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Mandarin Chinese Lessons - Lesson 1

Introduction: https://www.duolingo.com/comment/8542744'

How to Teach Mandarin on Duolingo: https://www.duolingo.com/comment/7272741

www.forvo.com - A useful website you can use to hear the pronunciation of words in many languages. For Chinese words, the traditional and simplified versions are listed separately, so you may want to look them both up.

Here are some basic phrases I mentioned in the introduction. Traditional versions of the characters are in brackets if they're different:

你好 - Nǐ hǎo - Hello (lit. You are good)

你好吗 (--嗎) - Nǐ hǎo ma – How are you? (lit. Are you good?)

我很好 - Wǒ hěn hǎo - I'm well.

谢谢 (謝謝) - Xièxiè - Thankyou

再见 (再見) - Zàijiàn - Goodbye

Here are some other words and phrases:

我 - wǒ - I/me

你 - nǐ - You

您 - Nín - You (formal)

他 - tā - He/him

她 - tā - She/her

它 - tā It

们 (們) - Plural marker of pronouns

是 - Shì - to be

很 - very/to be

也 - yě - Also

叫 - Jiào - to call/to be called

姓 - xìng - To be called (for surnames)

吗(嗎)- Ma - Question Particle (see my explanation below)

呢 - Ne - Another particle

不 - Bù - Not

澳大利亚 (---亞)- Àodàlìyǎ - Australia

中国 (-國) - Zhōngguó - China

美国 (-國) - Měiguó - US

英国 (-國) - Yīngguó - United Kingdom*

英格兰 (--蘭) - yīng gē lán - England

苏格兰 (蘇-蘭) - sū gé lán - Scotland

爱尔兰 (愛爾蘭) - ài ěr lán - Ireland

威尔士 (-爾-) - wēi ěr shì - Wales

法国 (-國) - fà guó - France

德国 (-國) - dé guó - Germany

荷兰 (-蘭) - hé lán - The Netherlands

加拿大 (---) - jiā ná dà - Canada

新西兰 (--蘭) - xīn xī lán - New Zealand

人 - rén - person/people

喜欢 (-歡) - xǐ huān - to like

高兴 (-興) - gāoxìng- happy

认识 (認識) - rènshí - to meet

很高兴认识你 (--興認識-) - Hěn gāoxìng rènshí nǐ - Nice to meet you

认识你我很高兴 (認識----興) - Rènshí nǐ wǒ hěn gāoxìng - Nice to meet you

好久不见 (---見) - hǎojiǔ bùjiàn - Long time no see

*英国 is NOT England, as a thought, but The United Kingdom. Thanks Guangsheng for your correction).

Like English, Chinese is subject + verb + object. Chinese has more flexibility, but that's what the word order generally is. Adverbs are typically placed before the verb or before the subject.

"你好吗" - Is a very standard way to say "How are you?". It can sound very formal, like "How do you do?". "你最近怎么样" (Nǐ zuìjìn zěnme yàng - lit. "How have you been recently?") is more colloquial.

人 (person) can be added to the end of a country to make a noun, meaning, "a person of that country".


美国人 - An American

中国人 - A Chinese person

澳大利亚人 - An Australian

"是" means "to be". It can ONLY be used to connect nouns


我是澳大利亚人。 - I am an Australian

我是好 - This sentence is incorrect, because "好" is an adjective.

是 has a few other grammatical uses, which will be taught later on.

很 is traditionally taught to mean "very". It always means this when it's before a verb.

Chinese doesn't require a verb meaning "to be" before adjectives, however, you can think of 很 as meaning "to be" for adjectives. It's not usually taught like this, but I think this is a much better explanation than saying it always means "very".

In this case, it's not compulsory. It's usually only written when there's no other adverb or verb between the subject and the adjective (no "很" is required for " 我不好" or ”我也高兴"). I've asked different native speakers if there's a difference between when it's included and when it's not (e.g. between "我高兴" and "我很高兴") and have gotten different answers. Some say there's no difference, and others say it emphasises a comparison when there's no 很 ("I'm happier" or at least "I'm happy, in comparison"). I've heard native speakers sometimes not use "很" when no comparison is obvious. In general, always write "很" if there's no other word between the subject and the adjective.


我(很)喜欢。。。 - I (very much) like...

我很高兴 - I am happy.

不 is placed before adjectives and verbs to negate them.


我不好 - I am not well.

我不喜欢。。。 - I don't like...

他, 她 and 它 mean "he", "she" and "it" respectively. However, they all have the exact same pronunciation, so the difference only exists in the written language,

们 can be placed behind a pronoun to make it plural e.g. 我们 (us), 你们 (you - plural), 他们 they) etc.

我们 (us) may or may not include the listener, like with English "us". 咱们 (zán men) is a word used in northern China that also means "us", except it always includes the listener. You won't hear it used in southern China, but you should expect to hear it if you go to Beijing. Nouns never need to be made plural (although plurality can be indicated in other ways). Notice how "美国人" doesn't change between "我是美国人" (I am an American) and "我们是美国人" (We are Americans).

您 is a formal version of "you". It is similar to Sie in German or U in Dutch.

There are two main ways to ask yes-no questions. One is to simply at 吗 to the end of a statement to make it a question (e.g. 你是中国人 - You are Chinese; 你是中国人吗? - Are you Chinese). Another way is to repeat the verb twice, the second time with negation (是不是) e.g. 你是不是中国人吗? (Are you Chinese?). It might help if you think of this as “Are you or are you not…?”, although the Chinese sentence sounds completely neutral. You cannot use both methods at once (e.g. "你是不是澳大利亚人吗?“ is incorrect). This is a common mistake among learners (including myself if I 'forget' I already made the sentence a question!).

