Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The most popular beverage in China

Undoubtedly, tea is the most popular beverage in China. It is said to possess curative properties, from improving eyesight to helping reduce weight. Whether those claims are true or not, a nice warm cup of tea is undeniably delicious!

There is a wide variety of Chinese tea but the most popular are mainly divided into the following categories:

綠茶 Green tea • lü3cha2 (for Pinyin Talker use the following lv3cha2)
This is an unfermented tea with a clear taste and dark green color. The most famous brand is the West Lake Dragon Well Tea - xi1hu2 long2jing1cha2 which is produced in Hangzhou.

紅茶 Black tea • hong2cha2
This is a fermented tea with a fruit fragance and mellow taste with a sweet aftertaste.
Funny enough this tea is not black but red. In fact, "hong2" means red.

烏龍茶 Oolong tea • wu1long2cha2

This is a semi-fermented tea with a sweet aroma and concentrated taste. It is produced in Fujian and Taiwan. One of the most famous brands is the Iron Goddess of Mercy Tea - tie3guan1 yin1 cha2.

花茶 Scented tea or Herbal tea • hua1cha2

This variety of tea is produced by smoke-processing tea leaves with flower petals. Jasmine tea - mo4li4hua1cha2 - with its clear taste is an example of this kind of tea.

So how do you ask for a cup of tea?

我想喝茶 wo3 xiang3 he1 cha2 • I would like to drink tea
(I) (want) (drink) (tea)

喝红茶还是绿茶? hong1cha2 hai2sh5i lv3cha2? • Black tea or green tea?
(red/black tea) (or) (green tea)

绿茶,謝謝 lv3cha2, xie4xie5 • Green tea, thank you

To your health!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Where? There!

People from different parts of China prefer different words to express the same idea and Putonghua or Mandarin, also incorporate these variations.

For example, "nar3" or "na3li5" both mean "where" and "nar3" and "Na3li5", likewise, mean "there".
As I understand, people in the north of China prefer the "r" sound, whereas southerners prefer a crisper sound as in "na3li5".

Pinyin Talker adheres to the crispier sound of the south.

Example phrases using na3li3:

na3li5 ke3yi3mai3 shou3ji1? - where can I buy a mobile phone?
(where) (can buy) (mobile phone)

ni3de5 lao3jia1zai4 na3li5? - Where is your hometown?
(your) (hometown) (is) (where)

Ni3 qu4 na3li5? - Where are you going?
(you) (go) (where)?

Ni3 zai4 na3li5? - Where are you?

na3li3 ke3yi3 chou3yan3? - Where can I smoke?
(where) (can) (smoke)

fan4dian4 zai4 na3li? - Where is the restaurant?

zai4 na3li - It is there
(is) (there)

For pronunciation purposes and when using Pinyin Talker, if there are 3 or more consecutive 3rd tones, change each 3rd tone preceding the final 3rd tone into a 2nd tone.

Happy Learning!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Go strike a conversation in Chinese

Don't be surprised if you get a very warn and friendly response to your enthusiasm in speaking Chinese. From my own experience, I can guarantee you that Chinese people will truly appreciate the effort you make to communicate with them in their own language. And don't worry if you don't get right the first time: "Saving Face" is deeply ingrained in that culture so rest assured they will not make you feel embarrassed for making a mistake.

You can strike a conversation with just a few simple words:

Hello • Ni3hao3
Hello (politely) • nin2hao3
How are you? • ni3 hao3 ma5
Very well, and you? • wo3 hen3hao3, ni3ne5
Not too bad • bu2cuo4
Not so good • hai2ke3yi3
So-So • ma3ma5hu1hu5
I'm also very well • wo3 ye3 hen3 hao3
Thank you • xie4xie5

This are other phrases you can use:

Good Morning • zao3chen2 hao3
Good Evening • Wan3shang4 hao3
Good Night • wan3an1 hao3

Keep in mind that in China to call somebody by his or her given name is a privilege reserved for family members and very close friends. Therefore, to address someone politely you must either use the person's full name or the last name plus a title. If they want to move to a first-name basis, they will let you know which name to use.

Here are some examples of how to address people depending on their age:

  • Teacher Wang • Wang2 lao3shi1
  • An elderly man • Wang2 ye2ye5
  • An elderly woman • Wang2 nai3nai5
  • Mr. Wang • Wang2 xian1sheng1
  • Mrs. Wang • Wang2 fu1ren2
  • Miss Wang • Wang xiao3jie1
  • A young person • xiao3 Wang2
  • A driver any other worker, to show respect • shi1fu5
  • A manager • Wang2 jing1li3
  • A school Principal • Wang2 xiao4zhang3
Its a good idea to keep this pointers in mind when addressing Chinese people:
  • Greetings are formal and the oldest person is always greeted first.
  • Handshakes are the most common form of greeting with foreigners.
  • Many Chinese will look towards the ground when greeting someone. Don't think they are being disrespectful - it's just a customary social practice.
  • Address the person by a title and their surname. They will let you know if and when to address them on a first name basis.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Importance of learning the proper Chinese pronunciation

Spoken Mandarin Chinese has 4 pitched tones and a neutral or "toneless" tone. "Tones" do not refer to "intonation" - the variation of pitch we normally use in english and other Westerner languages to convey differences of expressive meaning (e.g. surprise, anger, doubtfulness). In this context, tonality is a fixed feature of individual words or syllables and changes in tone alters the meaning of what we are saying.

For example:

  • 媽 ma1 pronounced with a high and level tone means MOTHER;
  • 麻 ma2 pronounced with a tone that rises to the top means HEMP;
  • 馬 ma3 pronounced with a tone that starts at the top, then rises toward the top means HORSE; and
  • 罵 ma4 pronounced with a tone that starts at the top and then falls sharply to the bottom means to SCOLD or CURSE
As you can see from the previous examples, mastering the Chinese tones is the most important skill needed in order to be able to communicate successfully in Chinese. A syllable pronounced with the incorrect tone might get in deep trouble!

You can practice your Chinese language pronunciation on-line with Pinyin Talker