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.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Simple Household Items Part One: Livingroom

One of the best ways to build your Chinese vocabulary is to learn the names of objects that you use every day (straight jacket, velvet painting of Elvis, etc.).  Learning simple words that you can use regularly is part of the language learning lifestyle and a great way to make sure that what you learn will be remembered in the long term (or at least until your kids finally succeed in driving you crazy).  In this series of posts, we're going to learn the names for a variety of household items by discussing each room of the house separately.  This particular post will examine the living room.

First, we're going to go over our vocabulary words for this post.  I know some of you will probably skip right over them and dive into the next section (miscreants!) but try to control yourselves (use excessive force if you must) because having at least a basic idea of which words we're learning will help you get more out of the rest of this post.

The following are a few simple words for things found in the living room.  Try using these words often to keep from forgetting them (and because it'll confuse your kids - maybe you can drive them crazy first!).  Note that the vocabulary words are numbered and that their numbers correspond to the numbers on the arrows in the picture above.  You might find looking at the picture and trying to remember the Chinese words for each object a fun way to learn.  However, since I like to focus on learning via inference, you'll find another way to learn words later in this post.

1.  (yìfú) huà ("ee foo hwah") 一幅画 (a) picture (painting or drawing)

2.  (yígè) shāfā ("ee guh shah-fah") 一个沙发 (a) sofa

3.  (yìzhǎn) dēng ("ee john duhng")  一盏灯 (a) lamp

4.  (yíge) dēngzhào ("dung jaow")  灯罩 (a) lampshade

5.  (yìzhāng) zhuōzi ("ee jahng jwoh-dzuh") 一张桌子 (a) table

6.  (yìbǎ) yǐzi ("ee bah yee-dzuh") 一把椅子 (a) chair

7.  (yìtái) diànshì ("ee tie dyan-shih") 一台电视 (a) television

8.  (yíkuài) xiǎo dìtǎn ("ee kwhy shaow dee-tahn") 一块小地毯 (a) rug*

*this term refers to a small rug, like a mat.  To refer to "carpet" (which is what's in the picture, to be exact) the term is just "dìtǎn".  The word "xiǎo" means small, so when we say"rug" we're just saying "a small carpet".  There, you just got two vocab words for the price of one!

Now that you've read through the words (or skipped over them entirely - lets be honest with ourselves), I present to you a paragraph about this living room.  Your job is to read through the paragraph and try to remember/infer what the words in Chinese mean.  I've written them out in pinyin only, to make this easier and because I believe for the time being it's more beneficial to you that you learn to speak Chinese rather than just read characters.  If you get stuck on one of the words, you have two options.  You can either scroll back up to the vocab list above to see what the word means, or you can mouseover the word right there in the paragraph to get the English equivalent.  Try not to do either of these if you can infer the meaning from context, but don't be afraid to look it up if you don't.  Studies have shown that when learning words in second languages, looking up the meaning of a word in a dictionary helps a person to learn that word significantly better - which is the reason for this exercise.  Use the vocab list above as your "dictionary" if you need to.  Enjoy!

Living Room

The living room in the picture above has driven many an interior decorator to his grave.  What is this, the 80's?  The fabric on the shāfā makes me want to poke myself in the eye just so I don't have to look at it.  Perhaps turning off the dēng would make it look better?  At least when you're sitting on the shāfā watching the diànshì, you don't have to look at the shāfā. In fact, then you don't have to look at that ugly huà either.  It's almost as if someone closed their eyes in a room full of huà and just pointed to one, grabbed it, and designed an entire ugly room around it.  Depressing.  And how about that lovely moss green dìtǎn?  The zhuōzi even has a glass top so you can look right through it to see the beautiful dìtǎn below!  Could a person with a conscience possibly ask anyone to come visit them with a living room such as this?  One redeeming factor is that each dēng has a plain, white dēngzhào.  And if that isn't enough to bring you back from the brink of death-by-ugly, try slipping one of those dēngzhào right over your head.  Why avert your eyes when you can cover them completely!  In fact, if you sit yourself down in the red yǐzi, you won't be able to see much of the room at all.  You could sit in the green yǐzi, which does look much more comfortable, but then you might catch a glimpse of that horrifying shāfā.  The shock may kill you.

