Do You Make These 3 Mistakes When Speaking Chinese?

Speaking Chinese can be difficult. It is okay to make a few mistakes, but some mistakes make your Mandarin appear worse than it really is. These mistakes can even make you sound less intelligent than you are. Here are three common mistakes that do just that:

This (food) is moral.

The mistake: 这个很好 – zhège hěn hǎo. The grammar of the sentence is correct, but the usage is wrong. When you say zhège hěn hǎo, you are saying this is good, which talks about the quality or morality not taste.

The correct sentence is: 这个很好吃 or zhège hěn hǎo chī. Hǎo and chī function as a stative verb when combined. So this is the standard pattern of subject + hěn + stative verb. You just need to use the correct stative verb: hǎo chī.Managing Chinese Workers

China is is big.

The mistake: 中国是大。Zhōngguó shì dà. The problem here is that sentence patterns using the verb “to be” are some of the very first English sentences we learn as a child. We also use to be to link subjects and adjectives. As a result, it is extremely natural to simply translate the verb shì to Chinese. It’s also wrong.

The correct sentence is: 中国很大 or Zhōngguó hěn dà. Remember that adjectives in Chinese are frequently stative verbs. You want to follow the pattern of subject + hěn + stative verb. Remember that in this case just because the sentence has hěn, it doesn’t always translate to “very.” For example, tā hěn ǎi could mean he is short or he is very short. You can tell the difference based on how hěn is spoken. If hěn is emphasized, then the sentence most likely means he is very short.

I bought him.

Another easy mistake. Word order and grammar just don’t function the same in Chinese. To master the language, you need to practice so often that you start speaking English with Chinese word order (at times!).

The mistake: 我要买他一本书 or Wǒ yào mǎi tā yī běn shū. People make this mistake because of word order. In English if we buy something for someone, we can say, “I am going to buy a book for John,” or “I am buying John a book.” If you use this word order in Chinese, people hear, “I bought John.” The words “a book” sound like the start of the next sentence.

The correct sentences is: 我要买一本书给他 or Wǒ yào mǎi yī běn shū gěi tā. I am going to buy a book for him.

Take a minute and review this post again. You might even come back tomorrow and read it again. Memorize the correct versions and leave people with the right impression when you are speaking Chinese.

What other questions do you have about speaking Chinese? Ask in the comments!

Thank you!

Hi Everyone!11582836_s (1)

Just a quick post saying thank you. Ching Yen and I feel very blessed to have all of you in our lives. Our favorite part of this business is the cool and interesting people that we meet and spend time with. We’re happy that we’ve been able to stay in touch with many of our clients who are no longer studying and still have the opportunity to get to know new and interesting people. Thank you for being a part of our community.

In the next year, we expect to send at least 2 students to Taiwan for immersion courses. We are proud that we’re able to provide a very strong base here in Colorado and excited to see how far a few months takes those students.

We’ve been working on an online member area of our website. We wanted to give all of our clients the opportunity to get to know one another. There are forums and some online lessons (and more to come!). Register here for free. As we develop this part of the site, we will set up lessons explaining the material you are learning and mp3 file downloads.

We may not complete it in time for January 1, but we’re working on a 30 day study Chinese challenge. The goal would be to have fun while setting the goal to study every day for 15 minutes. Let us know if that sounds interesting to you!

We wish you happy holidays and look forward to spending time with you in 2014.

Mike and Ching Yen

Finding Time to Study During the Holidays

Studying or working on any projects can be difficult during the holidays. Here are a few quick tips on learning Chinese during the holidays. Remember that just like any other time of year, habits start during the holidays. If you want to speak Chinese, don’t make not studying Chinese a new habit.

Schedule December

Have you noticed that your plans to study are often overtaken by one crisis or another? This is a very common struggle during the holidays. This happens to me when I use the “I’ll just find the time” plan. For me, this plan results in only completing crisis projects and watching TV. The real problem here is that you’ve lost control of your life and schedule. You drift from one crisis to another and lose productive time to watching TV, computer games or other activities. Consider your goals for the month and pick the projects that match your goals. If you want to speak Chinese, studying Chinese needs to be on that list.

Pick your time

I get up and start working at 4:30 every morning. I have a few reasons.

First, my kids are sleeping. They are one of the reasons I work so hard. They are also a source of wonderful but distracting questions. They want to share their lives with me and that’s so important to me. I still need to get some work done and make things happen.

Second, I am most productive in the morning. You need to figure out when you experience your peak energy during the day. Do the most important and difficult work then.

Third, if I get the important work done during the morning hours, I have time for the equally important fun activities in the evening. I help my kids with their homework. (Okay so that’s not always fun) I go Christmas shopping. We watch movies together.

Create a list the night before

I try to wake up, have a glass of water and get to work. Your efforts to learn Chinese can range from incredibly productive to not productive at all. There is one factor that helps me be more productive. It is not discipline. It’s not passion. It’s certainly not drive. It is writing out my to do list the night before. If I have a list, I typically start the coffee, drink my water and start working. This didn’t happen this morning. I forgot my list the night before and it took me 60 minutes to figure out what I need to be working on.

