Language and useful phrases

Talk the talk as you walk the walk

Beijingers think they’re the bee’s knees because standard Chinese is largely derived from the Beijing dialect. Although the two languages are very close, the Beijing accent is marked by a very liberal use of the ‘er’ sound – linguists call this a rhotic vowel – and Beijingers have a tendency to slur their words together and exaggerate their tones. This makes Beijing hua (the Beijing dialect) almost incomprehensible to foreigners learning Chinese if the accent is very strong.

On a basic level, Chinese is easier than many languages. There are no tenses – Chinese words have only one form. Suffixes are used instead to denote tenses. There are no comparative adjectives. The most challenging part of learning Chinese is often the tones, as each sound has four different inflections, each of which can change the meaning of a word. In the written language, characters take the place of an alphabet.

A character can be a word or part of a word, but normally a word consists of two or more characters. There are about 20,000 characters in a normal Chinese word processor. For those who do not read characters, there is a romanised alphabet called pinyin.

Useful phrases:

Nǐ Hǎo
– Hello (‘nee how’)
Xiè xiè – Thank you ('shear shear')
Bú kè qì – You’re welcome (‘boo ke chi’)
Duì bù qǐ – I’m sorry (‘doo-way boochee’)
Zài jiàn – Good bye (‘dzai jien’)

Wǒ yào/ Wǒ bù yào – I want/don't want (‘whoa yow’/ boo yow)
Wǒ zhī dào / Wǒ bù zhī dào – I know/don’t know (‘whoa j-dow/war boo j-dow’)
Wǒ tīng bù dǒng – I don’t understand (‘whoa ting boo dong’)
Qǐng dǎ biǎo – Please switch on the meter (‘ching da beeyow’)
Dì tiě – Subway station (dee ‘t’ yeah’)

Jī chǎng – Airport (‘jee chung’)
Gāo sù gōng lù – Highway/Expressway (‘gow-soo gong loo')
Tí kuǎn jī – ATM (‘tee kwan jee’)
Wǒ suí biàn kàn kàn – I’m just browsing (‘whoa sway bi-en kan kan')
Wǒ méi yǒu qián – I don’t have any money (‘whoa may yo tchen’)

Duō shǎo qián? – How much does it cost? (‘door shaow tchen')
Tài guì le! – Too expensive! (tie gway la)
Nǐ kě yǐ piányì yìdiǎn ma? – Can you make it a bit cheaper? (nee ke-yee peeyan yee dee-ar ma?)
Kuài – RMB (kwai)
Jiùmìng a! – Help! (‘jee ‘o’ ming’ a!)

Wǒ yào kàn bìng – I need to see a doctor (‘Whoa yow can bing’)
Nǐ nēng bù nēng bāng wǒ – Can you help me? (‘Nee nung boo nung bang war’)
– One (ee)
Shí– Ten (sh-r)
Er shí– twenty (ar-sh)
Yì bǎ – A hundred (ee-by)

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