Hi everyone! I hope you are all enjoying these Google Hangouts as much as I am!
I’m so glad that many of you visual learners found the last Hangout Q&A written summary helpful. Here’s another summary so you can review more common questions and answers.
I’ve included links back to some important articles and lessons so you can clarify these concepts even more. As always, comment below this post with feedback – I love to hear from you!
1. Question: How important is learning to write in Chinese? Should I learn to write at the same time as learning to speak and listen?
2. Question: If I mispronounce the tone of a word, will a native speaker still understand what I am trying to say?
3. Question: How do children and adults learn languages differently?
4. Question: How do native Chinese speakers most commonly ask a yes/no question?
5. Question: How can I practice hearing accurate tones?
6. Question: What is the difference between "wǒmen" (我们） and "zánmen"（咱们)?
7. Question: What is the difference between “hǎo le” (好了), “hǎo de” (好的), and “hǎo ba” (好吧)?
1. How important is learning to write in Chinese? Should I learn to write at the same time as learning to speak and listen?
I believe that the process of listening and speaking Chinese is a completely independent process from writing and reading Chinese. What may be easy to learn to say first may not be easy to learn to write first.
For example, the Chinese words for “thank you - xiè xiè” (谢谢) are essential to learn to say and understand. However, the characters are extremely complicated to learn to write.
It would not serve you to learn to write these characters at the same time as when learning to speaking them. Or else, it would feel like tackling two languages at the same and it can get too overwhelming for students at the beginning.
Sometimes, Chinese textbooks mix everything all together – speaking, writing, reading. I believe that these essential building blocks of Chinese should be learned separately.
From beginner to early intermediate level, the student should focus on speaking, listening, and writing pinyin. The student can attack the writing and reading aspect later on, once he develops a general understanding of the fundamental components of the language.
Chinese only has 407 sounds, so you will quickly be able to pronounce every word. Once you reach the intermediate level, these words start cycling back through the sounds and you will become confused by the similar sounding words. That’s when learning characters becomes necessary – it will definitely help you understand the difference between these words.
Follow this logical building-block approach: strokes, radicals, components, and finally independent characters and their words.
When you are ready to take this step, I personally love the book Rapid Literacy of Chinese as a guide to learning characters.
2. If I mispronounce the tone of a word, will a native speaker still understand what I am trying to say?
This is a very common question! The answer is both yes and no.
If you utter just one word, you may encounter some problems if you use the wrong tone.
For example, “swimming - yóu yǒng” (游泳) and “useful - yǒu yòng” ( 有用) may be completely misunderstood if you use the wrong tones and speak the word independently of any other.
However, if you misuse the word in the context of a complete and correct sentence, you will still be understood.
For example, no one would misunderstand you even if you accidentally pronounced “tomorrow I want to go useful” - "míngtiān wǒ yào qù yǒu yòng" - (明天我要去有用).
Chinese songs, interestingly, do not use the proper tones since the music melody overrides the word tones. However, everyone still understands what the lyrics are expressing because of the context and grammar of the sentence.
You should make it your priority to memorize the proper tones for important words such as “I - wǒ” (我), “you - nǐ” (你) “good - hǎo” (好) so that you can be understood in the very beginning.
If you want to speak like a native, tones are very important.
3. How do children and adults learn languages differently?
I believe that adults learn fundamentally differently than children.
Children learn a language by associating sounds with what they hear or what they see but adults learn a language by understanding it first.
You can ask children to memorize a mumbo jumbo word and they will use it quickly, but an adult would have trouble understanding, incorporating, and using this mumbo jumbo word because it doesn’t make sense to them.
Adults have a definite advantage over children – they already have their mother tongue with which to create a framework and system to learn the language. The key is building a bridge between the mother tongue and target language, which in this case is Chinese.
The good news is that there are shortcuts!
I try to find the bridge to help you adjust from English to Chinese. Once you can use your deductive reasoning to find patterns and meanings, you can create all your own sentences with new and varied vocabulary to express yourself.
Children may have to rely on canned phrases, but you can create new connections in your mind and really make the target language your own.
4. How do native Chinese speakers most commonly ask a yes/no question?
The “ma” structure is very common, but the form of a question really does depend on the speaker’s mood. As a new speaker of the language, start with the “ma” sentence structure and then start incorporating the “verb + non-verb” structure. For example, “Are you American?” - “nǐ shì měiguó rén ma?” (你是美国人吗) has just about the same meaning as “Are you American?” - “nǐ shì bú shì měiguó rén?” (你是不是美国人?). Make both of these structures your own and you can more fluently express yourself!
We have a few grammar lessons on how to form a yes/no questions:
5. How can I practice hearing accurate tones?
For you to recognize anything, you need to know it first. If you have any Chinese friends, ask them to help you correct your tones. It takes practice. Many colloquial Chinese accents may not sound as standard as what you learn from these lessons, but the better you understand tones yourself, the better you can hear and differentiate them.
6. What is the difference between "wǒmen" (我们） and "zánmen"（咱们)?
Both "wǒmen" (我们) and "zánmen" (咱们) are used to say “we”. However, “zánmen” necessarily includes the listener with the speaker, and “wǒmen” may actually exclude the listener.
For example, “Tomorrow we are going to China” - “Wǒmen míngtiān qù zhōngguó” (我们明天去中国) might mean “Tomorrow Lily and I are going to China,” with the added implication that you, the listener, are not joining us. In the sentence “We’re going to eat this afternoon” - “Jīntiān xiàwǔ zánmen qù chīfàn,” (今天下午咱们去吃饭) the speaker means “you and I are going”.
