to bake us a nice casserole.

To wind up our kitchen tour, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my stylish kitchen counter.  To say that he is fashionable would be accurate, but not in the way you might think.  My kitchen counter loves to wear ties.  Specifically, he loves to wear a nice grey tie (counter = guìtái 柜台 “gway tie”).  This is shocking because from what I hear, most counters prefer orange, red, or even blue paisley ties, but my guìtái (柜台) loves a sleek business-like grey tie.  I once saw a counter wearing a pink tie - can you imagine? Pink! My guìtái (柜台) and I had a good laugh about it when I showed him the pictures.  

So there you have it - a mnemonic tour of my kitchen.  Stay tuned for my next mnemonic tour when I tell you about my cowboy toilet (toilet = cèsuǒ 厕所 “seh swoh” sounds like “says whoa!”).

Did you like this post?  Then you might also like Mnemonics Made Me Do It: Animal Words In Chinese Via Visual Memory Cues

Don't forget to join our group on to keep up to date with all the latest vocabulary from The Linguist logs posts!

Image courtesy of Nick Bastian via Flickr is licensed via CC.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Ditch the Parachute Pants: Part Three

This post is part of a series titled, "Ditch the Parachute Pants."  If you haven't already, you may want to begin by reading the first post in this series.

Vocabulary previously introduced:
  - pants/trousers
wèntí 问题 - problem
- she

Now that Helen had done her best to rid her mother of those horrible kù ( ) in the most humane ways tā () knew, with little success, tā () decided to up the ante a bit.  Perhaps if her mother's pink kù ( ) "disappeared" for a few days tā () would be forced to wear something else for a while, and perhaps if tā () got used to wearing something else, tā () would finally be able to part with the grotesque parachute kù ( ).  Helen decided tā () would hide the pink kù ( ) in her mother's linen closet.  Her mother would certainly find them come laundry day, but with any luck, by that time tā () would realize tā () could be happy without them.

Helen did feel a little guilty about her plan to deprive her mother of her favorite kù ( ), but tā () had come to think of her quest as a sort of benevolent rescue.  Besides, her mother had other kù ( ) to wear - kù ( ) that were less nauseating, and much less likely to cause small children to run in terror.  In addition to the new khaki kù ( ), Helen's mother also had a nice pair of black yoga kù ( ) (to have = yǒu [pronounced like the "yo" in "yoga"].  Used to express possession.) which tā () wore to aerobics class and were actually rather stylish.  Helen had complemented her mother profusely each time tā () wore the yoga kù ( ), but her mother hadn't ever taken the hint - or maybe tā () just didn't care because tā () yǒu () such a nice pair of hot pink parachute kù ( ) to wear instead.  Tā () also yǒu () a pair of yellow yoga kù ( ) (also = yě [yě is pronounced like the "ye" in "yellow"]).  Much like the pink parachute kù ( ), the yellow yoga kù ( ) were (也) hideous and unflattering, but Helen knew that if tā () was to have any measure of success in improving her mother's fashion sense, tā () would have to pick her battles.

Helen heard her mother pulling into the driveway.  Tā () tossed the ugly kù ( ) into the back of the linen closet, and quickly made herself comfortable on the couch doing everything tā () could possibly think of to make it look as though tā () had been sitting there lazily for hours. Tā () kicked her shoes off and shoved them under the couch.  Tā () (也) turned on the TV, popped open a bag of potato chips (this was for a good cause after all), and prayed that her plan would work - not only for her mother's sake, but for the sake of the kù ( ).  If her efforts failed this time, tā () was certain her only remaining option would be to make a bonfire.

Did you enjoy this post?  Then you might also enjoy Mnemonics Made Me Do It: Animal Words In Chinese Via Visual Memory Cues. Also, be sure to visit this week's word list on for great mnemonics to help you learn the characters for this week's vocabulary.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Ditch the Parachute Pants: Part Two

This post is part of a series titled, "Ditch the Parachute Pants."  If you haven't already, you may want to begin by reading the first post in this series.

