Lesson 1 – Greetings

Welcome To Mandarin Chinese

Mandarin is the official language of China, and Taiwan. Although there are many dialects, every Chinese person you meet will speak and understand Mandarin. It is officially classified as a “difficult” language, but in some ways it is easier than English.

The lack of irregular verbs, lack of verb endings and the presence of consistent pronouns are among the reasons why it could be considered easier. In Mandarin, once you learn a word, its yours. 

Mandarin is written in Chinese characters, which are not phonetic. In order to learn the language we will use pinyin, a phonetic representation. Each Chinese character is pronounced as a single syllable and represented phonetically as a pinyin syllable. The table below uses an example to illustrate this relationship.

Pinyin Chinese English Audio
Ní hǎo 你好 Hello

The main goal of the first ten lessons is learn pronunciation. Using a phonetic representation, instead of characters, makes this easier to achieve.  In addition to pronunciation, learning pinyin has other benefits as well: such as Looking up words in a dictionary and typing Chinese characters on a keyboard or mobile phone

Tones

Tone Chart

Mandarin has only 409 distinct syllables. Compared to more than 5000 English syllables, this is a small number. Once you master these 409 sounds, you can pronounce any word in Mandarin.

Mandarin is a tonal language, where “tone” is actually a change in pitch that occurs during the pronunciation of a syllable. Tone marks are placed above the vowels as guide to pronunciation. The table below illustrates how tones change the meaning of words that sound like “ma”.

Tones are not optional.  If you use the wrong tone, you said the wrong word.  Missing the tone generally confuses your listener. So, unless you have a musician’s ear, it is a good idea to memorize the tone when you learn a word.

Some words will take a different tone depending on the tone of the word that follows. This is called tone change, or “spoken tone”. There are just three types of tone change, which will be explained later. Standard text books do not show spoken tone. However this courseware does, in order to make the expected pronunciation more clear.

Tone Number Mark Pitch Meaning
1st ma1 high level Mother
2nd ma2 rising Numb
3rd ma3 falling then rising Horse
4th ma4 falling Scold
Neutral ma ma unstressed Question
  • 4 tones: mā má mǎ mà
  • Mother scolds a horse: māma mà mǎ
  • Click on bolded pinyin in the chart to hear the differences.

 

Example Dialog

Note: In the first column of the table below 王 (wáng) and 张 (zhāng) are common family names in China.

1) How are you?
Ní hǎo ma? 你好吗? How are you?
Wǒ hén hǎo. 我很好。 I am fine (very good).
2) And you?
Nǐ máng ma? 你忙吗? Are you busy?
Wǒ bù máng, nǐ ne? 我不忙,你呢? I’m not busy, how about you?
Wó yě bù máng. 我也不忙。 I am also not busy.
3) Good Morning
Zǎoshang hǎo! 早上好! Good morning!
Zǎo! 早! Morning!
Nǐ máng ma? 你忙吗? Are you busy?
Wó hěn máng, nǐ ne? 我很忙,你呢? I am very busy, and you?
Wǒ yé hěn máng. 我也很忙。 I am also very busy.
Zàijiàn. 再见。 Bye.
Zàijiàn. 再见。 Bye.

Vocabulary

Pinyin Chinese  English
you Pronoun, second person singular.
hǎo good Adjective, generally indicating a positive quality.
ní hǎo 你好 hello A greeting, not a question.
I or me Pronoun, first person singular. Note: wǒ can be used as a subject (“I”) or an object (“me”).
hěn very Adverb of degree
ma   Particle, used to request confirmation. Similar to a rising tone in English.
ne what about ..? Particle, used to request more information.
also Adverb, expressing similarity
máng busy Adjective
not Adverb of negation
zǎoshang 早上 morning Noun, early in the day
wǎnshang 晚上 evening Noun, late in the day
zàijiàn 再见 good bye Expression, taken separately the characters mean “again” “meet”.

Tone Change

When two 3rd tone syllables occur in sequence, the first syllable is usually pronounced with a 2nd tone. This makes the sentence easier to say. For example “nǐ hǎo” (the written form) is normally pronounced “ní hǎo” (the spoken form). Unfortunately, all books published with pinyin use the written form and let you figure out how to say it. In contrast, this courseware will display the spoken form at all times, so you don’t have to guess about the pronunciation.

