Wang Xing (王星) and Mǎkè (马克) are having a chat. ( Download )

王星Mǎkè, zhè shì shénme?>马克,这是什么?Mark. What’s this?
马克Wǒ bù zhīdào. Nǐ shuō.我不知道,你说。I don’t know. You tell me.
王星Zhè shì wǒ de shǒujī. Nǐ míngbai “shǒujī” ma?这是我的手机,你明白”手机”吗?This is my “shǒujī”. Do you understand “shǒujī”
马克Bù míngbai. yīngwén zěnme shuō?不明白,英文怎么说?I don’t understand. How do you say it in English?
王星Yīngwén shuō “hand phone”.英文说”hand phone”。In English it is called “hand phone”.
马克A, míngbai le. “shǒujī” de “shǒu” shì dì sān shēng ma?啊,明白了。”手机”的”手”是第三声吗?Oh, now I understand. Is the “shou” in “shǒujī” third tone?
马克“Shǒujī” de “jī” shì dì sì shēng ma?“手机”的”机”是第四声吗?Is “ji” in “shǒujī” fourth tone?
王星Bú duì. “shǒujī” de “jī” shì dì yì shēng. “shǒujī”, “shǒujī”. Nǐ kàn.不对,”手机”的”机”是第一声,”手机”,”手机”,你看。No “ji” is first tone. (repeats twice for emphasis). Look. (holding the phone out).
马克Nǐ de shǒujī tài xiǎo le! Qǐng gěi wǒ kàn yī kàn.你的手机太小了!请给我看一看。You hand phone is so small. Can I take a look?
马克Búcuò. Nǐ xǐhuan ma?不错,你喜欢吗?Not bad. Do you like it?
王星Xǐhuan.喜欢。I do.
马克O, wó xiǎng wèn nǐ yī ge wèntí.哦,我想问你一个问题。Oh, I have a question.
王星Shénme wèntí?什么问题?What question?
马克Zhè ge shǒujī shì bú shì Měiguó de?这个手机是不是美国的?Is this an American phone?
王星Bú shì, shì rìběn de.不是,是日本的。No it’s Japanese.

This dialog is a good model for learning new words from your Chinese friends. It helps to ask questions to be sure you are hearing the tone and pronunciation correctly.


míng bai明白understandverb 
dì yī第一firstnounThis is an ordinal. The pattern is: 第一, 第二, 第三 … meaning first, second, third, ….
dì yì shēng第一声first tonenounThis is a pattern used to describe the tone of a word: first, second, third, forth.
lechange of stateparticleFor example: wǒ míng bái means “I understand”, but wǒ míng bái le means “Now I understand”
oohexpressionExpresses having just thought of something
shǒujī手机mobile phonenounshǒu means “hand”, jī means machine.
shuōsay, speakverb 
zěnme怎么howquestionFor example 怎么说 means “how to say”
zhīdào知道to knowverb 
Búcuò不错pretty goodadjective错 (cuò) means “mistake”

Grammar Patterns

Doubling up on verbs

When a verb is repeated in a sentence (such as Qǐng gěi wǒ kàn kàn) it indicates that the action is expected to have a short duration. For example kàn kàn could be translated as “a little look”. It can be separated by an optional yī (一) as in “kàn yī kàn” but the meaning is still the same. The pattern “verb yí xià” also has the same meaning. The following table show all three forms for two different verbs.

kàn kànkàn yī kànkàn yí xià
chī chīchī yī chīchī yí xià

Please note, the form in the first column is most common


Ordinals are words that express the sequential order of things, like “first”, “second”, “third” and so forth. Note that the first 3 English ordinals bear no relationship to the words: one, two and three. Chinese is a bit clearer because the ordinal is formed by simply prefacing a number with “dì”

dì yī tiānthe first day
dì èr jiàn shìthe second matter
dì sān běn shūthe third book
dì sì shēngthe forth tone

By the way, did you notice that two of the words in this table have no classifier. There are very few words like “tiān” and “shēng”, but these words are actually considered to be classifiers where noun is always omitted. This is like, when you say “yì kuài” or “yi kuài qián”, but “yì kuài” is preferred if the context is clear.

Learning New Words

When you hear a new word it is a good idea to learn as much as you can about the word. For example: how to pronounce it, how to write it and how to use it. In this way you will be able to retain it and use it later. If you use chinese to request this information, you have more chance to practice the language and it will make the request clearer.

Asking about the parts of a word

Many Chinese words are often composed of two parts, so it helps to be able to ask about each part separately. For example, to find out more about “shǒu” part of “shǒujī” you can express this with the phrase:

  • “shǒujī “de “shǒu”.

This means “the shǒu in shǒujī”.

Using this grammar pattern you can ask a question about one part of the word. For example …

  • “shǒujī” de “shǒu” shì dì sān shēng ma? (Is the shǒu in shǒujī 3rd tone?)
  • “shǒujī” de “shǒu” gěn yòushǒu de shǒu yíyàng ma? (Is the shǒu in shǒujī the same as shǒu in yòushǒu?

This type of inquiry is similar to an English learner asking if “examination” is based on the word “examine”

Knowing and understanding

These two Chinese verbs (zhīdào and míngbai) align well with the English equivalents “know” and “understand”. Chinese has many words for knowing and understanding, but the two listed below are widely used.

  • zhīdào (知道) has to do with knowing facts
  • míngbai (明白) has to do with understanding or comprehension.

One way to see how these two verbs are used is to imagine you are listening to someone speak Chinese. You will be expected to give the speaker feedback from time to time to confirm that you are listening and comprehending. Here are some responses you might make.

  • “Míngbai” – I understand what you said.
  • “Bu míngbai” – I don’t understand what you said.
  • “Zhīdào” – I understand, and I already knew it.
  • “Zhīdào le” – I understand, and but I did not know it before.


Audio courtesy of Cecilia Shang

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