Vocabulary previously introduced:
  - pants/trousers

The problem (wèntí 问题) with Helen's mother's parachute wasn't that she () took them home and started wearing them immediately.  Nor did Helen take issue with the fact that her mother wore those nearly every day without fail (though they had begun to inspire nausea and had popped up in more than one of her most unfashionable nightmares).  It was, after all, the 80's, and parachute were "in" and "now", as they say.  The problem (wèntí 问题) with those horrific came twenty years later (problem = wèntí 问题 [pronounced like twenty without the initial "t"]), after we all survived a surprisingly boring Y2K.  The wèntí 问题 was that after twenty years, Helen's mother was still wearing those hideous

Now Helen knew that she () couldn't let her mother run around looking like she () had fallen out of a time machine, so she () began to formulate a plan to rehabilitate her mother's wardrobe.  She () decided that if she () could just get her mother to realize that there were much better (and less neon) options to be explored, her wèntí 问题 would be solved.  First, she () approached her mother and kindly informed her that parachute   were no longer in style.  Helen then offered to take her mother shopping (again) so they could pick out something a bit more modern.  This approach was entirely unsuccessful, however, as Helen's mom simply laughed and commented that parachute would never go out of style and that Helen didn't need to take her shopping for clothes again - after all, they'd already gone once before.

Next, Helen tried going straight to the store by herself to purchase her mother a fantastic new pair of khaki She () figured if she () could just bring her mother a great new pair of to try on at home, her mother might just fall in love with them.  Helen sat her mother down and told her about the fantastic and trendy new she () had bought for her and then she () held them up with a grand "ta da!" (she = tā ; tā is pronounced "tah" - see below for additional uses of this word).  Her mother laughed once again and informed Helen that she () was much too fashionable for such dull .  Helen knew at that moment that if wanted to solve her mother's wèntí 问题, was going to have to pull out all the stops.

* Note: The word "tā " also means "her", except when "her" is possessive ("her" would then be translated "tā de" ).  The word "tā" also means "he" or "him", but when it means "he" or "him" it is written as the following character:

Did you enjoy this post?  Then you might also enjoy Mnemonics Made Me Do It: Animal Words In Chinese Via Visual Memory Cues. Also, be sure to visit this week's word list on for great mnemonics to help you learn the characters for this week's vocabulary.

Image by khym54 via Flickr is licensed via CC.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Ditch the Parachute Pants: Part One

This post is the first in a series aimed at teaching Chinese vocabulary using anecdotal mnemonics. Upcoming posts in this particular series will each contain vocabulary words within the context of segments of a short story. Vocabulary words will be presented via mnemonics (memory cues) that are part of the story - a feature which, I hope, will provide you with an easy way to remember how to say each of the vocabulary words in Chinese. Once a word has been introduced with its mnemonic, it will be written for the remainder of the post and for the remainder of the series in Chinese pinyin only (with characters in parenthesis). The final post in this series will contain all of the vocabulary from the series so that readers can see how many words they can recognize. Please note that clicking on the Chinese character for vocabulary words will take you to the mnemonic to help you learn that particular character. Feel free to let me know what you think of this new method of vocabulary learning by leaving a comment below.

Back in the late 80's when she was young and hip and wearing slap bracelets gave you instant popularity, Helen and her sister decided that their mom's fashion sense was in dire need of an upgrade. Mom had a thing for sweatpants and necklaces made of giant plastic beads which meant that the rest of the family had a thing for avoiding family outings altogether or, at minimum, finding ways to camouflage themselves with their surroundings at a moments notice - like the time Helen jumped into a swimming pool fully clothed when she saw her biology lab partner whilst on a family trip to the water park. Mom had surprised them with her wardrobe that day as they had no idea that curtains could be made into a pair of pants (kù) with such ease.

On a whim, they decided to take Mom to the mall for some new clothes. Luckily for them, Mom had Monday off because it was a holiday. Unluckily, the first thing Mom saw at Macy's that she fell in love with was a pair of hot pink parachute pants (kù). This was the moment the tyrannical rule of mom's parachute pants (kù) began. Helen and her sister immediately attempted to stage a fashion coup (pants/trousers = kù [pronounced like coup] OR kùzi 裤子), but those frighteningly awful were in it for the long run, and Mom was their new biggest fan.

Be sure to check out this blog's word list for the week at which contains mnemonics for the characters representing each of this weeks featured words.