Grammar Patterns

Grammar is the patterns of a language. Although every pattern has exceptions, recognizing the language patterns improves our feel for the language.

Sentences

All the sentences in this lesson describe conditions: good, bad, busy, not busy. It is interesting to note that they do not contain any form of the verb “is”. Mandarin does have a verb that is similar to “is”, which we will learn in the 3rd lesson. The table below illustrates the structure of sentences that express conditions.

subject adjective phrase meaning
hén hǎo. I am very good
bù máng You are not busy

 

Particles

Particles, like ma and ne in Chinese, are structural words. They are used to indicate the purpose of a sentence (such as question or statement) without effecting the content.

  • When ma occurs at the end of a sentence it is asking for confirmation. For example “Nǐ máng” is the statement “You are busy”, while  “Nǐ máng ma?” asks for confirmation of that statement.
  • When ne occurs at the end of a sentence it indicates a more open ended question. For example “nǐ ne?” means “what about you?” and “wǒ ne” means “what about me?”.

Seeking Confirmation

We learned two sentences that seek confirmation in this lesson: “Nǐ máng ma?” and “Ní hǎo ma?”. All confirmation questions have the same structure: a statement, followed by “ma”. This is much easier than English, where we change the order of subject and verb.

Statement “?” Answer
Wǒ máng ma? Máng
Ní hǎo ma? Hén hǎo
Nǐ máng ma? Máng

Confirming the question also differs from English. Chinese does not have a simple “yes” and “no”;. Instead, the Chinese speaker uses the verb or adverb of the sentence in its positive or negative form.

Here are some examples of answers to “Nǐ máng ma?”.

  • Wó hěn máng. – affirmative response
  • Bù máng. – affirmative response
  • Wǒ máng. – omitting any adverbs
  • Máng. – brief and succinct

After answering you can use “Nǐ ne?” to return the question. And, if the second answer is consistent with the first you can add to the response

  • Wǒ yé hěn máng.
  • Yé hěn máng.
  • Wó yě máng.
Statement “?” Answer
Wó hěn máng, nǐ ne? Wǒ yé hěn máng
Bù máng, nǐ ne? Wó yě bù máng
Máng, nǐ ne? Wó yě máng

Greetings

Just as in English, a response to a greeting is usually the same as the greeting.

Greeting Response
Zǎo Zǎo
Ní hǎo. Ní hǎo.
Zǎoshang hǎo. Zǎoshang hǎo.
Wǎnshang hǎo. Wǎnshang hǎo.
Zàijiàn. Zàijiàn.

Resources

There are two types of flashcards to choose from. Each type has two sides. Both types will provide valuable practice opportunities.

  • Pinyin to English Flashcards will display the pinyin first and give you the opportunity to remember the English meaning.
  • Chinese to English Flashcards will display a Chinese character first. When the character is displayed you will hear the word pronounced. Don’t worry about reading the character, your job is to listen to the word and remember the pinyin and tone mark.

 

 

Also check out …

See this page for Sentence Practice

See this website more general pinyin practice

Lesson 2 – Teacher and Students

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Lesson 3 – Introductions

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Lesson 4 – Family Members

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Lesson 5 – Ordering drinks

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Lesson 6 – Pens and Paper

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Lesson 7 – Ordering Food

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Lesson 8 – Going Places

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Lesson 9 – Going Tonight

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Lesson 10 – Time for Dinner

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Sentence Practice 1

Pinyin Chinese English   Pinyin Chinese English
you   also
hǎo good   máng busy
ní hǎo 你好 hello   not
I or me   zǎoshang 早上 morning
hěn very   wǎnshang 晚上 evening
ma (confirm)   zàijiàn 再见 good bye
ne what about ..?        

These sentences can be used to practice conversation. Students alternate taking the prompt and response roles, until they are comfortable with the words.

