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Chinese Alphabet Basics

Chinese Alphabet Basics

So you want to learn Chinese, and you’ve decided to start with the Chinse alphabet. Well I’ve got some bad news for you… Chinese doesn’t have an alphabet. It uses a set of characters as its writing system. You can check out this post if you’re interested in learning more about Chinese characters.

Now that said, there are ways to write Chinese without using traditional or simplified Chinese characters. Did I lie? Is there some secret Chinese alphabet? No…. there is however, Pinyin. I wrote about Pinyin briefly here and more in-depth here. You can check out those posts if you want.

While Pinyin is a quick short cut for anyone who wants to learn Chinese, it is not technically a “Chinese alphabet”. But since I don’t want to disappoint you, and since I’m pretty sure you’re interested in the Chinese alphabet so you can learn some Chinese, here’s a few helpful expressions – in Pinyin and standard Chinese characters – to help you out. Enjoy!

Basics:

Hello.

你好。

nǐ hǎo

Goodbye.

再见。

zàijiàn

Sorry.

对不起。

duìbùqǐ

It's okay. (polite response to "I'm sorry")

没关系。

méiguānxi

Excuse me. (getting attention) 

请问….

qǐng wèn

Excuse me. (begging pardon) 

打扰一下 or 麻烦您了。

dǎrǎo yixià   or   Máfán nín le.

Excuse me. (coming through) 

对不起 or 请让一下。

duìbùqǐ   or   Qǐng ràng yixià

Please.

请。

qǐng.

Thank you.

谢谢。

xièxiè.

You’re welcome.

不客气。

bú kèqi.

See you soon.

待会儿见。

dāi huì ér jiàn

Do you speak English?

你会说英语吗?

nǐ huì shuō Yīngyǔ ma?

I can't speak Chinese. 

我不会讲中文。

wǒ bú huì jiǎng zhōngwén.

I don't understand (something heard). 

我听不懂。

wǒ tīng bù dǒng.

I don’t understand (something read).

我看不懂。

wǒ kàn bù dǒng.


Basic greetings:

Good morning.

早上好。

zǎo shɑnɡ hǎo

Good afternoon.

下午好。

xià wǔ hǎo  

Good evening.

晚上好。

wǎn shɑnɡ hǎo

Good night

晚安。

wǎn ān

How are you?

你好吗?

nǐ hǎo mɑ?

I am fine. And you?

我很好。你呢?

wǒ hěn hǎo, nǐ ne?

What’s your name?

你叫什么名字?

nǐ jiào shénme míngzi?

My name is….

我叫…..。

Wǒ jiào …...

Nice to meet you.

很高兴认识你。

hěn ɡāo xìnɡ rèn shí nǐ 。

Where are you from?

你是哪里人?

nǐ shì nǎ lǐ rén ?

I'm from …...

我是 ….. 人。

wǒ shì   ….. rén 。


Questions:

What

什么

shén me

Who

shuí   or   shéi

Where

哪里

nǎ lǐ

When

什么时候

shén me shí hou

What time

几点

jǐ diǎn

Which

哪个

nǎ ɡè

How (to do)…

怎么…

zěn me …

How much/many (ask for quantity)

多少

duō shǎo

How much (ask for money)

多少钱

duō shǎo qián

How about ….?

…. 怎么样?

…. zěn me yànɡ ?

Could you speak more slowly?

您可以说慢点吗?

nín ké yǐ shuō màn diǎn mɑ ?

Could you repeat that?

您可以再说一遍吗?

nín ké yǐ zài shuō yī biàn mɑ ?

Could you write that down?

您可以写下来吗?

nín ké yǐ xiě xià lái mɑ ?

How do you say ___?

____ 怎么说?

____ zěn me shuō ?

What does this mean?

这是什么意思?

zhè shì shén me yì si ?

 

Hope you found all of this helpful. While Pinyin may not technically be a true Chinese alphabet, it can provide a great shortcut to picking up some phrases.

Chinese grammar

Maybe you’re currently studying Chinese, or perhaps you’re just toying around with the idea. I hope that by now you’ve checked out some of my other posts on how to learn Chinese, how to learn Chinese fast, and how to speak Chinese

Wherever you are in your studies, though, I’ve got some great news for you. When it comes to Chinese grammar, things are pretty simple. That’s right. Chinese grammar is actually one of the simplest things to learn. 

Why is that?

Studying Chinese is not as difficult as what most people think. Chinese grammar very simple when compared to English or French grammar. In Mandarin Chinese:

  • You don't need to conjugate verbs.
  • You don't need to master verb tenses.
  • You don't need to distinguish between singular and plural nouns.
  • You don't need to worry about gender-specific nouns.

Chinese grammar is surprisingly straightforward, with none of the tenses, plurals, cases or genders that can make learning European languages difficult. The most difficult part when studying Mandarin is getting your tones right and learning how to read and write Chinese characters.

The reason that Chinese people find it easy to deduce meanings of unknown words or characters has nothing to do with the writing system itself, rather it's because most often the roots from which new characters or words are derived are of pure Chinese origins. On the other hand, English, which itself is a marriage between Germanic languages and Italic languages, is embodied with word roots from Old English, Norman French, Latin, Greek and etc, it makes vocabulary acquisition particularly hostile to learners. Any day you’ll be happily trade dermatology with 皮肤科 (skin department), and hydraulic with 水力 (water power). 

Of course, this is just a quick introduction to Chinese grammar. You could go into a lot more detail, but I’d actually strongly advise you not to. I’d focus more on learning some chinse vocabulary and some helpful phrases. This post here has a few basic Chinese phrases written in Chinese characters along with Pinyin. Hope you find it helpful, and good luck!