these are the posts tagged ‘mandarin’:

quote of the day

in case of emergency

Everyone knows that literacy in Mandarin means hour after brutal hour of memorizing and practicing a script whose design clearly shows the influence of sadistic genius.

from Beijing sounds

say what?

a piece of chinglish hidden on today’s chinese lesson. can you see it? :P

say again?

ting bu dong! (i hear you, but i don’t understand!)


you know tones, right? the way we rise our voice in the end of a question, for instance? that’s a rising tone. mandarin has tones too, 4 of them plus a neutral one. and they use them in every single syllable!
it might be hard to understand what i mean. so here’s an example:
* bīng (spoken with a flat and slightly long ‘i’) means frozen
* bǐng (where your voice ‘i’ starts in the middle of the tone, takes a dive and then rises) means cake.
* bìng (spoken with a sharp falling ‘i’) means sick.

the consequences? a foolproof recipe to (a funny kind of) frustration. you want to say chicken and you say “how many” (jī and jǐ). you want to say country and you say fruit (guó and guǒ). you want to say fish and you say rain (yú and yǔ). *sigh*

speaking chinese is like playing a memory game. is this the word i want? did i remember the right tone? naturally, they don’t understand you if you don’t pronounce words correctly (except in specific contexts). i mean, why should they – to them it’s a different word!

we have a little game going on: saying our street name so perfectly that the taxi driver understands without us having to repeat it. which is a hard task, even after hundreds of taxi rides. this is the tipical scenario when we enter a taxi (dialogue without tones, too much work!):
us: nihao! (hi!)
taxi driver says: nihao! qu nali? (hi! where to?)
us: dong xin lu, wu ning lu. (dongxin road, wuning road)
taxi driver confused: wuning lu… shema lu?* (wuning road… what road?)
us: dong xin lu. dong xin lu. dong xin lu. dong xin lu. dong xin lu. dong xin lu… (dongxin road! dongxin road, dongxin road… – all spoken with minimal tone variations, each time slowlier…)
taxi driver: ah! dongxin lu!
us: dui! (yes! with a very happy face)

and off we go, feeling more or less proud according to the number of times we had to repeat it. one day we’ll be as good as dashan, just wait and see!

* wuning road is very big and easily recognizable. dongxin road is not.


sunday. we enter the elevator with some kids and their parents. the kids (2 boys of around 7) are giggling and mutter “waiguo ren” (foreigners).
they’re talking about us, so i gently correct him and say “putaoya ren” which means portuguese. (and also that we can understand him :P).

he laughs, a bit shy, and conspires with his friend and parents which urge him to speak to us, and then he says “how do you do?”, in english. i say “fine, thank you, and you?”, “just so-so”, he replies and then they leave the elevator.

“just so-so” is the translation of “mama huhu”, the typical answer for a “nihao ma?” (how are you?). the chinese will not usually say they are good, or very good, or any other extreme feelings, and rather settle for a moderate answer.

they are just so-so. it’s a funny detail.