# Question Response
1 ní hǎo ma? wǒ hén hǎo
2 nǐ ne? wó yě hén hǎo
3 ní hǎo ma? wǒ hén hǎo, nǐ ne?
wó yě hén hǎo hǎo
4 nǐ máng ma? [hěn/bù] máng
5 nǐ máng ma? wǒ [hěn/bù] máng, nǐ ne?
wó yě [hěn/bù] máng  
6 zǎoshang hǎo zǎoshang hǎo
7 wǎnshang hǎo wǎnshang hǎo
8 zàijiàn zàijiàn
9 wǎnshang hǎo wǎnshang hǎo
nǐ máng ma? wó hěn máng, nǐ ne?
wǒ yé hěn máng zàijiàn
zàijiàn  

Sentence Practice 2

Mandarin Chinese English   Mandarin Chinese English
shéi  谁 who   nǎ guórén  哪国人 Which nationality
shì  是 Is/am   yīngguó  英国 England
lǎoshī  老师 Teacher   měiguó  美国 America
xuésheng  学生 Student   zhōngguó  中国 China
rén  人 person   rìběn  日本 Japan
 他/她 he/she   (wǒ/nǐ/tā)men  我们 We/you-all/they
[role] = lǎoshī, xuéshēng
[adjective] = hǎo, lèi, máng
[country] = yīngguó, měiguó , zhōngguó , rìběn

# Question Response
1 Nǐ shì lǎoshī ma? Shì, (wǒ shì lǎoshī.)
Búshì, (wǒ shì xuésheng.)
2 Shéi shì [lǎoshī/xuésheng]? Wǒ shì [lǎoshī/xuésheng].
Nǐ shì [lǎoshī/xuésheng].
Tā shì [lǎoshī/xuésheng].
3 Lǎoshī [adjective] ma? Shì. Lǎoshī hěn [adjective]
Búshì. Lǎoshī bù [adjective]
4 Nǐ shì [country] rén ma? Búshì, wǒ shì [country] rén.
5 Nǐ shì nǎ guó rén? Wǒ shì [country] rén.
6 Shéi shì [country] rén? [Tā/wǒ/nǐ] shì [country] rén
7 Nǐ shì xuésheng ma? Shì, wǒmen dōu shì xuésheng.
8 Nǐmen shì nǎ guó rén? Wǒmen dōu shì [country] rén.

Sentence Practice 3

Mandarin Chinese English   Mandarin Chinese English
xìng family name   jiào named/called
lèi Tired   qǐng wèn 请问 May I ask …
xiānsheng 先生 Mr   shénme 什么 What
xiáojiě 小姐 Ms   wèn Ask
Nín guì xìng 您贵姓 What’s your family name   míngzi 名字 Name (given or full)
[adjective] = lèi, máng, hǎo    [family] = Chinese family name (ex. Chen)

[-title] = xiānsheng, xiáojiě    [given] = Chinese given name 

# Question Response
1 Nǐ [adjective] ma? Wǒ [hěn/bù][adjective].
2 (introduce: Nǐ wèn tā, Wǒ wèn nǐ, etc )
3 Nín guì xìng? Wǒ xìng [family].
4 Qǐng wèn, nín guì xìng? Wǒ xìng [family].
Ní hǎo [family] [-title] Ní hǎo.
5 Qǐng wèn, nǐ jiào shénme? Wǒ jiào [full name]
Ní hǎo [full name]  Ní hǎo.
6 Shéi xìng [family]? [given] xìng [family]
7 Qǐng wèn, tā xìng shénme? Tā xìng [family].
[family] [-title], zǎoshang hǎo Zǎoshang hǎo.
8 Qǐng wèn, nǐ jiào shénme míngzi? Wǒ xìng [family] jiào [given name]
9 Ní hǎo [family] [-title] Ní hǎo [asker’s name]
10 Shéi shì [country] rén? [family][-title] shì.

Sentence Practice 4

Mandarin 中文 English   Mandarin 中文 English
jiā home, family   bàba 爸爸 dad
yǒu to have   māma 妈妈 mom
méi not   gēge 哥哥 older brother
how many   dìdi 弟弟 younger brother
(classifier)   jiějie 姐姐 older sister
liǎng a couple   mèimei 妹妹 younger sister
líng zero   and
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
líng èr sān liù jiǔ shí shí yī shí èr
[Role] = lǎoshī,xuéshēng
[country] = yīngguó, měiguó , zhōngguó , rìběn
[relation] = bàba, māma, gēge, dìdi, jiějie, mèimei