Chinese has no words for “yes” and “no”. You answer by repeating the verb back. For example, if someone asks “你是不是。。。?” or “你是。。。吗?, “yes” would be “是” and “no” would be “不是”. If someone asks if you like something, you would respond with “喜欢” (yes) or “不喜欢” (no).

呢 can be used after a noun to redirect a question, similar to "What about...?" or "How about...?". If someone asks you how you are, you can say "你呢?" to mean "What about you?". When 呢 is used without context, it can be a colloquial way to say "Where is...?" e.g. "手机呢?" can mean ”Where is my mobile/cell phone (手机)?" or "What about my mobile/cell phone?" depending on the context.

叫 can mean "to be called" (like German heißen), or it can mean "to call out to (someone). You can say your name by saying "我叫。。。" and then your given name. 姓 can also mean "to be called", but it only refers to surnames. I'm unaware of any equivalent in any European language. 我姓马, 叫杰夫 means "My surname is 马, and my given name is 杰夫"。

Like in Romance languages, the subject of a sentence can be omitted in Chinese. However, Chinese doesn't have conjugation, so this is only done when it's obvious what the subject is.

好久不见 means "long time no see". It has been speculated that the English phrase "long time no see" comes from a direct translation from the Chinese version (either that or from a native American language). Some teachers of English in China actually tell their students that "long time no see" is Chinglish and that they should never use it when speaking English.

Here are a few basic conversations:

A: 你好!好久不见,最近怎么样?

B: 我很好。你呢?

A: 我也很好。


B: 再见!

A: 您好,很高兴认识您。我姓马,叫杰夫。

B: 认识您我也高兴。你是不是中国人?

A: 不是,我是英国人。你呢?

B: 我是澳大利亚人。

The more vocab I teach, the longer I should be able to make the example conversations. Every lesson I'll try to use grammar and vocab from the previous lessons.

I'll give a very brief run-down of tones:

Every Chinese word has a specific intonation that makes it correct. Changing a word's tone changes its meaning. We sometimes use intonation in English to emphasise words to to express emotion, but in Chinese the tone of every syllable is important, and changing it is like change a consonant in English.

The first tone is high and flat. It is represented by a flat line above a letter or by the number "1" e.g. "ā" or "a1". It is a bit higher than the pitch we normally use in English, so it might feel like singing.

The second tone is the rising tone. It's the intonation we give to the syllable at the end of a question, or by Australians and Californians at the ends of sentences in general. It is represented by an upward sloping line or by the number two e.g. í or i2.

The third tone is falling and rising. You drop your pitch as low as you can and then make it rise again. I think this one is the hardest for English speakers. If you emphasise the rising and falling too much, native speakers will mishear it as a second tone. Try to force the syllable as low as you can (the act of forcing it down will make it naturally lower slightly), and when you finish the syllable it'll naturally rise a little as your voice relaxes.

. Think of any one-syllable swear word in English and say it out loud right now, as you're reading this. Say it again several times, and try to make it sound like you're very pissed off. Chances are you used a falling tone i.e. you started from a high pitch and dropped the pitch sharply. This is the fourth tone in Chinese.

The fifth tone is just a neutral tone. You can think of this as the Chinese equivalent of a schwa sound. It's just a syllable that isn't given any emphasis and has no tone. It isn't represented by a line or number (some people us the number "5", but this is unnecessary). If you see a word written in Pinyin without a tone, I've forgotten to write it. Either that or it's the fifth tone.

For a much better explanation of the tones and Chinese pronunciation in general, do the six tapes of the Pronunciation and Romanization module here: http://fsi-languages.yojik.eu/languages/chinese.html

If you're on an Android or Apple phone, I suggest you download "Pleco", a usefull Chinese-English dictionary. You can download multiple dictionaries into the app, and can cross-compare a definition between different dictionaries.

Edit (11/05/15): I changed the definition of "英国" from "England" to "The United Kingdom", thanks to Guangsheng's suggestion. I also added a few other countries to the vocabulary list and moved "您" out of the list of phrases from the introduction, where I accidentally put it.

May 10, 2015



Thanks for your post, just a small correction here 您 - Ní - You (formal), it should be nín :P


You explained things very well! You seem to have a very good grasp of the Chinese grammar. I agree that you can think of 很 as meaning "to be" for adjectives (especially single-character adjectives), because 很 is sort of mandatory to make the sentence not sound weird.

In your conversation, "是澳大利亚人" sounds slightly odd. I would say either "我是澳大利亚人" or "澳大利亚人".


I don't think people from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would be happy about 英国 being translated as England. It should be UK or Great Britain. :-)


I thought 英国 only meant 'England'! At the very least "ying" is meant to bs a loose transliteration of the "Eng-" part. I just checked my dictionary and it says it can mean "England", "Britain" AND "The United Kingdom"... that's useful.


You are right. 英 is from "Eng-" part. I think it is because when Chinese people met British people hundreds of years ago, they were mostly from England. Or not. I have not checked any historical documents. But today 英国 should be the United Kingdom. Usually we use 英格兰 (Yīnggélán) to be meant England. :-)


It looks like I've been using it wrong all these years. I'll fix the vocabulary list when I get home.


我很喜欢汉语!谢谢你,我们应该有一个Duolingo中文课。我能帮助! :D


很快很快 :)

  • 1343

Thank you very much!

Will keep following you!


How do you pronounce 很 ?


In Mandarin? hen third tone

In Cantonese? hou start low, tone goes up at ou


Thanks ^^

I saw most of the characters had the pinyin(?) next to it but that one.

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