Image by Rich Andersen via Flickr is licensed via CC.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Mnemonics Made Me Do It: Animal Words In Chinese Via Visual Memory Cues

Having recently spent some time reading and learning a little bit about how memory works (many thanks to and to your wonderful blog!), I've decided to try something different to help my readers learn some Chinese words.  Here are a few Chinese words for animals for which I've created visual mnemonics (memory aids).  Take a quick gander at the images and their descriptions, and after reading through all of them, see the list at the bottom of this post and try to recall each of the words you learned.  Don't be surprised if these words become a permanent part of your memory.  Let me know if this technique worked for you by commenting below.  As an added bonus, click on each of the Chinese animal words in blue to learn the Chinese character for that word via mnemonics on

Cat photo by elian (Own work) [GFDL (,  
CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons;
Photo of Mao Zedong adapted from image © Raimond Spekking / Wikimedia 
Commons /CC-BY-SA-3.0 & GFDL
The Chinese word for "cat" is māo which is pronounced just like the Mao in Mao Zedong (Mao rhymes with "wow").Here we see a cat that's searching the internet for "Mao" (Mao Zedong), helping us to remember that cat = māo.

Here we have a cow whose "knee" is sporting a "u".  The Chinese word for "cow" is " niú (pronounced "knee - u"). 

By Contributor (self-taken) [GFDL 
(,CC-BY-SA-3.0 or  
CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons
The Chinese word for "dog" is gǒu (pronounced like "go"). This picture shows us a nice place for doggies to "go" when they need to "go". 

 Photo by TSayles via Flick
To say "horse" in Chinese, we say .  To help us remember, here's a picture of your ma riding a horse.  Well, maybe not your ma, but someone's ma, no doubt.

adapted from "Sheep in the shadow of a sheep" 
(Dave Croker) / CC BY-SA 2.0
The Chinese word for "sheep" is yáng (like yawn with a "g" at the end).  Here we see a picture of a sheep yawning plus the letter G.

Image adapted from an image by Furryscally via Flickr

To say "snake", we say shé, which sounds like "shut" without the "t".  It also sounds very much like shushing someone, so our picture is of a snake shushing us.

Image by Squish_E via Flickr
"" is the word for "fish".  These fish are somehow tattooed with the phrase, "I love you".  Perhaps we could change it to "I love ?"

Image by iBjorn via Flickr
is it hiding in that tiger costume? Perhaps they were trying to illustrate that the Chinese word for "tiger" is.

Image by tompagenet via Flickr
This little monkey is playing with a hose.  Clearly he's trying to show us that the Chinese word for "hose" is hóuzi (pronounced "ho-zuh").

Image adapted from an image by Carly & Art via Flickr

This hungry rabbit is eating some twos to help us remember that the word for "rabbit" is tùzi (two-zuh).

MamaGeek at en.wikipedia
[GFDL ( or CC-BY-3.0],
from Wikimedia Commons
In Chinese, the word for "pig" is zhū, which is pronounced like the "ju" in "juice".  In this photo you can see the little piggies drinking the mommy pig's pig juice.  That should help you remember that to say "pig" you say zhū, like the "ju" in "juice".

Image by Ambism via Flickr

Wow.  These are some loud shoes.  Don't you agree?  Thankfully, these loud shoes are useful for something other than as clothing (thank goodness!).  The word for "rat" and "mouse" sounds just like "loud shoes!" That word is lǎoshǔ.

Alright, now see if you can recall the Chinese words for each of the animals listed below:

1.  horse
2.  dog
3.  cat
4.  rabbit
5.  snake
6.  monkey
7.  mouse
8.  pig
9.  tiger
10.  fish
11.  cow
12.  sheep

How did you do?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Chinese On Call: Talking About the Phone in Mandarin

Lost in Beijing? Need to call for help?  Maybe you should have learned some simple words related to phone calls before you hopped aboard that slow boat to China! Instead you're standing on a street corner in the rain dodging bikes like a photographer trying to get an edgy snapshot of the Tour de France.