Make it easy

The holidays are wonderful but they are also draining. The best way to learn more Chinese during December is to make it simple. What is the best way for you will memorize vocabulary and practice speaking? Do you like smart phone apps or pencil and paper? Get these things ready during a less productive times of day. For me this is when the evening is winding down and I am tired. I have an overall plan that I can reference and I already know what’s important for each day of the week. The night before, I write out the to do list for the next morning.

Stay motivated

You will learn Chinese over a period of years. This December is just a part of that longer plan. This can be a time that you maintain rather than drive forward or it can be a time that you focus and make real gains. The right option for you depends on the context of your life. Just remember that habits can start in the holidays. If you begin to let go of learning Chinese now, not studying may become your new habit in January. Learning Chinese is important to you or you would not be reading this. Don’t let the holidays derail your goals.

What are your tips for studying during the holidays?

Learning Chinese – How You Study Matters

Learning Chinese (or any language..maybe anything) requires that you focus on two areas: Knowledge and Skill. You will generally start by building your knowledge of the language. This simply means you have to memorize facts like vocabulary. In this area techniques like spaced repetition study will help you learn the language more efficiently. This basically means studying over time and repeating information over a period of time with longer intervals between review sessions. So if you are studying vocabulary review daily, then every week and then every month. There are smart phone apps that will help you do this.
Mastering the Skill of Learning Chinese

In other areas, learning Chinese will require mastering a skill. Think playing a piano and muscle memory. One example is mastering grammar. If you simply understand it, you have a better chance of understanding what people say. If you do not master the skill of speaking with correct grammar, you will fumble and make mistakes when trying to talk to others. Spaced repetition study will help you learn facts like grammar, you will need to use spaced repetition practice (I just made this phrase up) to master skills. With spaced repetition practice, you use a similar timing dynamic but you practice the skill. It essentially creates muscle memory and integrates the language into your brain. With enough practice you will no longer translate sentences, but speaking Chinese.

Spaced Repetition Practice

Before you start practicing, it is extremely important that you have the base knowledge down. You don’t want to practice doing something incorrectly. Chinese is a tonal language. There are four tones and changing how you say a word changes the meaning. Simply knowing what words should sound like will not help you say the words properly. To master this area of Chinese, you need both knowledge and skill. You must memorize the tones of the various vocabulary and then practice saying the word. Then you have to practice saying a series of words in sentences with the correct tones.  Practicing saying vocabulary words with the wrong tone will only teach your brain the wrong muscle memory pattern. In other words, you will learn to say the word with the wrong tone.

Don’t Mistake Understanding for Mastery

If you find yourself listening to the instructor and understanding a new concept and then moving on in your head, you are making a huge mistake. Understanding something like grammar is just the first step. You need to practice. For example, as you go about your day, ask yourself, “How would I respond to this situation in Chinese?” or “How would I respond to this question in Chinese?” So on that note, how would you order a large cup of coffee at the Starbucks in Beijing? Post your answer in the comments!

We have designed our program to teach you the knowledge and provide you tools to memorize, but you must go home and practice, too! We recommend 15 minutes a day, but the more you practice, the faster you master Mandarin. When you understand spaced repetition study, you know that 15 minutes a day is far better than 4 hours on Sunday. This is true even when you invest more total time with the 3 hour plan.

Learn Chinese Idioms: Xuán Liáng Cì Gǔ – Grind Away at One’s Studies

Blog Post Study in Chinese CultureIf you really want to learn Mandarin, you need to begin to study idioms. Idioms are short sayings with a historical background that convey a story and meaning with just a few words. In the United States, we have idioms like, “Jumping the shark.” 

Study and self improvement are important values in Chinese culture. On Friday, we talked about this on our Facebook page. The basic idea is that if you aren’t improving, you are going backwards. Check it out here on Facebook.

Many people are aware that Chinese people typically study very hard during their school years. This doesn’t mean cram for a test. Regular and diligent study is valued in Chinese culture. For example, when I was in Taiwan, 9th graders often studied 15 hours a day for weeks on end to prepare for the high school entrance exam. It was treated as a right of passage.

Xuán Liáng Cì Gǔ

This is an idiom with the following story:

During the Xi Han Dynasty (206BC-25AD), there was a scholar named Sun Jing studied very hard. He was worried that he would fall asleep, so he took a rope and tied one end to the ceiling and the other end to his hair. If he fell asleep, the rope would pull his hair. He did this for many years and learned many things.

There is another story that goes with this idiom:

During the warring states period (around 221 BC), Su Qin, a political strategist, wanted to be rich and famous, so he sold everything he owned to buy expensive clothes. He visited the king of Qin and tried to persuade the king to invade another country. He failed and returned to his home town in ruins. Everyone looked down on him.

Su Qin’s teacher gave him an old book to study. Because Su Qin lost face, he had to work even harder to redeem himself. He chose a particularly painful method to avoid falling asleep while studying. He held a spike above his leg. When he fell asleep, the spike fell and cut his leg. He’d wake up and start over. After studying, he visited Qin’s neighbors. He helped these countries stay safe from Qin.

If you want to understand Chinese people, you need to understand the value of education and diligent study in Chinese culture. Chinese children are taught these stories and they are set forth as examples of how to become successful in life. Parents expect children to study hard and do well in school. In Chinese culture, people believe that success comes from diligent study during childhood and diligent work as an adult.