Mandarin Chinese Lessons - Introduction and Table of Contents
Table of Contents:
Lesson 1: https://www.duolingo.com/comment/8543449
Lesson 2: https://www.duolingo.com/comment/8546990
Lesson 3: https://www.duolingo.com/comment/8559330
Lesson 4: https://www.duolingo.com/comment/8626265
Lesson 5: https://www.duolingo.com/comment/8642249
I should preface this by saying I’m only a learner of Chinese myself. I could and probably will make mistakes. One of the reasons I’m making this course is for my own practice. The other two reasons are 1) so people here can learn basic Mandarin and 2) so that Duolingo staff and Chinese moderators can get an idea on how a Chinese for English speakers course might be structured.
This part is an introduction ie. it will be a wall of text. You may want to skip straight to Lesson 1 (which I should be posting a few hours afterwards).
I also wish to dispel the idea that Chinese is an impossibly hard language to learn. I’m not going to be one of those people that say “Chinese isn’t hard, it’s actually super easy!” Every language has its own difficulties, but getting past them is just a matter of practice. Chinese grammar is far simpler than most European languages. It has no genders, no declensions, no cases, no conjugations, arguably no tenses (the equivalent of tenses are usually expressed with adverbs or particles, which are often optional), nouns have no plural forms, and the word order is mostly the same as English. There are some sentence structures which are very different, but for the most part the grammar is very simple.
There are two main difficulties for English speakers: pronunciation and characters. Chinese doesn't use an alphabet. Instead, it uses characters. Each character has a meaning and represents one syllable. Most Chinese words are a combination of two characters. Typing Chinese is very simple: you just need to know the Pinyin. Pinyin is a Latin transcript of Chinese words. Do not think of it as an alternate script – Chinese people never use Pinyin to write. They do, however, use Pinyin to type Chinese characters on computers (there are other methods, but this one is by far the most common). If you know how a characters Pinyin, and how to recognise it when you see it, you can type it. It’s much harder if you plan on writing a character by hand. Either way, I recommend learners memorise a list of Chinese radicals and their meanings. It’s easier to remember that 想 is made of tree (木), eye (目) and heart (心) than it is to memorise each stroke individually. You can think of radicals as being equivalent to word roots in English (e.g. “revision” = “re” (again) + “vis” (to see) + “ion” (making it a noun)).
Here’s a very comprehensive list of Chinese radicals:
There’s no need to memorise them all right now.
I’ll gloss over the pronunciation, since you can only learn so much by reading. Chinese is a tonal language, meaning that changing a word’s intonation changes its meaning. Chinese has four tones, plus a neutral tone.
The FSI course teaches the pronunciation better than I can. I recommend everyone listen to the six tapes of the “Pronunciation and Romanization” module: http://fsi-languages.yojik.eu/languages/chinese.html
The ability to type Chinese is already installed on Windows computers, you just need to activate it. Just go into "PC settings", "Time and Language", "Region and Language" then click "Add a Language".. Then select "Chinese Simplified". Afterwards, you should see an icon on the bottom-right of the screen, near the time, saying "ENG". This means "English". Click on it and select "M". When you see "M" instead of "ENG", that means you're typing in Chinese. You just type a word's Pinyin, and then select the character from a list.
To type Mandarin on an Android, hold down the key to the left of the spacebar and then touch the gear symbol to go into settings. Then click "Select Input Languages", and scroll down to "中文" at the bottom and download it. Afterwards you can change between an English and a Chinese keyboard by swiping left and right on the spacebar.
"For Mac: System Preferences--Keyboard--Input Sources and then + to add the language. To switch languages, there is an icon in the upper right next to the volume, time, battery, etc. My default is a US flag. Click and select the language/input method you want to change the keyboard.
For IPhone/IPad: Settings--General--Keyboards--Add new keyboard. On your keyboard, there is a circular icon that kind of looks like a simplified globe (or a basketball) between 123 and the microphone. Click and cycle through the keyboards when you want to change keyboards."
Thanks to Iffypant for the explanations on how to type Mandarin on different Apple devices.
To hear how a word is pronounced, just go to www.forvo.com and search for the word. Make sure you scroll down to "Mandarin Chinese" if a word is entered for multiple Chinese languages.
Anyway, here are some basic phrases:
你好 - Nǐ hǎo - Hello (lit. You are good)
你好吗 - Nǐ hǎo ma – How are you? (lit. Are you good?)
我很好 - Wǒ hěn hǎo - I'm well.
谢谢 - Xièxiè - Thankyou
再见 - Zàijiàn - Goodbye
This is just an introduction. I'll start next time with Lesson 1!
Edit (16/05/2015): I added a table of contents.
For Mac: System Preferences--Keyboard--Input Sources and then + to add the language
To switch languages, there is an icon in the upper right next to the volume, time, battery, etc. My default is a US flag. Click and select the language/input method you want to change the keyboard.
For IPhone/IPad: Settings--General--Keyboards--Add new keyboard
On your keyboard, there is a circular icon that kind of looks like a simplified globe (or a basketball) between 123 and the microphone. Click and cycle through the keyboards when you want to change keyboards.
If anyone wants to use Traditional Chinese, it is also an option with pinyin or another input method.
It's a weird characteristic of Chinese that if you don't use a modifier before an adjective, like "very", "extremely", "not", then it technically makes it comparative. So 我好 technically doesn't mean "I'm good", it means "I'm better". You also can't use the verb "to be" with adectives most of the time.
Chinese has a strong preference for two-syllable words, so single-character words often sound weird in a sentence, and people will add another character to make it sound better. 我好 just sounds very odd in Chinese (I can only imagine it being used in very limited contexts), so people normally say 我很好, even if they're actually just "good", not "very good". Similarly, "He is tall" is usually 他很高 instead of 他高.