Perhaps you duck into a hotel and manage to get your point across by gesturing towards the phone (diànhuà 电话) at the front desk.  It would have been much easier if you could have just told them you wanted to make a phone call (dǎ diànhuà 打电话), but pointing at the phone and crying like a two year old at nap time seems to have done the trick.  Now you're fidgeting nervously while the phone is ringing (xiǎng le 响了).  As you wait for your travel buddy to answer (jiē 接), you start to wonder if perhaps you dialed the wrong phone number (diànhuà hàomǎ 电话号码).  The manager is looking at you like you've committed a felony and those eight cups of tea you had at that tea ceremony earlier this afternoon are starting to catch up with you.  You wonder if they would tar and feather you if you asked to use the bathroom. You hang up (guà- 挂) the phone and decide to try the number one more time - just in case you dialed wrong.  This time, it's busy (zhàn xiàn 占线)!  The manager now has steam coming out of his ears and is whispering angry things to his subordinates.  You think you heard him say something about "torches and pitchforks".  You come to the conclusion that you'd best be on your way.

As you drag your feet across the lobby, you start planning your life as a hobo.  Should you try to find another homeless person to share a cardboard box with, or should you fight for one of your own? You wonder if you could get away with living out of a nearby IKEA.  If only your Chinese had been up to snuff, you wouldn't be in this predicament!

Just then you spot a familiar face - it's your friend!  He walks up to you as if you haven't been missing for five hours and asks nonchalantly what you've been up to.  You tell him you've been lost in the city and ask him why he didn't hold the cab for you while you paid for both of your food at the restaurant where you'd eaten lunch together.  He says he thought he saw you getting into the cab in front of him.  You wonder out loud how many red headed men wearing green plaid jackets there could possibly be in Beijing - or all of China for that matter.  He tells you that the tour bus is picking everyone up at the art gallery around the corner in about twenty minutes and then pauses, turns to face you and asks, "Why didn't you think to call someone (gěi mǒurén dǎ diànhuà  给某人打电话)?" 

1.  (yìtái) diànhuà ("ee-tie dyen-hwah") - (一台)电话 phone
2.  xiǎng le ("see-ong luh") 响了 ringing 

3.  dǎ diànhuà ("dah dyen-hwah") 打电话 to make a phone call 

4.  diànhuà hàomǎ ("dyen-hwah how-mah") 电话号码 phone number 

5.  guà ("gwah")to hang up (in reference to the phone)

6.  jiē ("jyeh") to answer (in reference to the phone)

7.  zhàn xiàn ("john see-ehn") 占线 busy (in reference to the telephone)

8.  mǒurén ("moh-rehn") 某人 someone

9.  gěi mǒurén dǎ diànhuà ("gay mo-rehn dah dyen-hwah)  给某人打电话 to call someone

Did you enjoy this post?  Then you might also like How to Get Sick in Chinese

Image by Photocapy via Flickr is licensed via CC.

Monday, February 14, 2011

I've Got a Feeling: 12 Chinese Emotion Words

Up for an in depth discussion about our feelings?  I thought so!  In this post we're going to discuss emotion words, and, in case your one of those people who doesn't have emotions (for example, if you work for the IRS), we'll talk a little about how these emotions are used within the context of everyday circumstances.


You might have heard the saying, "If momma ain't happy (gāoxìng 高兴), ain't nobody happy (gāoxìng)."   If not, there's a chance that you're sitting around scowling like a socialite whose botox didn't take because your wife is in "one of her moods".  The solution is simple - buy her some flowers, tell her she's never looked more beautiful (lie if you have to!) and offer to pretend to be her the next time a member of the PTA calls wanting to complain about something like the color of the tables in the cafeteria or the arrangement of the chairs at the last PTA meeting.  Chances are, she'll crack a smile, and if you're lucky enough to actually get her feeling happy (gāoxìng), she might forget about your cholesterol for one night and let you have that extra serving of steak.


Sad (bēishāng - 悲伤) is how you felt when you realized that parachute pants would not be making a comeback anytime soon.  Yes, those looks you've been getting at the bank are simply the concerned stares of your peers who are wondering if you fell out of the eighties and couldn't find your way back.


