When you decide to learn Chinese, you are normally thinking about the Mandarin language. Although we will refer to Mandarin and Chinese interchangeably within this article. There are actually 299 living Chinese languages in China, which is why Mandarin is called mandarin and not just Chinese. Chinese Mandarin is the most widespread language in China, Wikipedia suggests that it is spoken by more than 1.3 billion people in China as a first language.
Yes! That’s right not everyone in China speaks Mandarin as a first language. Although the majority, are likely not complete beginners like you are. As they probably would have had a better immersion into the language since they live in China. So the Chinese person who appears to be a “native speaker” may have had to learn Mandarin just like you.
Learning Mandarin Chinese can be intimidating, mastering Chinese grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, Chinese speaking and conversation. Could be the things that scare a learner of the mandarin language the most, especially when you consider the five tones, words, and phrases used by Chinese people fluently. Which are not easy to understand for English speakers (or other speakers of European languages) who are absolute beginners and who are accustomed to the Latin alphabet and language structure. But when beginners plan to learn a new language, we can count on one thing, that our comprehension of that language will remain limited unless we study.
In this action-packed article, you will discover and explore Chinese conjugation, how the native speaker expresses time, the most commonly used Chinese verbs, the construction of a sentence in Mandarin and different tones to use for speaking.
You will discover Chinese pronunciation, as we use Chinese pinyin (Chinese Romanised system for the foreigner), throughout this article. It will not replace your Chinese lessons by any means, but it will support your learning experience.
On your marks, let’s go!
Learning Chinese Mandarin. Photo Source: Unsplash
One of the first things that could come to mind when you plan to learn Chinese is how to express time and how long it will take to memorize long verb drills. Just like you do when you plan to learn Italian, learn Spanish or French. While memorizing verbs may be time-consuming, it is easily understandable for the English speaker who has the equivalent form in English.
In English and most European languages, each and every verb that you learn comes in 3 main tenses the past the present and the future. When you communicate you have to think in advance about which time you want to express. If it happened yesterday, you would use the past tense for example. But to get even more precise, English speakers also have to use the main time categories of Simple, Perfect, Perfect Continuous and Continuous and this is not to mention the conditional conjugations. This means that for each and every English verb, you must know at least 12 combinations of how it can be used and there are thousands of verbs.
The good news is that there are no time-based verb tense conjugations in Chinese not even small ones. Nor are there any additional structures that need to be added to your verb that change it. Verbs in Chinese always remains unchanged in the infinitive form.
In Chinese culture, temporal markers are used to express whether we are communicating in the past, the present, the future or the conditional. To speak Chinese well, you should memorize this vocab. The three most common markers for the past:
There are of course other markers that you can use too, but these are some of the more commonly used suffixes and particles.
The two most common markers to speak fluently about the present:
The three most common markers for the future:
Finally, the last form to be explained will be the passive form, which has specific rules in Chinese, it generally expresses a negative. Here is the primary marker:
The primary marker to use to express the passive form is ‘bèi’. But using this does have rules associated with it, which when followed allow you to speak correctly.
When using bèi, Chinese learners must remember the following :
An example of how to use bèi in a sentence:
Now let’,s take a look at the most common verbs in Chinese Mandarin.
There are lots of benefits of learning to speak Chinese. Photo Source: Unsplash
For a beginner to Chinese language learning, thinking about conjugating Chinese verbs can seem complicated. But I just want to remind you of the good news, Chinese verbs do not need to be conjugated, because Chinese verbs remain in infinitive form. Don’t forget that! As it is an essential piece of information and can help you lower your anxiety to Chinese learning. As for the temporal markers, the verb will be associated with post-verbal particles in the sentence which make it possible to express:
For example, these particles may mark time and appearance.
In addition to particles, we can find auxiliary verbs to support communication too:
The verb ‘to be’ in English is a very flexible and commonly used verb, but that does not always translate literally into the Chinese equivalent of the verb ‘shì’. In Chinese language and culture, ‘to be’ is actually translated into a number of verbs. If you want to be fluent in Mandarin, it is a good idea to learn the word order and how these Chinese words are used. Here are some examples:
Also, there are some verbs that we call qualitative, which express a state by being associated with the verb “to be”:
Here are also some action verbs that a good to learn while learning Mandarin Chinese :
The main action verbs are:
If you are planning a trip to China, or merely to want to immerse yourself in Chinese culture to become bilingual, using these common verbs will be essential.
Chinese is one of the oldest languages in the world and while it may seem like an intimidating language to learn thankfully making sentences in Mandarin Chinese is relatively easy. According to the BBC, the average scholar knows around 8,000 words, and you can get by with approximately 3,000 words and even have enough knowledge to read a newspaper. Aside from that good news you also don’t need to conjugate words or verbs, imply gender, imply time frames, there is also no singular or plural.
So all you have to do is learn how to read, speak and write up to 3,000 words and then understand how to fit them together in a sentence. Although this still sounds like a lot if you can learn 3 new words every day Hey presto! You will be speaking Chinese fluently within a few years. This is why it can be very beneficial to students learning Mandarin to start with learning by sentence structure.
In fact, constructing a sentence in Chinese has 3 different rules :
In fact, if:
The sentence has a time-sensitive element, we can add le.
Let’s take a look at how the simple sentence is constructed in Chinese.
First of all, it is important to remember that the placement of the verb is essential. So that the sentence is understandable, the verb must always be after the subject.
There can be two situations:
With regard to complex sentences, the interrogative sentence follows the construction of:
Ready to switch to Chinese tones?
How to speak Mandarin without Verb tenses. Photo Source: Unsplash
Mandarin Chinese has 5 tones which clarify the meanings of the words when the pitch is correctly spoken. However, when the pitch is spoken incorrectly, it can cause great miscommunication. In Mandarin, even words that look the same can have a different meaning based on the tone used to say the word.
To make it easier to identify how to read and pronounce tones in Chinese, PinYin was created. This is the romanized form of Chinese and it makes it easier for anyone learning Chinese, to understand which Chinese tones belong to which words. This is done by adding accents to the letters.
Example of similar words changing their meaning based on the written accent:
While the tones in Mandarin may sound very foreign to you, we already use many similar tones when we speak English every day. Learning how to say the Chinese tones based on intonations that you already use in English can go far in helping you to remember the tones and learn to use them fluently.
How to say the different tones based on English words or expressions
I hope that with your Chinese lessons and the guidance in this article on the Tones, verbs, sentence structure and ways to express time. That your Chinese language learning grows in confidence and fluency, supporting you towards success. Zhù hǎo yùn!! (good luck!!)