Did you find this exercise effective?  See the English only list of vocabulary words below and see how many of the words you can recall in Chinese.  Let me know how you liked this post by leaving a comment.

  • carpet
  • lampshade
  • table
  • sofa
  • chair
  • picture
  • lamp
  • television

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

Original photo by Derek Jensen (Tysto) (Own work (My own photo)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, February 4, 2011

Learning Through Song: Ni Wa Wa

In a previous post titled 10 Simple Ways to Make Language Learning a Lifestyle, we talked about a variety of ways to make language learning a natural part of daily life.  I strongly believe that memorizing long lists of vocabulary words is a poor way to permanently learn a language because those words are only committed to temporary memory and are quickly forgotten.  In contrast, using language daily and repetitively works.  To that end, this post highlights an interesting video I found on YouTube that ought to sear a few words into your brain to the extent that even if you wanted to forget them, you'd be out of luck.

The video below contains a children's song, "Ni Wa Wa" ("Mud Doll"), which, in my opinion, is pretty darn catchy.  Add to it the fact that there are children dancing around in some kind of field throwing a doll around and we're got ourselves a winner.  But don't jump to the video just yet - stick with me for a minute here because I want you to get the most out of this that you can.  Before we view the video, we're going to go over the lyrics and learn a few new words.  Then you'll be able to recognize the words as you follow along with the video, which is subtitled in pinyin as well as Chinese characters.  Don't worry about remembering all of the words right away - just read through them once or twice.  Many of the words repeat themselves throughout the song, so after reading through the lyrics a couple of times you may find that you're already starting to recognize and understand some of them.

Here are the lyrics in Chinese with detailed translation:

wáwá wáwá
(mud doll, mud doll)
wáwá doll

ge wáwá
(a mud doll)
ge measure word (for more info, see my post about measure words)
**the words "" and "ge" together mean "a/an"
wáwá doll

yǒu méimáo
(also has eyebrows)
yǒu has/have
that/those (doesn't translate directly in this context)
méimáo eyebrows

yǒu yǎnjīng
(also has eyes)
yǒu has/have
that/those (doesn't translate directly in this context)
yǎnjīng eyes

Yǎnjīng bú huì zhǎ
([her] eyes can't wink)
yǎnjīng eyes
huì can
zhǎ wink

wáwá wáwá
(mud doll, mud doll)
wáwá doll

ge wáwá
(a mud doll)
ge a
wáwá doll

yǒu bízi
([she] also has a nose)
yǒu has/have
that/those (doesn't translate directly in this context)
bízi nose

yǒu zuǐba
([she] also has a mouth)
yǒu has/have
that/those (doesn't translate directly in this context)
zuǐba mouth

Zuǐba shuōhuà
([but her] mouth doesn't speak)
zuǐba mouth
shuōhuà talk

shì ge jiǎ wáwá
(She is a fake doll)
shì is; are; to be
ge measure word
jiǎ fake
wáwá doll

shì ge zhēn wáwá
([she] isn't a real doll)
shì is; are; to be
ge measure word
zhēn real; really
wáwá doll

méi yǒu qīn(g)'ài de māma
(she doesn't have a dear mother)
méi not; doesn't
yǒu has/have
qīn(g)'ài de dear; darling; beloved
māma mother 

méiyǒu bàba
([she] also doesn't have a dear father)
méi not; doesn't
yǒu has/have
bàba father

wáwá wáwá
(mud doll, mud doll)
wáwá doll

ge wáwá
(a mud doll)
ge a
wáwá doll

zuò māma
(I'll be her mother)
I; me
zuò become; be; make; do
māma mother

zuò bàba
(I'll be her father)
I; me
zuò become; be; make; do
bàba father

Yǒngyuǎn ài zhe
([I'll] love her forever; [I'll be] loving her forever)
yǒngyuǎn always; forever
ài love
zhe indicates a continuous action; "-ing"
her; she

Now go ahead and watch the video.  After watching it once or twice, play it again but instead of watching it, listen to it while you read through the lyrics above. 

If you enjoyed this post, or if you have an idea for a future post,  please let me know by leaving a comment below.