# Prompt Response
1 Read a ten digit number Write down the numbers, read back
2 Use fingers indicate number [number] gè, [number] gè [member]
3 Ní yǒu [relation] ma? Yǒu. / Méi yǒu.
4 Nǐ yóu jǐ gè [relation] ? Wó yǒu [number] gè [member]
Wǒ méiyǒu [member]
5 Nǐ [relation] shì xuésheng ma? Shì, tā shì xuésheng.
Búshì, tā shì lǎoshī.
6 Qǐng wèn, Nǐ jiā yóu jǐ gè rén? Wǒ jiā yǒu [number] gè rén.
7 Shéi yǒu [relation] ? [classmate] yǒu [relation].
8 Nǐ [relation] jiào shenme?  Tā jiào [make up a name].
9 Nǐ hé [classmate] shì [country] rén ma? Shì, wǒmen dōu shì [country] rén.
10 Nǐ [relation] shì nǎ guó rén Tā shì [country] rén.

Sentence Practice 5

Mandarin 中文 English   Mandarin 中文 English
drink   píjiǔ 啤酒 beer
bēi cup   kāfēi 咖啡 coffe
píng bottle   kělè 可乐 cola
diǎn a little   shuǐ water
háishì 还是 Or (question)   chá tea
děng wait   绿 green
yí xià 一下 a little   hóng red
yào want   Xièxie 谢谢 thank-you
[drink] = píjiǔ, kāfēi, chá, shuǐ, kělè, lǜ chá, hóng chá
[class] = bēi, píng, diǎn

# Prompt Response
1 Nǐ hē shénme? Wǒ hē [drink]
2 Qǐng wèn, nǐ yào shénme? Wǒ yào [drink]
3 Nǐmen yǒu [drink] ma? Yǒu.
Wǒmen méiyǒu [drink]
4 Nǐ yào hē shénme? Wǒ yào hē yì bēi [drink]
Wǒ yào hē yì píng [drink]
5 Nǐ yào [drink1] háishì [drink2]? Wǒ yào ([number] [class]) [drink]
6 Ní yǒu jǐ [class] [drink]? Wó yǒu [number] [class] [drink]
7 Shéi yǒu [drink]? [name] yǒu [drink]
8 Qǐng wèn, nǐ yào hē shénme? Wǒ yào hē yì [class] [drink]
Qíng děng yí xià. Hǎo de.
9 ask each person: nǐ yào hē shénme? each responds: [Wǒ yào hē [drink]]
read back: [order1],…,[orderN] Hǎo de, Qíng děng yí xià.
10 Nǐ de [drink] hǎo hē ma? Hǎo hē! Nǐ hē yí xià.
13 Tā yǒu shénme? Tā yǒu yì bēi [drink]

Sentence Practice 6

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Sentence Practice 7

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Sentence Practice 8

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Sentence Practice 9

Pinyin 中文 English   Pinyin 中文 English
shénme shíhòu 什么时候 when   gēn with
jīntiān 今天 today   xiànzài 现在 now
zuótiān 昨天 yesterday   then
míngtiān 明天 tomorrow   xiàwǔ 下午 afternoon
shàngwǔ 上午 late morning   zhōngwǔ 中午 noon
[time] = [day] = jīntiān, míngtiān, zuótiān, xiànzài
[time] = [part] = shàngwǔ, xiàwǔ, zhōngwǔ, zǎoshang, wǎnshang
[place] = xuéxiào, bàngōngshì, shāngdiàn, fàndiàn, zhèlǐ
[city] = Bě]ijīng, Shànghǎi, Xī’ān
[drink] = píjiǔ, kāfēi, chá, shuǐ, kělè, lǜ chá, hóng chá

# Prompt Response
1 Nǐ shénme shíhòu [qù]? Wǒ [time] [qù].
2 Nǐ míngtiān shénme shíhòu [lái]? Wǒ míngtiān [time] [lái].
3 Nǐ shénme shíhòu [qù] [place]? Wǒ [time] [qù] [place].
4 Wǒmen shénme shíhòu jiàn? Wǒmen [day] [part] jiàn ba.
5 Nǐ kéyǐ [time1] qù chī fàn ma? Bù kéyǐ. [time2] ba.
6 Ní xiǎng [time] lái ma? Xiǎng. wǒ yào [time] lái.
7 Wǒmen shénme shíhòu hē [drink]? [time]
8 Ní xiǎng gēn wǒ qù [place] ma? shénme shíhòu qù?
[time] hǎo ma? Hǎode. Nà, [time] jiàn

