Mr Wang () approaches a group of college students visiting a local museum.

Nǐ shì lǎoshī ma?你是老师吗?Are you the teacher?
Bú shì。Wǒ bú shì lǎoshī。Wǒ shì xuésheng。不是,我不是老师。我是学生。No. I am not the teacher. I am a student.
Shéi shì lǎoshī?谁是老师?Who is the teacher?
Tā shì lǎoshī。Tā shì Zhāng lǎoshī。她是老师,她是张老师。She is the teacher. She is teacher Zhang.
Tā shì Yīngguó rén ma?她是英国人吗?Is she British?
Bú shì,tā shì Měiguó rén.不是,她是美国人。No, she is American.
Tāmen shì Zhāng lǎoshī de xuésheng ma?他们是张老师的学生吗?Are they teacher Zhang’s students?
Qǐng wèn, tāmen shì nǎguó rén?请问,他们是哪国人?What nationality are they?
Tāmen dōu shì Zhōngguó rén。他们都是中国人。They are all Chinese.
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shìam/isVerb “to be”, but never used with adjectives
老师lǎoshīteacherNoun or title depending on context
guócountryNoun, often used as part of a country name
美国MěiguóAmericaProper noun
英国YīngguóEnglandProper noun
中国ZhōngguóChinaProper noun
whichInterrogative pronoun (question word), for example nǎguó means “which country”
rénpeopleNoun, meaning people
menpluralSuffix, indicating more than one, for example wǒmen (we/us) and lǎoshīmen (teacher)
dewhoparticle, indicating a relationship between two nouns
shéiwhoInterrogative pronoun, seeking the identity of someone
dōualladverb, this word must precede a verb
他,她him/her/she/he/itPronoun, third person singular
请问qǐngwènMay I ask ..Expression used to preface a question

Pinyin and Pronunciation

Each lesson will cover about 40 pinyin in a chart similar to the one below. Pinyin are composed of two parts: “initials” and “finals”. Initials are all consonants and the finals are vowels or vowel-like

  • initials: b, p, m, f, d, t, n, l, k, g, h, zh, ch, sh, j, q, x, z, c, s, r
  • finals: a, e, i, o, u, ü, n, ng, (and 29 other combinations of these 8)

These initials and finals combine to form 402 pinyin syllables. Which is very small number compared to over 5,000 in English. Not all pinyin syllables have initials. Here are some examples of initial and final combinations:

Pinyin Initial Final Chinese English
wo (none) o me
ni n i you
hao h ao good

In the pinyin chart below you can see how each pinyin syllable is composed of an initial part (in the top row) and a final part (in the left column).

Click on the pinyin syllable to hear its pronunciation.

owobopomofo whoa
ee me detenelegekehemud
iyibipimi ditinili need
üyu         few


  • The first column contains a list of finals, the first row contains the initials. Together these two parts combine to make a single pinyin sound.
  • The second column contains pinyin which have no initial. Some of these syllables start with a “w” or “y” to make them easier to read, but it does not indicate a change in pronunciation. For example “yi” is pronounced “ee” not “yee”, the “y” is just decoration.
  • To hear the difference between ü and u, try saying phew and foo.
  • To pronounce ü, try saying “ee” and then protrude your lips. In other words, your tongue teeth and throat are in the same position when you pronounce “ee” and “ew”, only your lip position differs.

Pinyin Practice:

Listen, and circle the correct choice

1 ba – bo, me – mi, ta – tu, fa – fo
2 he – ke, nu – nü, ga – ka, ku – hu

Listen, and add the tone marks

1 mang, lei, hao, lao shi, xue sheng
2 Ying guo, Mei guo, Zhong guo, na guo
3 Zhong guo ren, ta men, wo men, ni men

Grammar Patterns

The verb “shì”

This verb is similar to the English verb “to be”, with two notable differences

  1. It is regular. No matter how it is used, it is aways “shì”. Chinese has no irregular verbs.
  2. It is never used with adjectives.

For example, “Tā máng” expresses “He is busy” without using shì, or any other verb.

Shì is not used with adjectives but it is used with nouns.

  • Tā shì Yīngguó rén
  • Wǒ shì lǎoshī

Basic sentence pattern

The basic sentence structure in Chinese is subject – verb – object. Chinese does use the subject – object – verb pattern found in Japanese and German, but it will not be introduces until the level 3 series.

subject verb object
shì Měiguó rén.
xìng Lǐ.
jiào shénme míngzi?

This sentence structure is also used when asking questions. For example, to solicit confirmation of a statement, the statement is simply followed by a ma. This is a lot easier than the English pattern of inverting the subject and verb.

statement ma
Nǐ shì Měiguó rén ma?
Tā xìng Lǐ ma?


The particle de can be used to indicate possessive. This particle de is equivalent to the apostrophe-s suffix in English.

  • tāmen de lǎoshī – Their teacher
  • lǎoshī de xuésheng – Teacher’s students

Answering Confirmation Questions

Providing confirmation in Chinese requires more attention than English, because the answer depends on the words in the question. Typically, the response is a positive or negative form of the verb or adjective. But “Shì”/”Shì de” and “Bú shì” can be used like the English “yes” and “no” respectively. There are no rules regarding this, but Chinese speakers tend to use the main verb or adjective when it obvious from structure of the question sentence.

sentence type question answer
affirmative negative
adjective Nǐ máng ma? Máng. Bù máng
verb Nǐ shì Zhōngguó rén ma? Shì. Bú shì
complex   Shì de. Bú shì

Answering specific questions

Other questions, not ending with ma, will contain an interrogative pronoun, also known as a question word. This type of question requests specific information. Paying attention to the word order will improve your listening and speaking skills.

Note that the word order of the answer will be the same as the question. And the requested information will occupy the same position in the sentence as the question word. You can think of the interrogative pronoun as a place-holder for the answer (which is what pronouns do). Compare the questions and answers of the following 3 exchanges.

  Questions Answers
1 Shéi shì lǎoshī? shì lǎoshī.
2 Tā xìng shénme? Tā xìng Lǐ.
3 Nǐ shì nǎ guó rén? Wǒ shì Yīngguó rén.

Listening for the sentence patterns will help you answer questions more easily.

Classroom activities

art3_china.bmp art3_japan.bmp art3_uk.bmp art3_usa.bmp
(张) Zhāng Mǐn (李) Lǐ Mǎlì (尚) Shàng Dàwei (王) Wáng Mǎkè



Check this link for Sentence Practice 


This recording

omits two words from the dialogs transcript. See if you can pick them out. To download the recording right click here , and select “save as”.

Voice recording courtesy of Jo Ding,