We have a lesson that specifically addresses this question:
7. What is the difference between “hǎo le” (好了), “hǎo de” (好的), and “hǎo ba” (好吧)?
In most instances, “hǎo de” (好的), and “hǎo ba” (好吧) can be used almost interchangeably.
They both mean “OK,” as in “no problem, we are in agreement”.
“Hǎo le” (好了) is used to communicate “let’s put an end to this”. If you use “Hǎo le” (好了) at the wrong time, it may come across as though you are tired of the discussion or the activity, and may even seem like you have a negative attitude.
8. When you ask a yes/no question using “shì bú shì” (是不是), the “bù” (不) is second tone. Why is it second tone and can you still pronounce it as fourth tone?
The default tone of “no” or “not” is 4th tone, but when “bù” is followed by another 4th tone sound, “bù” is changed to “bú” with the second tone.
Let’s look at it like this: “bù” is very selfish, and doesn’t want to share anything with anyone. He's saying, “hey, if you’re 4th tone that doesn’t make me special, I’m going to change to the second tone.”
However, when “bù” is followed by any other tone, such as first tone, second tone, third tone, it stays the same.
Watch my Google Hangout on tone changes for an in-depth explanation.
9. What’s the easiest way of expressing “I’m sorry, I don’t understand” to a native Chinese speaker?
First of all, don’t be afraid to express yourself; if you can greet Chinese people with a simple “nǐ hǎo” (你好) they will already be impressed!
That said, you can simply say “I’m sorry, I don’t understand” - Duì bù qǐ, wǒ bù míng bái (对不起，我不明白) or “I’m sorry, I listen but I don’t understand” - “Duì bù qǐ, wǒ tīng bù dǒng” (对不起，我听不懂).
We have a music video in our “Beginner Conversational Chinese” Course that covers the following sentences:
10. Can I use “hé” (和) in any situation where I would say "and" in English?
Absolutely not. This is a very common mistake made by English speakers.
“Hé” means “and” or “with” but, unlike English, it is only used to connect two words or phrases. It cannot be used to connect two sentences.
For example, in English you can say “I’m American AND I can speak Chinese.” These are two separate sentences with two separate thoughts. You could not use the word “hé” (和) to join them together.
In Chinese, you have to separate the sentences. It’s totally okay just to say “wǒ shì měi guó rén. wǒ huì shuō zhōng wén” (我是美国人. 我会说中文.)
If you must join the two thoughts together, the word “hái yǒu” (还有) is much more appropriate. “Wǒ shì měi guó rén, hái yǒu wǒ shuō zhōng wén” (我是美国人, 还有我说中文). However, it’s doesn’t sound as natural to our Chinese ears.
A good use of the word “hé” (和) is connecting two words or phrases. For example, “I like Chinese food and American food” - “Wǒ xǐhuān zhōngguó cài hé měiguó cài” (我喜欢中国菜和美国菜) - use “hé” (和) only to connect words and phrases, but not sentences.
11. What is the best way to describe an experience or action done in the past?
“Guò (过)” is called an “experiential suffix”, which is used after a verb to express “been there, done that”, similar to boasting about your experiences.
“I’ve been to the great wall” - “wǒ qù guò cháng chéng” (我去过长城). Practice using it so you can describe the things you’ve eaten, seen, and heard!
Related lessons on the use of guò (过)：
12. Is there a proper way to respond to a yes/no question?
Funny enough, in Chinese there is no direct way to say “yes” or “no”!
The way to answer a question is by responding with “verb” or “not verb”.
What does this mean? When someone asks you “Are you a student?” - “Nǐ shì xué shēng ma?” (你是学生吗?), the proper response is “shì!” (是) if you are one or “bú shì” (不是) if you aren’t.
Another example with a different verb would be the question “Can you speak Chinese?” - “Nǐ huì shuō zhōng wén ma?” (你会说中文吗？) The “verb/not verb” response would be “can” - “huì” (会) or “not can” “bú huì” (不会). You may also repeat the entire sentence “I can speak Chinese” - “Wǒ huì shuō zhōng wén” (我会说中文) to be certain you are understood.
Related Lesson: How to say “Yes and No” in Chinese?
Practice asking and understanding Yes/No questions in real-life scenarios:
Happy Studies! See you at the next Hangout!
P.S. We also wrote out notes from the Q & A of a previous hangout, with questions like "What's the difference between le (了) and guò (过)" and "How to say “I need” in Chinese". Check out the Hangout here
Here are my other Google Hangouts:
In Pinyin Tips and Tricks, learn how to pronounce difficult Chinese sounds like "chu", "qu" and "chi", the 'r' in "ren" and how to pronounce "yan" correctly. Watch Pinyin Tips and Tricks now
In Chinese Pinyin, learn how to correctly pronounce "zi ci si zhi chi shi and ri", how to say "you're awesome", and how to say hotel in Chinese including the difference between different hotel words in Chinese: jiǔdiàn, fàndiàn, bīnguǎn, lǚguǎn. Click here to watch the full video: Watch Chinese Pinyin now
In How to Form a Question in Chinese, learn the two different ways to form a question in Chinese, "How important are tones in Chinese?", the difference between 'wǒmen' and 'zánmen' and more. Click here to watch the full video: Watch How to Form a Question in Chinese now