Learning Mandarin Chinese

This post is a public workbook for deconstructing the basic structures of Mandarin Chinese, following Tim Ferriss’ blog post on How to Learn (But Not Master) Any Language in 1 Hour

Six Lines of Gold

The apple is red.
苹果是红色的
Píngguǒ shì hóngsè de
apple-fruit yes red colour of

It is John’s apple.
这是约翰的苹果
Zhè shì yuēhàn de píngguǒ
This is John of apple-fruit

I give John the apple.
我给约翰的苹果
Wǒ gěi yuēhàn de píngguǒ
I give John of apple-fruit

We give him the apple.
我们给他苹果
Wǒmen gěi tā píngguǒ
We group give him apple-fruit

He gives it to John.
他把它交给约翰
Tā bǎ tā jiāo gěi yuēhàn
He did it cross give John

She gives it to him.
她给了他
Tā gěile tā
She gives the he

Verbs are not conjugated
给 gěi – “to give”
是 shì – “to be”

Mandarin placement of indirect objects (John), direct objects (the apple), and their respective pronouns (him, it) appears similar to English.

Mandarin Negations (“I don’t give…”) and different tenses are expressed as separate words (“bu” in Chinese as negation, for example) similar to English.

Second, I’m looking at the fundamental sentence structure: Mandarin follows subject-verb-object (SVO) like English (“I eat the apple”).

No noun cases in Mandarin, just like English.

All the above from just 6-10 sentences! Here are two more:

I must give it to him.
我必须给他
Wǒ bìxū gěi tā
I have to give he

I want to give it to her.
我想给她
Wǒ xiǎng gěi tā
I want to give her

These two are to see if auxiliary verbs exist, or if the end of the each verb changes. A good short-cut to independent learner status, when you no longer need a teacher to improve, is to learn conjugations for “helping” verbs like “to want,” “to need,” “to have to,” “should,” etc. In Mandarin, these auxiliaries are expressed as changes in separate words (Chinese, for example), similar to English.

Chinese tones multiply variations of otherwise simple sounds. If you go after Mandarin, choose the somewhat uncommon Gwoyeu Romatzyh (GR) over pinyin romanization if at all possible. It’s harder to learn at first, but I’ve never met a pinyin learner with tones even half as accurate as a decent GR user. Long story short, this is because tones are indicated by spelling in GR, not by diacritical marks above the syllables.

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