If you've ever eaten at a Taco Bell then you probably understand what it's like to feel scared (hàipà - 害怕).  Will your meal come back to haunt you in a few hours or not?  Who knows!  But one thing's for sure - you're scared (hàipà).


Silly (yúchǔn - 愚蠢) is how you felt when your mother made you wear that horrendous sweater that Aunt Sophie knit for you to the family Christmas party.  You stomped your feet and promised to hate everyone forever, but dear Mom didn't budge and now you're sitting on the couch next to crazy old Cousin Lou and you've had the horrifying revelation that at this present moment in time you look more like him than he does (his wife let HIM wear a t-shirt). Yep, you really must feel silly (yúchǔn).


Surprised (gǎndào chījīng - 感到吃惊) is how your wife felt when you told her you'd go clothing shopping with her on Saturday.  Little does she know that you're planning to sneak away while she's in the dressing room and make yourself comfy in one of those massive plush chairs in front of the big screen TV's in the electronics department.  Boy won't she be surprised (gǎndào chījīng)! 


Remember when you got that ticket in the mail for running a red light on some street in Seattle?  Remember how you felt when you realized you've never been to Seattle?  You felt confused (hútu - 糊涂).  We won't discuss how you felt when you remembered that your brother-in-law borrowed your car that day - on second thought, why not?


So he made you angry (shēngqì - 生气).  What are you going to do about it?  You can't just sit around and pretend it didn't happen (though that's undoubtedly what he's trying to do) and you can't do anything too severe - he is family after all.  Perhaps inviting he and your sister over for a nice dinner is the answer.  Leave several hundred copies of the ticket laying around the house in places he can't help but see.  A dart board with his face as the target might also help to get the point across.  At the very least, it'll give you a way to release some aggression later if your plan fails.  You can't stay angry (shēngqì) forever - especially since you'll need to save up all your energy to deal with the next stunt he pulls!


Proud (jiāoào - 骄傲) is the feeling you got when your son brought home his first ever A on his report card.  Now if you could just get him to start dressing like a "normal" human being.  You just can't seem to figure out why he insists on wearing only black cargo pants that are holier than water blessed by the pope.  If only he'd exchange them for some nice parachute pants.  Then you'd really be proud (jiāoào).


You sure felt excited (xīngfèn - 兴奋) when you found out that you could get a camouflage tuxedo.  You were even more excited (xīngfèn) when you found out there were matching shoes!  Your wife, however, was not excited (xīngfèn) when you announced you'd be wearing them to your daughter's wedding.  It was a nice dream while it lasted.


You might feel a bit suspicious (huáiyí - 怀疑) if you notice that your name is nowhere to be found on the new birthday calendar at work.  You'd probably feel even more suspicious (huáiyí) if you overheard your boss referring to you as "that girl who used to work here".  And what if you saw your boss holding a pink slip while talking to two security guards and gesturing towards you at the end of the day on a Friday just a couple weeks after you completely mangled the most important business presentation of your career?  Suspicions confirmed.


Anxious (dānxīn - 担心) was how you felt when the doctor said "Wait a minute - I think there's a second baby in there!"  You also felt anxious (dānxīn) when he said, "...and they're both girls!  That means you get to pay for two weddings!"  Relief is what you felt twenty-five years later when you found out that one of your daughters had eloped.


Been to the Department of Motor Vehicles lately?  Being frustrated (huīxīn - 灰心) at the DMV is just a part of American life.  Is it the way they make you wait in line until you can't remember why you're there in the first place?  Maybe it's the way they seem to lose your checks each time you try to pay via the mail.  It could also be their "highly skilled" employees who never seem to spell your three letter name correctly.  There are so many fun reasons to be frustrated (huīxīn) with the DMV, and there will likely be a multitude of new reasons cropping up continually for years and years to come.

1.  gāoxìng - 高兴 happy

2.  bēishāng - 悲伤 sad

3.  hàipà - 害怕 scared 

4.  yúchǔn - 愚蠢 silly
5.  gǎndào chījīng - 感到吃惊 surprised 

6.  hútu - 糊涂 confused

7.  shēngqì - 生气 angry 

8.  jiāoào - 骄傲 proud

9.  xīngfèn - 兴奋 excited

10.  huáiyí - 怀疑 suspicious
11.  dānxīn - 担心 anxious
12.  huīxīn - 灰心 frustrated 

Don't forget to check out this week's interactive vocabulary list!

