If you’re looking for a free way to learn survival Chinese language skills without investing too much time, you’re in the right place. The vocab I’ll teach you in this post is especially helpful if you’re headed on a trip to China or Taiwan!
Lazy Girl’s Guide To Mandarin Chinese
Step 1 – Understand These Two Basic Ideas
- Tone and inflection affect what a word means. For example, the word “ma” means 4 different things depending on the way it’s pronounced.
- Context is everything. If you mess up a tone and technically say the wrong word, but it’s obvious what you meant, most people will understand.
Step 2 – Learn The Important Vocab
Don’t stress out about the pronunciation! Pointing, gestures, and context will carry you through if you don’t remember all the right tones.
Note: If there’s no explanation of the pronunciation listed, it’s because you can just pronounce it how it looks to your English-speaking brain.
Hello – “nee how”
The tone for “nee” is a sharp pronunciation and on “how” you dip down and back up.
Thank you – “shee-yeh shee-yeh”
Pronounce it like two quick downward slopes. The “shee” and the “yeh” should blend together as if it’s one syllable.
Goodbye – just say “bye bye”!
Want – “yow”
A quick, downward slope.
Don’t want – “boo yow”
“Boo” is an upward slope and “yow” is a quick downward slope.
Sorry – “boo how ee suh”
The “boo” and “ee” are a quick downward slopes and the “how” is a dip down and back up. The pronunciation of this is pretty quick and all the syllables should flow together.
I don’t understand – “ting boo dong”
The ting is high-pitched and the “dong” is a dip down and back up.
Confirmation/right/yes – “dway”
This – “jig-uh”
Combine saying “jig-uh” with pointing and you’re golden when it comes to ordering food.
That – “naw-guh”
How much (money)? – “dwuh sh-ow”
“Dwuh” is high-pitched.
Pro tip: After you ask “dwuh sh-ow” and they respond with a number in Chinese that you don’t understand, say “ting boo dong” and then they’ll usually show you a number on a phone or calculator.
Step 3 – Download Pleco
If you’re in a serious struggle, this app will save you. Plus it’s free on Android and iPhone, so you have no excuse. There’s a lot of language apps out there, but this is the one that actual Chinese language students use in a bind.
Pro tip: That little square next to the search bar that has either a “C” or an “E” in it tells you whether it thinks the word you’re searching is Chinese or English, so if you’re typing in an English word and it’s not coming up, click that square to switch it from a “C” to an “E”
If you read this and didn’t learn anything new, or if you’re feeling not-so-lazy, I’ve linked a great Mandarin language learning resource here! Feel free to ask questions below, and if I don’t know the answer I can always ask my Mandarin-speaking husband 🙂
Thanks for reading! Talk to you soon,