Mandarin Chinese: Jū Qū Xū

Any inaccuracy with Chinese tones may leave your listener wondering what exactly it is you're trying to say. Here, I try the first tone for three different Pinyin sounds: jū (home), qū (bent), xū (beard). For those of you with Western ears, you'll probably agree that it can be tough to tell the difference between correct and incorrect. With qū, for example, a tonal miss can change the meaning of the word from the adjective "bent," to the noun, "river channel," to the noun, "song," to the verb, "go," or to the adjective, "interesting," depending on the tone.

Mandarin Chinese: I like panda bears

Chinese poses a triple threat: tones, pronunciation, cadence. If I focus on one, I lose the other two. But I do know this: The literal translation of panda bear, in Chinese, is "big bear cat."

[dàxióngmāo = panda bear; dà = big, xióng = bear, māo = cat]

Wǒ xǐhuan dàxióngmāo. Wǒ qù Chéngdū kàn dàxióngmāo.

[I like panda bears. I am going to Chengdu to see panda bears.]

I met with my tutor, Duàn Háng, and he helped correct the mistakes I made. As I suspected, if I get the cadence correct, my tones will be wrong, and they were. Here I correct my mistakes.

Mandarin Chinese: Today, I got a haircut!

My tutor told me that my most recent video had fatal mistakes. A handful of my tones were incorrect. Oops. I hope nobody died while listening to my fatal mistakes. I think I fared a bit better with this one. Today I learned how to say that I got a haircut. And it's super seriously true. I did get a haircut today. My head feels so svelte, and aerodynamic. Thanks, HH!

Wǒ jīntiān jiǎnle tóufa.

[Today, I got a haircut.]


Mandarin Chinese: How to turn your cock into a soaring eagle

Mandarin has four tones plus one neutral tone. That means that any given syllable can have four or five meanings, depending on subtle variations in the way it is pronounced. You might think you're saying, "golden eagle," (jīn diāo: first tone, first tone) but if you prononce eagle with a third tone instead of a first tone, you get jīn diǎo, which no longer means golden eagle. It means golden cock, as in penis. Just a subtle change in tone can turn your cock into a soaring eagle.

Anyway, none of the vocabulary here is new to me; however, I'm trying to focus on proper pronunciation of tones. Then maybe I'll learn how to say, "Who's the dork in the shirt and tie?"

Nǐ hǎo. Nǐ jiào shénme míngzì?

[Hello. What is your name?]

Wǒ de Yīngwén míngzì Dewey kěshì wǒ jiào Dà lóng.

[My English name is Dewey, but I call myself Big Dragon.]

Wǒ zhù zài Jiùjīnshān.

[I live in San Francisco.]

"bai, pai, mai, dai, tai" (Mandarin Chinese)

Here is a basic vowel-consonant combination, in all four tones. The vowel sound is "ai" (pronounced "eye"), and the consonants are as follows: b, p, m, d, t.

I start with the first tone, and then work through the rest of the four tones.

First tone: bāi, pāi, māi, dāi, tāi
Second tone: bái, pái, mái, dái, tái
Third tone: bǎi, pǎi, mǎi, dǎi, tǎi
Fourth tone: bài, pài, mài, dài, tài

I don't know what these words mean. Currently I'm focused on tones, not vocabulary (but I do know that "tài" means "too," as in, too fast, or too big, or too whatever).

"a" - in all four tones (Mandarin Chinese)

My first three Mandarin Chinese private tutor sessions have been about the basics: tone and pronunciation. During the time when I was just teaching myself, I was aware of the tones, but didn't have anyone to give me feedback regularly, so it was tougher to improve because I couldn't correct my own errors. So I'm slowing everything down, and focusing on mastering the tones.

Here is a basic vowel sound in Chinese, in all four tones, repeated at varying speeds.

First tone: ā (high level)
Second tone: á (rising)
Third tone: ǎ (falling, rising)
Fourth tone: à (falling)

Pets (Mandarin Chinese)

I've abandoned my old learning style, which was the Pimsleur method, in favor of a private tutor and topical podcasts. I've shelved the more linear style of Pimsleur learning, at least for the moment. It became boring, and I'm not learning Chinese to bore myself.

I've had two private lessons, and my third is tonight. I'll be speaking much more slowly moving forward, focusing more on tones and proper pronunciation, as opposed to vocabulary.

Do you have* any pets?
I have a dog. What about you?
I have a cat.
I also like cats.

(*Literally, "raise," as in raising animals on a farm.)

Mandarin Chinese (#2.5C)

I learned in Beijing that you can't just say "correct" when answering a question. You have to say it at least four times, like how in English you might say, "Yeah yeah yeah yeah."

Hello. I always drink tea.

You don't always drink tea, do you?

You're right*, but I like to drink tea; what about you?

I don't like to drink tea. I never drink tea. I often drink beer, or wine. How about we drink some wine?

I never drink wine, but thank you. Goodbye.

Mandarin Chinese (#2.5)

I think my grammar in the first sentence is off, but, for what it's worth, new for me are "How about?" and also the word for "bus," which might be the most Chinese-sounding word I've learned yet. Saying it makes me feel like a nine-year-old white kid making fun of Chinese.

Hello. Right now, we are going take a bus to go there; how about that?

I always take a bus to go there, but I want to walk there, OK?