If you missed it, be sure to check out Friday's post: Hearing and Understanding: Big Bird and Little Bird for some great practice understanding what you hear in Chinese!

If you liked this post, you might also like Self Loathing Broke My Think Box: How Self Esteem Affects Second Language Learning.

Image by Jtneill (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, February 11, 2011

Hearing and Understanding: Big Bird and Little Bird

An important part of learning any language is being able to hear and understand it.  A great way to practice understanding what you hear is by watching videos in your target language and identifying as many words as you can.  Further down in this post you'll find a great video of a woman reading a fun children's book in Chinese called "Big Bird and Little Bird".  Even if you don't know any Chinese at all, you can understand a lot of the story just by looking at the pictures and watching the woman's gestures and facial expressions.

Below you'll find twelve key vocabulary words from the story "Big Bird and Little Bird".  Pick one or two words to listen for while you watch the video.  You can then watch the video again, adding one or two more words to listen for.

When you're finished with the video, hop over to our word list on Memrise to learn the characters for the vocabulary from today's post.  If you want more information about how I'm using Memrise to help you learn Chinese, check out my post This Chinese Language Blog Just Got More Awesome.

1.  xiǎo ("shee-ahw") 小 small

2.  dà ("dah") 大 large/big

3.  hěn ("huhn") 很 very
4.  niǎo ("nee-ahw") 鸟 bird
5.  chángjǐnglù ("chahng-jihng-loo") 长颈鹿 giraffe
6.  huā ("hwah") 花  flower
7.  fēicháng ("fay-chahng") 非常 extremely
8.  máochóng ("maow-chohng") 毛虫 caterpillar 

9.  dàxiàng )"dah-shee-ahng") 大象 elephant

10.  guǒshù ("gwoh-shoo") 果树 fruit tree

11.  tài (like Eng. "tie") 太 too 

12.  fēi ("fay") 飞 fly

Did you enjoy today's post?  Why not let me know by leaving a comment below?  Have a favorite post that you'd like to mention?  Feel free to share that as well!

If you enjoyed today's post, you might also like Learning Through Song: Ni Wa Wa 

Don't forget to check out this week's interactive vocabulary list.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Chinese for E-mail Addicts

Having checked my e-mail for the fifth (ok, tenth) time today, I thought it might be a great day for us to learn some simple Chinese terms related to e-mail.  Some of these words may be applicable to the regular (archaic?) mail as well, so if you're among the masses who think e-mail is for young  good-for-nothing whipper-snappers who "spend too much time listening to that darned rock 'n roll" - this post is also for you.

Let's begin with the word e-mail, which is "diànzǐ yóujiàn" (电子邮件).  If you want to say "an e-mail" (as in "He considered using an e-mail (yīge diànzǐ yóujiàn) to break up with his girlfriend, but decided a text would be classier."), add "yīge", which essentially means "an", but is, in fact, the word for "one" (yī) followed by the measure word "ge".  If you're scratching your head and feeling a bit scared at the mention of the term "measure word", don't go cry into your pillow - check out my post Measure Words Part One: Introduction for a quick explanation as to what measure words are and why they're nothing to bother your therapist about.

If you just want to say mail (see, I also care about my elders),  it's simply "xìnjiàn" (信件), which translates more specifically to "letters".  You can use this word to say things like, " I was excited to see that I got some mail (xìnjiàn), but then I realized I'd been called for jury duty."  Pity.

Next, you might like to know the word for "to send".  To send is "jì" (寄) if you're sending something by post, and "fā" (发) if you're sending it via e-mail.  So you can send (jì) a perfume scented letter to that cute guy who works in accounting, but he might send (fā) you an e-mail to tell you he's not interested.

Now let's get fancy and figure out to whom we're sending these things.  In Chinese, if you want to say "I sent him letters/a letter", you would literally say, "I sent for him letters/a letter" which is " jì gěi xìnjiàn/yīfēng xìn." "yīfēng xìn" means a letter.  You'll notice that xìn is part of the word for "mail" or "letters".  "Yīfēng" is another way to say "an", where, once again, "yī" means "one" but this time the proper measure word to use in conjunction with "one" is "fēng" (封).  "Fēng" is the measure word to be used with letters (or telegrams if you're not hip to the "new technologies"...).

