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10 facts about the Chinese language

From pictures to a system of symbols

Yu png z yun fng li, b y l h?

A Guide to Chinese- 10 facts about the Chinese language

When you are eating grapes, you dont spit out the skin, but when you are not eating grapes, you do spit out the skin.

This is a great tongue twister for practising the tones, which are marked above the vowels.

Aboutone in fiveof the worlds population speaks a form of Chinese. Mandarin is the official language of thePeoples Republic of Chinaand by far the most widely used version, with over 800 million speakers.

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Heres a popular example: at Chinese New Year, youll often hear the phrasenin nin yu y, meaningmay you have abundance (y) every year. Youll also see it written in Chinese calligraphy on scrolls which hang on walls and by doorways, mysteriously accompanied by a picture of a golden carp. Whats the connection? The word forfish, although written differently, is pronounced in exactly the same way as the word for abundance: both arey.

Chinese is anancient language. Archaeologists have discovered early forms of Chinese writing on animal bones and tortoise shells which date back to the Shang dynasty over3,000years ago.

Feeling thirsty? You might want to order akku kl,kfiorwishj. Can you guess what these might be?Coca Cola,coffeeandwhisky.

Chinese Mini-Guides: More about the tones, characters and pinyin

Is it not a pleasure to have friends from afar?

Real Chinese: All-in-one beginners course

More commonly, youll hearXinsheng,MrandNsh,Ms, after peoples surnames.

Because Chinese has a continuous writing tradition, students today can still read and understand these ancient works.

Actually, its not as hard as you might think. Chinese grammar is surprisingly straightforward, with none of the tenses, plurals, cases or genders that can make learning European languages difficult.

Quick Fix: Essential phrase in Chinese

Well, for starters, your cup of cha in the morning comes from a Chinese word. In Mandarin, its pronouncedch, spoken with rising intonation when its pronounced correctly. Martial arts enthusiasts will know words such asgngfuandtijqun, although they might be more familiar with the spellingsKung-fuandTai chi chuan.

One to bear in mind as you take your first steps in the Chinese language!

Four is four, ten is ten, fourteen is fourteen, forty is forty. Forty four stone lions are dead.

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In Mandarin Chinese, there are four basic tones and a fifth neutral tone. You can tell which tone to give a syllable from the marks above the vowels inpinyin, the writing system that uses the Latin alphabet. Find out how thetonessound.

For example,w xing wn n, meansI want to ask you. Simple enough.

Chinese Games: Fun with tones and characters

Laozi, Daoist philosopher (6th Century BC)

Dont worry if you get the tones wrong at first. Most Chinese people will be very happy to know that youve attempted to learn their language, and besides, sometimes even they get the tones a bit wonky when, for example, a Cantonese speaker from Hong Kong talks Mandarin to someone from Beijing.

So, if you were to hear someone saynin nin yu y, it could meanmay you have fish every year. But when you see it written, theres no confusion.

Its thosetones. If you get the intonation of a word wrong you might end up saying completely the wrong thing.

A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step.

In China,punsandplay on wordsare more popular than Western-style jokes.

A good reminder of the hospitable nature of the Chinese people.

Ch ptao b t ptao p, b ch ptao do t ptao p.

The most difficult but potentially most fun and rewarding aspect is learning how to writeChinese characters. The visually beautiful and often poetic script can give the learner a useful insight into the Chinese mind. But be prepared for a long learning journey as youll need to memorise over 2,000 characters to read a Chinese newspaper!

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Classics included theBook of Songs, which is the earliest surviving collection of Chinese poetry and was written some time around 1000 BC. The works of Chinas moral philosopher,Confucius, are collected together in a work calledThe Analects, dating from around 400 BC.

Top tip: listen carefully when a taxi driver asks you to put on your seatbelt, ornqundi. Some foreign students in China have famously misheard this asnqunto, which means condom!

English/Chinese dictionary and online learning centre

Knowing how to read and writeChinese characterswill help you pick up writtenJapanesemore quickly, since Japanese uses a large number of characters with exactly the same meaning, although the pronunciation and grammar is completely different.

But if you were to sayw xing wn n, it would meanI want to kiss you. Play the two clips and see if you can tell the difference.

Here are two sayings from ancient philosophers.

A few words have also gone the other way too, from English to Chinese.

History, politics and economic background of China

Promoting the Chinese language and culture around the world

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The hard bit is mastering thetones. Mandarin is a tonal language, which means the pitch or intonation in which a sound is spoken affects the meaning. For example, if you saytngwith a high tone it meanssoup, buttngwith a rising tone meanssugar.

S sh s, sh sh sh, shs sh shs, ssh sh ssh, sshs zh sh shzi sh s de.

Chinese is also spoken by large communities around the world, from Singapore to London to Vancouver, although overseas Chinese are more likely to speak Cantonese or Hokkien, than Mandarin.

Chinese people place great emphasis on titles. For example, if your Chinese teacher is a Mrs Wang, you should call her by her title

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