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Mandarin Chinese Lessons - Lesson 2

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

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

Lesson 1: https://www.duolingo.com/comment/8543449

什么 – Shénme – What

为 – Wèi - For/on behalf of

为什么 – Wèishéme - Why/For what

怎么样 (-麼樣) - Zěnme yang – How

时候 (時-) – Shíhòu – (point in) time

什么时候 (-麼時-) – Shénme shíhòu - When (lit. “What time”)

多 – Duō – (to be) many/much/a lot

少 – Shǎo – (to be) few

大 – Dà – Big

小 – Xiǎo – Small

哪里 – Nǎlǐ – Where

哪儿 – Nǎr – Where (see explanation)

那儿 – Nàr - There

那里 – nàlǐ – There

谁 (誰) – Shuí - Who

去 – Qù – To go/To move away from the speaker

来 – Lái – To come/To move towards the speaker

走 – Zǒu – To walk/to depart

说 (說) – Shuō – To say

有 – Yǒu – To have/to possess

在 – Zài – (To be) at

没有 (沒-) – méi yǒu – To not have

朋友 – péngyǒu – Friend

中文 – Zhōngwén – Chinese language

汉语 – hànyǔ – Chinese language

普通话 (--話) – Pǔtōnghuà – Mandarin (see explanation)

学- Xué – To learn

学习 – Xuéxí – To study

现在 (現-) – Xiànzài – Now

名字 – Míngzì – Name

不用谢 (--謝) - Bùyòng xiè –You’re welcome

谢了(謝-) - xiè le- Thanks

的 – Possessive marker


Question words in Chinese are used in place of where you’d expect the answer to be. In other words, if someone asks you a question, you could answer by repeating the question back to the speaker exactly is they asked it, only putting the answer in place of where the question word was. If you’re not sure how to ask a question, just write what the response in a full sentence, leaving a blank spot for the answer. Write the question word in this blank spot.

E.g. 你说什么? - What did you say?

你为什么学习中文?- Why are you learning Chinese?

你去哪儿? - Where are you going?

Just like “what” in English, “什么” can be used before a noun to mean “What + noun”. This is different from “which”, which I’ll teach in the next lesson (after teaching measure words).

e.g. 什么时候 – When (what time) 什么名字 – What name (see the discussion example at the end)

为 can mean “for” to describe who benefits from action. So 为什么 (why) literally means “for what”. It can also be used to signal the start of an adverbial phrase meaning “in order to…” (similar to “um…zu” in German). Once again, adverbial phrases are placed before the verb or before the subject.

In classical Chinese 为 meant “to be”, similar to “是” in Modern Chinese. Nowadays this usage can only be found in very formal texts (e.g. newspapers). In this case, it’s pronounced in the second tone. In case you were wondering, “是” meant “this” in classical Chinese, similar to modern Chinese “这” (next lesson; you'll see why).

时候 refers to a point in time i.e. a moment in time. There are other words used to refer to a period of time or the amount of times something happens.

One characteristic of northern Mandarin (like in Beijing) is Erhua (儿化). Northern Mandarin speakers to speak with their tongues more curled, which can give the impression they’re adding “r” sounds to words (think of how Captain Barbossa speaks when he says “aarrrrr”). At the ends of some words they often pronounce “儿” (r) where southerners wouldn’t, and they also sometimes change the “n” sounds at the ends of words to “r” sounds. The Pinyin of “儿” is “er”, but when it represents Erhua it’s more accurate to add an “r” sound to the word before. 哪儿 and 哪里 both mean “where”, although the former is only used in northern China and the latter is used in all of China.

You can say 哪里哪里 (Where? Where?) to respond to a compliment. In traditional Chinese culture, saying “thankyou” to a compliment can sound rude. It’s more important to be modest and deny the compliment. Most modern Chinese people have been exposed to Western culture, so they won’t think much of it if you do say “谢谢”.

谢了 means "thanks. It is much more colloquial than 谢谢。

“去” means “to go” as in “to go from one place to another” or "to move away from the speaker". “走” usually means “walk”, but it can sometimes mean “to depart” or “to leave” in the context of heading off from a place. I believe 走 is similar to German “gehen” this way. Whereas a lot of English verbs require a preposition to mark an indirect object, most Chinese verbs directly take an object without requiring a preposition. You can just say 我现在去中国 (I’m going to China now) without a preposition.