If you want to send an e-mail instead, you can say  "I sent him an e-mail" which is literally said "I for him sent an e-mail" which translates to " fā gěi ge diànzǐ yóujiàn."  Hopefully he'll appreciate all the dizzying head work you went through to learn how to say you sent (fā) him an e-mail (yīge diànzǐ yóujiàn).  "Gěi" is the word for "for" or "to" and you'll recall the words "" and "" from our short series entitled Ordering Food at a Chinese Restaurant.   If you're starting to foam at the mouth, take heart, because our last word is simple and doesn't involve measure words, grammar, or a need for straight jackets.

A final word that you might find useful will come in especially handy if you type out that long e-mail to your guy friend to tell him that you really think the two of you were meant to be together and you hope he likes you back because you've secretly been in love with him for years.  In fact, you've built somewhat of a shrine to him in your closet complete with pictures, everything you own that he's ever touched, and that tissue he sneezed in once when he was riding in your car.

If you type out your train wreck of an e-mail and are lucky enough to catch yourself in the act of "stupid" before you hit the "send" button, hopefully you'll make the better choice and decide to delete (shānchú 删除) it instead.  Then sit back, relax, and thank your lucky stars that you had a moment of clarity.  You might also want to give your therapist a call because what's going on in your closet isn't normal.  At least you made one good decision today though - right?  Crisis averted!  And you know what?  It couldn't hurt to check your e-mail five or six times in the next twenty minutes - just in case your guy pal wants to send you an e-mail of his own.  You never know, and, of course, you wouldn't want to miss that!

Don't forget to head over to our new group on Memrise to find great mnemonics to help you quickly learn the Chinese characters for today's vocabulary words.  In case you missed it, my last post talked about how this Chinese language blog just got more awesome thanks to our new word lists on Memrise which will undoubtedly make your experience with learning Chinese (especially Chinese characters) nothing short of spectacular.  Don't miss it!

Did you enjoy this blog post?  Then you might also enjoy How to Get Sick in Chinese.

1.  yī ("ee") 一 one
One (yī) bowl of ice cream is never enough.

2.  ge ("guh") 个 measure word

3.  diànzǐ yóujiàn ("dee-anne-dzuh yo-jee-en") 电子邮件 e-mail
If I send this e-mail (diànzǐ yóujiàn) to my boss, can I resist adding what I really think of him?

4.  xìnjiàn ("seen-jee-en") 信件 mail/letters
Some people still send paper with writing on it to each other via the US Postal service.  These pieces of paper are called "letters" (xìnjiàn).

5.  fēng ("fung") 封 measure word for letter

6.  xìn ("seen") 信 letter
I sent a letter (xìn) to my niece, but it took her a while to open it because she'd never seen one before.

7.  gěi ("gay") 给 for;to; to give
I gave (gěi) him a slab of meat for (gěi) the dog, but he ate it himself.

8.  shānchú ("shawn-choo") 删除 to delete
I had a nice blog post in reserve a while back, but I deleted (shānchú) it by accident.  However, I then realized it wasn't up to my standards anyway - so I celebrated.

Don't forget to check out this week's interactive vocabulary list.

For more help with Mandarin pronunciation, click here.    

Photo by artslave via Flickr is licensed under Creative Commons.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

This Chinese Language Blog Just Got More Awesome

While cruising the internet not long ago, I ran across something so spectacular that I could barely keep myself from jumping in the air and shouting "Huzzah!".  What I've found is an incredible website called "Memrise".  Memrise is dedicated to helping people learn efficiently, which is fantastic, but my very favorite part (and the part responsible for my "huzzah" moment) is their feature which allows to you quickly learn Chinese characters using pictures and mnemonics.  Here's where this blog gets awesome - every vocabulary word from this blog will now be included in a weekly word set which can be found in our dedicated Linguist Logs group on Memrise.  It's very quick and easy to join our group on Memrise, and it's 100% free.