Don't forget to check out the interactive vocabulary list for this post.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Chinese for Helicopter Parents

Has little Timmy been in need of some serious adult supervision (jiāndū 监督) every moment of his life?  Do you cringe at the thought of him having to make even the most minute of decisions without your help (bāngzhù 帮助)?  Do you think that school is an evil place where children are hidden away from their parents - who should be free to sit next to them all day long coddling them and making sure they don't make spelling errors?  Well congrats to you - you're a helicopter (zhíshēngjī 直升机) parent (fùmǔ 父母)!

As a helicopter (zhíshēngjī) parent (fùmǔ), you of all people should be aware that knowledge of Mandarin Chinese is a must for any growing prodigy.  Why not pick some of it up yourself so you can teach it to your kid when you call to check on him () in between each of his classes?  (Remember, it isn't hovering if you aren't there in person...)

And let's not forget to take the future into consideration.  You're going to need to listen in to grown up Timmy's business calls while he jockeys for clients in Shanghai.  He might just need you to sneak into the other room and listen in on the other phone to make sure he doesn't miss a single opportunity (jīhuì 机会) to tell those potential clients how great he is!

The most important word you're going to need to know is the word "perfect" (wánměi de 完美的).  What more needs to be said about your angelic boy aside from the fact that he's perfect (wánměi de)? Of course, explaining how perfect (wánměi de) he is will require hours and hours of very detailed anecdotes (that everyone obviously enjoys hearing!).

You'll also want to know the word "obstacle", as in "I have removed each and every obstacle (zhàngài 障碍) standing in the way of my son's happiness as they would have inevitably lead him to a life of crime and solitude."  Who needs problem solving skills with a mother like you who's so adept at, well, everything? You hero you!

And before you head off to call his teacher to make sure he was getting sufficient social interaction today (you wouldn't have to call if they would just let you stay for his classes...), make sure you pick up the word for "psychologist" (xīnlǐ yīshēng 心理医生) because a bright boy like yours, with an involved mother like yourself is certainly going to need one...

Did you enjoy this post?  Then you might also enjoy Mandarin for Mummies.

1.  jiāndū ("jyehn-doo") 监督 supervision; to supervise
Billy wasn't allowed to use the scissors without adult supervision (jiāndū).

2.  bāngzhù ("bahng-joo") 帮助 help; to help
Children whose parents are the most helpful usually need the most help (bāngzhù).

3.  zhíshēngjī ("juh-shung-jee") 直升机 helicopter
The helicopter hovered (zhíshēngjī) over the lake - it hovered (zhíshēngjī) and hovered (zhíshēngjī) and hovered (zhíshēngjī) and hovered (zhíshēngjī)...

4.  fùmǔ ("foo-moo") 父母 parent
The job of every parent (fùmǔ) is to make sure that their child never has to go through the horrifying trauma of making a mistake.

5.  jīhuì ("jih-hway") 机会 opportunity
Little Frankie finally had the opportunity (jīhuì) to eat a meal alone.
6.  wánměi de ("wahn-may duh") 完美的 perfect
Isn't this a perfect (wánměi de) day for hovering?

7.  zhàngài ("john-guy") 障碍 obstacle
Every obstacle (zhàngài) can be overcome - unless your mommy isn't there to help!

8.  xīnlǐ yīshēng ("shin-lee yee-shung") 心理医生 psychologist
A good psychologist (xīnlǐ yīshēng) is worth his weight in straight jackets. 

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

For more help with Mandarin pronunciation, click here.   

Image: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel Edgington [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Measure Words Part One: Introduction

The Chinese have a far more complex system of measure words than we do in English.  In English we use universal terms like "a", "an" and "the" most of the time.  We do occasionally use more specific measure words like "flock" (a flock of geese) and "set" (a set of dishes), but we don't use them often and they are usually only used in reference to groups of things rather than singular objects.

In the Chinese language, unlike English, there are measure words for almost everything.  While the Chinese do have a general measure word "ge" (个), which is useful if you don't know the correct measure word to use in a given situation, almost every type of object or creature has its own specific measure word, and if you want to speak Chinese fluently, you'll need to learn these words.

Typically, a measure word comes after the numeral or other quantifier (one, two, this, that, etc.), so a noun with its measure word looks like this:

a puppy  yìzhī xiǎogǒu    一只小狗

In the phrase above, "yìzhī" could be translated "a".  "yìzhī" is composed of "yì" which is the word for "one" and "zhī", which is a measure word used for certain animals including puppies.

