This page is intended for those people who haven’t had the luxury of doing a beginners Chinese course before having to/or choosing to step onto a plane and head for China. The page includes survival phrases, tools, apps plus links to loads of free resources for learning Mandarin Chinese.
First, for those that are completely new to the language, like myself, lets introduce a few key facts.
- Mandarin (Putonghua) is the most common language spoken throughout China.
- Hong Kong, and many people throughout Guangdong Province, speak Cantonese. Whilst similar to Mandarin, speakers of each will usually not understand each other.
- Two people from different provinces, who both speak mandarin, may not understand each other due to accents. Think like, an American trying to understand to fast talking Irishman with a thick accent.
- Pinyin is the Romanised transcription of Chinese characters perfected by a government team led by Zhou Youguang whose story in itself is an insight into modern China.
- Mandarin is a tone based language consisting of rising, falling, falling rising, and high level tone.
Tones can change the meaning of words, and this is possibly the trickiest part of the language especially for English speakers. For example, you could say hello in whatever pitch or tone you like, it may have a different connotation but everyone will still know what you mean. In mandarin you may pronounce the word correctly, but if the tone is incorrect, it can have a complete different meaning. For example gǒnglì is the name of an actor, gōnglǐ is also the name for kilometer, only the tones used are different.