Each day as you read through posts here at The Linguist Logs, hop over to our Memrise group so you can quickly learn the vocab for the day.  I've been learning Chinese for nearly ten years and the methods Memrise uses to teach characters are so quick and stress free that you can easily learn the characters for all of the vocab in each of my posts in an hour or less - maybe much less!  I am in no way affiliated with Memrise, so when I say this is going to be awesome, you know I mean it.

My hope is that using The Linguist Logs blog in conjunction with our Memrise word lists within our group will make learning fun (I'm not known for my seriousness, after all), stress-free (I mean it!) and easy.  Reinforcing words learned from this blog using Memrise will truly be a winning strategy for all of my readers and best of all, (I can't say this enough) it really is fun.  Leave a comment to let me know how you like this new feature - I think you're going to love it!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Things Get Iffy: 4 Ways to Say "If" in Chinese

IF you're looking for a post that'll teach you four quick words in Chinese which all have the same meaning, this is the one!  Ok, so they don't have the exact same meaning, but close enough (like "fewer taxes!" and "taxes aplenty!" if you're a politician...).  The words we're going to talk about in this post all mean "if" in the general sense.  Each of the four words has it's own specific use, but these words are simple to learn and their usages are easily explained in English.

The four words for "if" in Chinese are explained in detail below.  You'll notice that  "jiǎrú" and "yàoshì" are often interchangeable, but in addition to being used in all of the situations where "jiǎrú" applies,  "yàoshì" can also be used in a way that "jiǎrú" cannot.

1.  rúguǒ 如果 if (on condition that)
 If X is done, then Y will happen.
X will happen if condition Y is met.

If (rúguǒ) you shave your beard, I'll go on a date with you.
If (rúguǒ) our country agrees to stop throwing potatoes at your country, will you stop referring to our queen as "Her Royal Fatness?"
If (rúguǒ) you write "I shouldn't have pulled the fire alarm" 500 hundred times, we won't expel you.

2.  jiǎrú 假如 if (supposing that)

Imagining/Theoretical; supposing X, Y would happen  
If X (which isn't true) were true, then Y.

If (jiǎrú/yàoshì) ponies were hairless, would they still be cute?
If (jiǎrú/yàoshì) I were your mother, I'd be institutionalized by now.

3.  yàoshì   要是 if (supposing that/in case that)
Imagining/Theoretical; supposing X, Y would happen
If X (which isn't true) were true, then Y.

If (jiǎrú/yàoshì) ponies were hairless, would they still be cute?
If (jiǎrú/yàoshì) I were your mother, I'd be institutionalized by now.


X if situation Y (which is beyond our control) arises  

If (yàoshì) it gets too cold out, we won't play in the sprinklers.
If (yàoshì) the monkeys revolt, we'll stay indoors.

4.  shìfǒu 是否 if (whether)
X whether or not (if) Y happens

Who can say whether or not (shìfǒu) we should have eaten that moldy bread?
Do you know if (shìfǒu) John is planning to wear his chicken costume?

Now that we've learned the basics of these four "if" words, let's see if you can remember which "if" word to use within the context of the following sentences.  Note that you can see the correct Chinese "if" word by mousing over the word "if" in each sentence.  The answers are also at the very bottom of this post.

1.  IF we won the lotto, we'd quit our jobs and move to Tahiti.
2.  IF you cut my hair while I'm sleeping, I'll run your boxers up the flagpole.
3.  IF cows could talk, burgers would be made from pork.
4.  I don't know IF I can handle another snowpocalypse. 
5.  IF the temperature rises any more, the nuns might ditch their habits.
6.  IF we agree to stop releasing pigs in the school library, the dean will reverse our suspensions.

So there you have it.  A very "iffy" post.  I've tried to do my best to make this post accurate, but IF you happen to find any errors, please let me know!  Also, IF you're missing my sillier posts (and don't worry, there are more to come soon) why not reminisce via my Favorite Posts page?  And don't forget, you can always browse all of my posts via my archives which are listed at the right of the blog.

1. jiǎrú/yàoshì  2. rúguǒ  3. jiǎrú/yàoshì  4. shìfǒu  5. yàoshì  6. rúguǒ

Don't forget to check out this week's interactive vocabulary list.