In this series of posts, we'll learn measure words that correspond with vocabulary for upcoming posts.  Future vocabulary words in other posts will now also include measure words which will be linked to the appropriate post from this series which explains the usage of those measure words.  The easiest way to learn measure words is to simply learn them as part of vocabulary words rather than treating them like separate words.

What follows is our first set of measure words with explanations as to their usage:

1.  ge - a general measure word to use if the correct measure word is unknown; this measure word is also used for people

2.  kuài - for things shaped like sheets; things that come in chunks or solid pieces; slices, sections, divisions, etc. of things (i.e. a slice of cake, etc.)

3.  zhǎn - for lamps

4.  tái  - for stage performances, machines, equipment, etc.

5.  zhāng - for flat things like paper, paintings, tables, maps, etc.

6.  bǎ - for objects with a handle or with something a person can hold; for things that can be grouped in bunches or bundles.

Feel free to leave questions or comments below. 

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

For more help pronouncing Mandarin words, click here.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Chinese for Errand Boys

Hey errand boy (suì cuī 碎催)!  Are things getting a little crazy around the office?  Still angry that your boss went a little "evil dictator" on you and told you to go fetch him a Twinkie from that Safeway on the other side of town (because the Twinkies from the Safeway right next to your office don't "taste the same")?  Why not learn a little Mandarin so you can tell him what you really think of him - without getting fired!

Won't it be therapeutic for you when you tell him he's crazy (fāfēng 发疯), right to his face?  He's asked you to polish his paperweights one too many times, and even though you think he's one tax (shuì) short of a tea party, you always smile and get right to work.  And let's not forget all those times he made you stay late at work making a hundred copies of one page because he couldn't be bothered to figure out how to have his printer print a page more than once!  Now you'll be able to tell him what a terrible (zāogāo 糟糕) human being he really is.  In fact, why not just sum it up with the simple phrase, "You make me sick." (Nǐ zhēn ràng ěxīn 你真让我恶心).  Let's break this phrase down so you can recycle some of it's parts for other fun phrases. "Nǐ (你)" means "you".  Combine it with the word for "to be" (shì 是) and you can say things like, "You're a half-wit" (Nǐ zhēn shì ā mù lín  你 真 是 阿木林).  The word for "half-wit" is "ā mù lín" ( 阿木林) Also, take note of the word "zhēn" (真) which means "real", "true", or "genuine" and also adds emphasis, so we're actually saying, "You're REALLY a half-wit." You told him!

Finally, the word "ràng" (让) from our phrase above (you make me sick!) means "to let" or "to make".  You can use this word for saying things like, "You make (ràng) children cry." or "You make (ràng) full grown adults have nightmares."  Oh the possibilities!

Well, it sounds like your ready to go release some pent up aggression.   Enjoy seeing your boss smile as you treat him to hearing some "fun Chinese phrases" you recently learned.  Won't he think you're a smarty pants!
A simple word of caution though - make sure he doesn't speak Chinese himself or you'll be spending the rest of your "career" eating Ramen and living out of your very own cardboard box.

1.  suì cuī ("sway tsooey") 碎催 errand boy
The errand boy (suì cuī) has finally had enough.

2.  fāfēng ("fah-fung") 发疯 crazy
His boss is a crazy (fāfēng) loon.

3.  zāogāo ("tzau-gau") 糟糕 terrible
The bosses secretary is just as terrible (zāogāo) as he is.

4.  nǐ ("nee") 你 you
If you (nǐ) can't beat 'em, get rich, buy the company and fire them.

5.  ěxīn ("uh-sheen") 恶心  sick; nauseated; nausea 
He felt nauseated (ěxīn) when he saw the stack of papers he needed to file.

6.  shì ("shih") 是 to be; is; are, am
The other errand boy is (shì) a kiss-up.

7.  ā mù lín ("ah-moo-leen") 阿木林 half-wit
If he wasn't such a half-wit (ā mù lín), he might get promoted.

8.  zhēn ("jehn") 真 real; true; genuine; really
I really (zhēn) hope my boss doesn't speak Chinese.

9.  ràng ("wrong") 让 to let; to make
If he ever let (ràng) me go home early, I'd think he was drunk.

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

For more help pronouncing Mandarin words, click here.

Image by Drew Morgan via Flickr is licensed via Creative Commons.