If you want to describe where something takes place, you can use 在 meaning “at”. I mentioned in Lesson 1 that adverbs and/or adverbial phrases are placed before the verb or before the subject. This still applies. “在” is a very general preposition, so it can mean “in”, “at” and “on” (like how “at” could always be used in English if we didn’t break our own rules). It can also be a verb, meaning “to be located at” e.g. 我现在在澳大利亚 (I am in Australia right now).

The only pronunciation difference between 你在那儿 (You are there) and 你在哪儿 (Where are you?) is the tone, so you really need to make sure you get it right! You also need to remember when reading and writing that 哪 has a mouth radical (口) and 那 does not.

This mouth radical (口) often indicates that a character has the same pronunciation (minus the tone) as the same character without the radical. E.g. 嘿 (representing English “Hey”) and 嗨 (representing English “Hi”) come from 黑 (Hēi; meaning “black”) and 海 (Hǎi; meaning “ocean”) respectively.

有 can serve many functions. It can simply mean “to have”, as in “我有很多朋友” (I have many friends), but it can also mean that something exists somewhere. E.g. “有个中国人说。。。” (“There’s a Chinese person who says…”; I’ll teach “个” and other measure words next lesson) or “中国有很多人。” (China has a lot of people).

有 is unique in that it cannot be negated with 不. 没 is normally a negation for verbs in the perfective aspect (e.g. “没(有)去” = “to not have gone”; I’ll explain this usage in further detail in the future), but using 没 is the standard way to negate 有. I think this is somewhat analogous to how “I have got” (perfective aspect of “to get”) has come to mean “to have” in English.

So far we have two ways to tell location:

1) Thing 在 Location – The thing is at…

2) (Location)有thing – There is a thing (at…)

There are lots of ways to refer to the Chinese language. 汉语 literally means “Han language” (the Hans are the ethnicity which comprises the vast majority of Chinese citizens). 文 means “text”, and so 中文 specifically refers to the written language. Normally these terms just refer to Mandarin, although you might find that people on Hong Kong will often dispute that. People in Hong Kong will often use 中文 to refer to Cantonese. 普通话 specifically refers to standard Mandarin.

怎么样 asks how something is. E.g. “你最近怎么样” (“How have you been recently”). 怎么 asks how something happens e.g. “你怎么学习中文?” (“How do you learn Chinese?” (i.e. from books, lessons etc.)). If you want to ask for the extent of an adjective, put 多 before the adjective (多少 - How much/how many; 多大 – How big).


美国有多少人? (How many people are in the US?)

不用谢 (lit. Do not use ‘thanks’) can be used in response to someone thanking you, similar to “You’re welcome”.

的 can be used to indicate possession, similar to ‘s in English. E.g. 我的朋友 = My friend(s). 的 isn’t always necessary. It can be omitted when the thing has a close personal relationship with the owner (我朋友 is also possible, because a friend is someone close to “me”). If you say something like “My friend’s car’s mechanic’s chess coach”, you’d only include 的 the last time (between “mechanic” and “chess coach”. 的 can also do other things, which I think will include in lesson 4 or 5.

I mentioned in lesson 1 that the response to a yes-no question should be to repeat the verb. If someone asks about an adjective, you can use 是的 to mean “yes”.


A: 你好。好久不见。你最近怎么样?

B: 我很好。你呢?

A: 我也很好。你为什么在中国?

B: 我为学习中文来中国。(=我来中国学习中文)

A: 你的中文很好!

B: 哪里哪里。你的也是的。

A: 你怎么学习中文?

random friend of A arrives

B: 你是谁?

C: 我是A的朋友。

B: 很高兴认识你。你叫什么名字?

C: 我叫约翰。你呢?

B: 我的名字是杰夫。你的名字不是C吗?

C: 不是。

B: A在哪儿?

May 10, 2015



Wow. This is cool, but really confusing. How do you type Chinese symbols on a standard computer?


