Let’s learn Mandarin Chinese!

Ni Hao 你好 (Hello!)

Can you read or speak Mandarin Chinese? You’ll need to if you want to visit China. Check out the Chinese instructions on my washing machine:

First, let me introduce myself…

Once upon a time, a family of three moved to China (and later, we had ‘made in China’ baby).

As it was my first visit to China, I was shocked to find that almost ALL food labels, road signs, restaurant menus, and instructions are in Mandarin Chinese.

Some bus stops/road/train station signs may have hanyu pinyin (Chinese sounds), if you’re lucky.

English or bilingual signs? You’ll end up more confused and frustrated LOL

If you intend to visit China, I strongly suggest that you read up on Chinese culture and learn some Mandarin Chinese a month BEFORE your trip.

Here are some of the best learning materials I recommend:

Living Language Mandarin Chinese: Beginner through Advanced course, including 3 coursebooks, 9 audio CDs, Chinese character guide, and free online learning Fodor’s Essential China (Full-color Travel Guide)

Now that we found a Chinese teacher living, we are hoping to learn to speak zhongwen or hanyu 🙂


We’ve only started two classes because someone would fall sick or both of us would just be too busy 😛

Learning Chinese gives me a new perspective of the world since Chinese and Japanese languages use logograms (derived from hieroglyphics i.e. a picture morphing into a character to represent a syllable or a sound).

English combines letters to form words, which then form sentences etc.

Now, I’m starting to understand what my Chinese-speaking friends mean when they tell me that some combination of Chinese characters are,

“just sounds, they don’t mean anything!”

I must apologize to them that I was so stupid before :S

Two, I am seeing the world through Chinese eyes since we are learning basic vocabulary, which is fascinating when you compare them with English (and mind-boggling when they don’t connect or sound anything like the original!)…

For example, Spain is as Xibanya, Australia is Aodaliya, England is Ying-guo (sounds almost similar) but American is Mei-guo and Portugal is Pu-tao-ya! And South America is Nan Mei *_* which makes sense really because “nan” is South and “mei” is a shortform of America. Interestingly, Mei-guo means “beautiful country”.

I was also amazed by the rules behind “wu” and “u” and “yi” and “i”!

Third, it’s agony and torture learning how to make new sounds in a language completely different from your own!

Chinese has 4 tones and we have trouble with the third tone (ma=horse) because it sounds like the second tone (ma=hemp)…

Also, I can’t tell the difference between “zh” from “z” or “chi” from “ci”! Other than that, I’m alright because my Cantonese helps me translate most words easily.

Thankfully, our Chinese teacher is not that strict with pronouncing it the Bejing way i.e. with “dianr” but she insists we enunciate each syllable precisely – no swallowing allowed!!!

She’s encouraging us to take the HSK (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi), or the Chinese Proficiency Test by Hanban /Confucius Institute Headquarters.

HSK consists of six levels, namely the HSK (Level 1), HSK (Level 2), HSK (Level 3), HSK (Level 4), HSK (Level 5), and HSK (Level 6).

New HSK Test
HSK test began to be designed by Beijing Language Institute at Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU). In March 2010, the new HSK test was introduced. The new HSK test was launched by Hanban in an effort to better serve Chinese language learners. The test is the result of coordinated efforts by experts from different disciplines including Chinese language teaching, linguistics, psychology and educational measurement. The new HSK test combines the advantages of the original HSK while taking into consideration recent trends in Chinese language training by conducting surveys and making use of the latest findings in international language testing.

HSK (Level I) assesses test takers’ abilities in the application of everyday Chinese (Mandarin). HSK (Level I) is intended for students who have studied Chinese for a semester (half an academic year), with 2-3 class hours in each week. These students have mastered 150 commonly used words and basic grammar patterns.

HSK (Level II)

Test takers have an excellent grasp of basic Chinese and can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters. 300 words vocabulary list.

HSK (Level III)

Test takers can communicate in Chinese at a basic level in their daily, academic and professional lives. They can manage most communication in Chinese when travelling in China.

HSK (Level IV)

Test takers can converse in Chinese on a wide range of topics and are able to communicate fluently with native Chinese speakers.

HSK (Level V)

Test takers can read Chinese newspapers and magazines, enjoy Chinese films and plays, and give a full-length speech in Chinese.

Sample practice tests:

  1. HSK Level 1 – Practice 1
  2. HSK Level I – 6 – Practice 
  3. HSK (Level I – 6) – Practice

Are you preparing for the HSK Test too?
Here are some storybooks, flash cards and practice tests (jia you!):

P/S Sorry I’ve not been able to reply to comments or bloghop lately – life has just been REALLY busy! With preschool, cooking, grocery shopping, @#$%^&* house repairs, winter clothes, shoes and Christmas shopping, a bit of work and packing for home, blogging has taken a back seat…

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • I took Chinese (Mandarin) lessons for a semester. I realized about a third of the way through the course that I was not only translating into Cantonese in my head, I had a mid-point stop at Malay, too. So it went Mandarin-Malay-Cantonese-English. No clue why. Other than my brain might be scrambled? =) Have fun learning a new language!

  • That’s fun!! I took private lessons at home for 2 years before I was married. The teacher was from Beijing and a real sickler for the correct pronunciation. We had pages of homework to complete, which I had to get them done during lunchtime at work! I gave up when I got too lazy to memorise (there were weekly written and oral tests!!). It was good fun though….happy learning!

  • Hey..that’s great! I am trying to DIY here myself..since there are lots of people who speak Mandarin here (as opposed to Canto), but the four tonations are givin me a lot of headache!!!

  • Wah in no time you will be blogging in Mandarin pulak!

  • Kit Link

    Drey – LOL How on earth did Malay come in? I find Malay really helpful when I was learning German because both languages need “baku” pronunciations!

    Paik Ling – Wow…you’ve got the “bei fang” accent eh? It’s so tricky! We’re terrible students because we haven’t even done a simple listening exercise she gave. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak 😛

    Mott – I think DIY is OK too but the teacher is helpful for pointing out cultural and contextual bits. Still struggling with the 4 tones but I THINK I’ve got the c, s, z and chi, shi and zhi firgured out already. Must confirm with lao shi firstlah…Jia you! Jia you!

  • wow. I do admire your wanting personal advancement. I am looking forward to conversing to you in your authentic mandarin when we next meet. haha

  • Kit Link

    All Things Purple – Personal advancement? For survival, actually. I should post about my tongue-twisted adventures one day 🙂