Suggestions for Usage

Tell the students about some events you have planned for today and tomorrow. They will fill in a planner. Use this format for your question:

[day] [time of day] [time] wǒ [activity] [activity] = qù [place], chī [food], hē [drink], jiàn [person]

Optional alternatives: zài [place] [activity], gēn [person] [activity]

Planner 1 jīntiān míngtiān
zǎoshang 7 7
8 8
shàngwǔ 9 9
10 10
11 11
zhōngwǔ 12 12
xiàwǔ 1 1
2 2
3 3
4 4
wǎnshang 5 5

 

Planner 2 jīntiān míngtiān
zǎoshang 7 7
8 8
shàngwǔ 9 9
10 10
11 11
zhōngwǔ 12 12
xiàwǔ 1 1
2 2
3 3
4 4
wǎnshang 5 5

Sentence Practice 10

Pinyin 中文 English   Pinyin 中文 English
gànshénme 干什么 what are you doing?   shì matter, affair
xīngqī 星期 week   kǎoyā 烤鸭 roast duck
xīngqī jǐ 星期几 which day   diǎnzhōng 点钟 hour o’clock
bàn half   yíkè 一刻 one quarter hour
zǎo yìdiǎn 早一点 a little earlier   wǎn yìdiǎn 早一点 a little later
[time] = [day] = jīntiān, míngtiān, zuǒtiān, xiànzài, xīngqīyi – xīngqītian
[time] = [part] = shàngwǔ, xiàwǔ, zhōngwǔ, zǎoshang, wǎnshang
[time] = [hour] = yì diǎnzhōng, … , shí er diǎnzhōng, X diǎn bàn, X diǎn (yí/sān) kè
[place] = xuéxiào, bàngōngshì, shāngdiàn, fàndiàn, zhèlǐ
[city] = Běijīng, Shànghǎi, Xī’ān
[drink] = píjiǔ, kāfēi, chá, shuǐ, kělè, lǜ chá, hóng chá

# Prompt Response
1 Nǐ jí diǎn qù? Wǒ [hour] diǎn qù.
2 Nǐ míngtiān shénme shíhòu lái? Wǒ míngtiān [hour] diǎn lái.
3 Nǐ jí diǎn qù [place]? Wǒ [hour] diǎn qù [place].
4 Nǐ [time] gàn shénme? Wǒ méi shì / Wó yǒu shì / Wǒ qù [place]
5 Wǒmen shénme shíhòu jiàn? Wǒmen [part] [hour] diǎn jiàn ba.
6 Nǐ kéyǐ [time1] chī fàn ma? Bù kéyǐ. [time2] ba.
7 Ní xiǎng [time] lái ma? Xiǎng. wǒ yào [time] qù.
8 Wǒmen shénme shíhòu hē [drink]? [day] [time] diǎn ba?
9 Nǐ míngtiān shénme shíhòu qù [place]? Míngtiān [time] qù.

Suggestions for this activity

Tell the participants about some events you have planned for next week. They will fill in the planner. Then ask the questions about the events.

Use this type of sentence to describe the activities:

  • Xīngqī [day] [time of day] [time] wǒ [activity]
  • [activity] = qù [place], chī [food], hē [drink], jiàn [person]
  • more complex activities: zài [place] [activity], gēn [person] [activity]

Then query the students with these questions:

  • Wǒ shénme shíhòu [activity] ?
  •  Wǒ xīngqī [day] [time] gànshénme?
  •  Wǒ xīngqī [day] gànshénme?
    qiántiān zuótian jīntiān míngtiān hòutiān  
xīngqī tiān xīngqī yī xīngqī èr xīngqī sān xīngqī sì xīngqī wǔ xīngqīl iù
zǎoshang 7 7 7 7 7 7 7
8 8 8 8 8 8 8
shàngwǔ 9 9 9 9 9 9 9
10 10 10 10 10 10 10
11 11 11 11 11 11 11
zhōngwǔ 12 12 12 12 12 12 12
xiàwǔ 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
2 2 2 2 2 2 2
3 3 3 3 3 3 3
4 4 4 4 4 4 4
wǎnshang 5 5 5 5 5 5 5
6 6 6 6 6 6 6
7 7 7 7 7 7 7