Are you using Windows? Go into PC settings -> Time and Language -> Region and Language -> Add a language. Then select "Chinese (simplified)". Afterwards you should see a little symbol on the bottom right of your screen saying "En" or "ENG" for English, or "M" (in a square box) for Chinese. Click on this to change between keyboards. Once you have the Chinese keyboard selected, you type the Pinyin and select the relevant character from a list. For example, if you type "na" you can then choose "那" or "哪".


Unfortunately, I use mac :(


Ah. In that case I'll refer you to Iffypant's explanation from the introduction:

"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."



You can install a Chinese input method, e.g. Google Pinyin.


Does duolingo have any thoughts on starting a Chinese course so that you can put those knowledge into courses?


Not to my knowledge, but the English for Chinese speakers course is nearing completion. Hopefully the Chinese for English speakers course will be created afterwards.


Ok, anyway thank you for all the good stuff for Chinese leaners.


Hi – thank you for all these posts about Mandarin – I've recently started to study the language and I have a question. I'm wondering if you might consider addressing it in one of your future posts, or if anyone else reading this with a knowledge of Mandarin might have a response for me.

I've been (among many other things!) listening to different recordings of Mandarin speakers, and it's nice to start to separate out which aspects of pronunciation are “how it's done” vs “how a particular speaker talks”. There's one thing that's still really foggy for me though, which is:

If you have the same tone repeated several times, people seem to vary the pitch at which they articulate it. (This seems like a natural thing to do, but I'm interested in the way they do it.) For example, if you wanted to say “今天 星期三。”- Jīntiān xīngqīsān (Today is Wednesday) – can you tell me anything about how the pitches should be varied? (My take from one recording: the second syllable is lower than the first (to my ear it's a step and a half lower on this recording) then the third syllable is even higher than the first (by a half step), the fourth and the fifth match the first.)

I don't have a sense of where these changes come from, if it has to do with the structure of the sentence, and how much of this would vary from speaker to speaker.

Sorry for the neurotic attention to detail – I'm a musician (and a westerner!) and I hear those half steps:/ - please feel free to disregard – I'm sure native speakers aren't thinking through that sort of thing.

Anyway, my plan is to keep studying and listening, hoping that my ear just picks this stuff up (my ear seems to be improving, which is exciting) but if you have thoughts on this, or if you know of it being addressed anywhere, I'd love a link or other reference. Thanks!


I'm not sure why this was down-voted. You're absolutely correct that tones can change in certain combinations. It's called tone sandhi. You can read about it here: http://eastasiastudent.net/china/mandarin/tone-change-rules


I skimmed through the link you gave me, and as far as I can tell, they're just talking about when you actually use different tones (for example how 不 is generally 4th tone but becomes 2nd when followed by a 4th) – I'm actually familiar with those rules, and was asking about something else.

I'm talking about the pitches at which the tones are articulated. So that, for example, if you have four first tones in a row, they're not all at (for lack of a better way to describe it) the same “note”. Again, that seems natural, but I'm not sure to what degree that's done in a certain way, and to what degree people vary how they do it. (And of course how it may be affected by the sentence structure). I suspect it's a little of each, but I'm far from having it sorted out.

Edit: I'm realizing this may not have been any clearer than my first attempt to explain what's in my head. Taking another shot at it- in the example of the sequence of syllables that were all first tones, they're still first tones. For each of those syllables, you can say that it begins and ends at the same pitch, and that the note/pitch doesn't vary from beginning to end of any one syllable. So it's still a first tone. (also, it's still relatively high in the person's range.) But that note is often not the same note for each of the syllables. It's those patterns I'm talking about. Is that clearer?


I think you can go to google scholar and check out this article, "Chinese Intonation and Tone [1]". The reference is as follows. BTW, it is written in Chinese.

I think the reason that the pitches in "今天星期三" is different is because there are two words here and you want to emphasize WEDNESDAY, meaning it is Wednesday today not Thursday. So "星期三" has higher pitches than "今天". Then in each word, we tend to lower the pitch one by one. This is just what I think. Hope that helps.

[1] 林茂灿. 汉语语调与声调[J]. 语言文字应用, 2004, 3: 57-67.


Thank you Guangsheng! I will look for the article. (I probably won't be able to understand most of it today, but I'll look forward to understanding more and more as I continue to learn.) I very much appreciate your thoughts about this. That makes sense about emphasis, and I'll start listening for dropping pitches within words. Thanks again!

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