Chinese Language 1: Introduction to Chinese

Welcome to Teddy’s Chinese lessons! These lessons will teach you how to read and speak the standard Chinese language! If you are visiting this blog because you like Chinese food, learning some Chinese will help you understand the names of foods and seasonings in Chinese cuisine. You will also be able to read menus and visit China more easily! Are you interested? If you are, please read on! I hope you will become more interested as you read this post.

Is Chinese one language? Many people believe this, however it is not true. The standard Chinese that I teach is one language, but China itself contains many languages. Most people call them “dialects”, but I do not agree they are all dialects of one language. American English, British English, Australian English, etc. are dialects of the same language because speakers can easily understand each other. However, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Taiwanese are not dialects of the same language because they are completely not understandable to each other. Chinese is in fact, a branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family, which also includes Tibetan and Burmese. A language family is a group of languages that are very different from each other, but have a common ancestor. For example, English and Hindi are in the same family.

The Chinese branch of the Sino-Tibetan family contains many sub-branches, including Mandarin, Wu, Min, Yue, Hakka, Gan, Xiang, Ping, Jing, and many more. Languages and Dialects in the sub-branches are still not mutually intelligible (understandable to each other). A speaker of a Southern Min dialect cannot understand a speaker of a Northern Min dialect. I, a Standard Mandarin speaker, cannot understand the Sichuanese Mandarin dialect of my step-grandmother, who is from rural Sichuan. The spoken version of the various Chinese languages are collectively called 汉语 (han4 yu3) (Han language). (Ignore the numbers for now, because I will introduce them in the pronunciation lesson coming soon. For this lesson, it is not important.)

To unify the Chinese people, the Chinese government created a Standard Chinese based on the Beijing Dialect of Mandarin. This is spoken and understood by around 70% of the people in China (almost all of the younger people), and it is the official language in China, Taiwan, and Singapore. This is the language that I will teach. The spoken form of Standard Chinese is called 普通话 (pu3 tong1 hua4) (universal common speech). The Standard Chinese in Taiwan differs a little from the one in Mainland China, especially in modern technological words, and also names for countries and people such as 欧巴马 (ou1 ba1 ma3) or 奥巴马 (ao4 ba1 ma3) for Obama. Spoken Standard Chinese may also differ by region as speakers from different regions may add some colloquial words from their own regional dialect.

The written Standard Chinese language is called 中文 (zhong1 wen2) (middle writing), and it is the language found in books, newspapers, websites, and other writings all over China. Other versions of Chinese are not usually written. In Hong Kong, there is also a well-developed system of writing Cantonese. The written Standard Chinese language replaced the Literary Chinese, called 文言文 (wen2 yan2 wen2) (written language writing) AKA 古文 (gu3 wen2) (ancient writing). Until the early 20th century, literature was mostly in Literary Chinese, a language derived from the literature written roughly from the 5th century BC to 220 AD. This language was highly confusing and abstract, and completely different from all modern Chinese varieties.

China is called 中国 (zhong1 guo2) (Middle Nation) in Chinese. Chinese is mainly spoken in China and Taiwan, but there are large communities in Singapore, Malaysia, and other parts of Southeast Asia, as well as the United States. Chinese people are found all over the world. You can probably find a Chinese restaurant in your city, no matter where you live!

There are two standard forms of writing Chinese. The first is Traditional Chinese, 繁体字 (fan2 ti3 zi4) (complicated-body characters), which originated over 2000 years ago and have not been changed since 1946. These characters are the standard in Taiwan. The second is Simplified Chinese, 简体字 (jian3 ti2 zi4) (simple-body characters), developed in 1956 by Mainland China to increase literacy. They are often much less complicated (体 vs 體), but some people believe they are not as beautiful. They are standard in Mainland China and Singapore. I will be teaching Simplified Chinese in the lesson, but below the lesson I may put the Traditional Chinese vocabulary. Overseas, in menus and newspapers, Traditional Chinese is usually used. Often, a person who knows how to read Simplified Chinese, like my mother, can read Traditional Chinese by guessing, but you must have enough knowledge of Chinese first.

Chinese is an interesting language because it has a unique writing system, an easy grammar, and a great culture in the country it is spoken! In the next lessons, you will learn more about Chinese culture, as well as the language’s pronunciation, writing system, and basic grammar and phrases.

(PS. This took 3 hours to write! I hope I get faster later..)



5 thoughts on “Chinese Language 1: Introduction to Chinese

  1. This lession does look like it took a while to write up. Very good information
    The ‘Pronouciation Lession’ sounds like
    it is alway hard to write about without
    actual sound links but I’m sure it will be as good as this one. HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!

    1. Thank you! Happy holidays to you too. I will include similar to English letters for the consonants, but Chinese vowel sounds are really challenging, hehe. And then getting used to tones instead of stress. But Chinese easy grammar and logical one syllable one meaning structure makes the rest easier once you get the pronunciation. The language ones will be once in a while, not regular. For now, please check the BAKED karaage recipe! So delicious!!

    2. Oh, and side note on languages, I’m trying to learn basic Turkish and Arabic! Turkish is written like how it is pronounced and the grammar is really somewhat similar to Japanese! But then Arabic… first of all you have two learn 2 languages when you learn Arabic. Modern Standard Arabic, which unlike Modern Standard Chinese, is only written. The only time it is spoken is the news. Then, a dialect, and every “dialect” is basically a different language, with Cairene Egyptian (spoken in Cairo) the largest and most understood. Then, the writing system, which is really beautiful, but challenging. I can read Arabic consonants but vowels are not written in, so I can’t pronounce anything I read. And the consonant sounds not found in English (half of them!) like غ (French R) and خ (Scottish KH) because I can’t tell the difference. Then the ones not found in European languages like ح (hard H), ه (breathy H), hard letters ص ض ط ظ, and lastly the highly dreaded ع which sounds like you are being gagged, but really quick sound. Then the vowels are much easier to pronounce. But Chinese is so much easier in the consonants than Arabic! Anyways, أهلا (‘ahlan) means hi in Egyptian Arabic and مرحبا (marHaban) in Modern Standard Arabic. And they have no vowels (except the أ which is glottal stop + A) so it’s written like mrHba. Besides all of this challenging to pronounce and read, there are also genders which are mostly irregular forms. Almost every plural and conjugation are irregular. The grammar has more complications later on. Meanwhile Chinese has no conjugations and the characters are easier to read than the vowelless Arabic. I’m still learning it though. American people say Japanese is harder than Arabic although I totally disagree, but since I known Chinese and English and most words in the language is borrowed from either, so all I have to learn is the grammar which is much, much simpler than Arabic (no irregulars, genders, conjugations, plurals). Anyways, Chinese is pretty easy for this. Hehe sorry for writing too much!

      1. Turkish/Arabic sounds like a fun and challenging language to learn (maybe fun not the appropriate word) but only word I can think of) it’s certainly different then any of the languages I’m used to hearing. Was this the only lesson you were able to download (for free) from japanese pod?
        How did you know I was eating so much chicken lately that I was looking for anothe recipe (hehe). I look forward to trying it.
        Hope all is well.

      2. Turkish is easy and Arabic is hard, but both are fun 🙂 You can get any of the languages, but I don’t need so many. I’m going to travel to Turkey (first overseas travel in 1.5 years) but I don’t think I’ll be able to learn enough by the time I’m going. Arabic, what if I visit Egypt later, hehe. Not now though, the government is unstable and stuff.

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