Surviving Mandarin Part 2

Surviving mandarin can be an essential part of a foreigners experience, and it is something that is good to try to tackle a little earlier on in your time away. Last week we brought you part 1 of surviving mandarin, so this week we bring you even more help to get you started. 

Be sure to check out last weeks installment, ‘Surviving Mandarin‘ to find out some other basic mandarin phrases, hints and tips.

7. What time is it?confused

You know those days. Your cell phone died. You don’t have a watch. You just ran an errand and it seems like you should be heading to an appointment. Or maybe you are out late and maybe it’s around that time the MRT stops. But what time is it?

“Xian zai shi ji dian (what is the time now?),” it sounds like ‘shen zai jee dee an?’.

When they answer, again, it’s very useful to know numbers!

8. Food/Menu items

Knowing some basic foods you like can be helpful, too. Especially if you can recognize some characters on a menu, like: chicken, beef, and pork. Or, even knowing some you definitely would not want to try can be something you might want to learn as well.

For instance, if you are vegetarian, you might want to know ‘ro (like row)’ Which means ‘meat’ and its character that looks like a ribcage, denotes the dish has some type of meat.

Meats usually end in ‘ro’. So, if you are looking for chicken– ji ro (jee row), beef– niu ro (nyo row), or pork– zhu ro (zhoo row). If you want it fried, end in ‘pai’. So, ‘ji pai (jee pie)’ or ‘zhu pai (zhoo pie)’.

Another useful phrase in relation to food might be, “I like…” or “Wo xi huan…” If you ever find yourself stumped at a restaurant, tell them something you like and they will help you out. Just say, “Wo xi huan ji rou (wo shee hwan jee row)” and they’ll suggest some dishes that have chicken in them to you!

Or, how about, “I don’t like…” or “Wo bu xi haun… (wo boo shee hwan)” if you don’t particularly enjoy something like intestine or stomach!

9. Directions

It is inevitable. You will get lost at some point– even if you have access to google maps. The amount of little lanes and back alleys here is insane. It can get really confusing and you can be turned around quite easily. It can be pretty handy to know how to ask where something is– just ask, ‘… (insert place) zai na li?” sounds like Zai nah lee.

So, when you are out and about, pick a landmark like the MRT to find your way back home. If you are lost, find a 711 or Family Mart (or any store, really, people in Taiwan are super helpful), and ask “MRT zai nali?” From there, they might tell you directions in Chinese but they will direct and point you in the right direction.

People in Taiwan are overly nice about directions. Usually, if you have a map or a cell phone in your hand and look lost they will take you by the hand and lead you to where you want to go. It can be somewhat overwhelming at times!

10. Feeling sick/basic symptoms

Feeling ill abroad is probably a bit inevitable as well. Having an upset stomach or sore throat are some common ailments when you first arrive. Knowing how to say your symptoms to a doctor or to the pharmacist at Watsons (a popular store for toiletries and basic drugs) can help a ton when you don’t feel well!

Most medications will be written in Chinese, some will have pictures denoting what they are used for, and some will have ingredients in English you can search online to see what they might help. But letting the pharmacist or worker at Watsons know you have a sore throat can cut the search time in half– a real lifesaver when all you want to do is sleep.

“Wo yo hou long tong” — ‘I have throat sore/hurt’. It sounds like “Woah yo how long (with a long sounding o) tong (with a long sounding o).”

If your stomach hurts, try “Wo yo du zi tong”– ‘I have stomach sore/hurt’. Like, “Woah yo dew zeh tong (with a long sounding o).”

The doctor or pharmacist can point you in the direction of some cold remedies, advil, or stomachin. The medicine and doctors here are very friendly and helpful!

11. Basic sentence structure

It might be helpful to know the basic sentence structure in the Chinese language; not only for helping you stick words you learn in order, but understanding why your students are making some grammatical mistakes, (like in my other article, “Learn Chinese from your Student’s Mistakes!).

Subject + time + location + verb + object is the basic sentence structure. Whenever you are asking a question, put the question word, (who, what, where, when, why), at the end to denote it is a question, (or the old stand-by ‘ma’).

So, something like, “We will see a movie on Saturday,” becomes, “We Saturday see a movie.” Or a question like, “What is this” becomes, “This is what?”

Students will often translate directly from Chinese disregarding sentence patterns and structure, letting them know the sentence structure in English is different will also allow you to learn the sentence structure in Chinese!

12. “I’m sorry” “I don’t know” and “Don’t worry about it”

These phrases are basic things to say if you are out and about and happen to bump into someone, need someone’s attention, or someone bumps into you. Just basic politeness or concern is always a good thing to know!

“I’m sorry”– “Dui bu qi,” it sounds like ‘dway boo chee’. If you bump into someone or need someone’s attention, ask them in a polite manner. Also, please is “Qing,” (like from our phrase earlier, ‘qing wen’).

“Don’t worry about it!”– “Mei guan xi!” It sounds like ‘may gwan she’. It means the action has no relationship to you, or it doesn’t affect your relationship. A nice sentiment!

“I don’t know” — “Wo bu ji dao!” This might be the phrase I use most often. It sounds like, ‘woah boo jih dow’. Sometimes, when you start speaking Chinese to someone, they will answer in kind but very quickly. You can ask them to slow down or you can say, “I don’t know” and they will usually ease it down for you.

These are only a few survival tips for living abroad in Asia– I’m sure once you are here you will figure out many more. It’s very possible to arrive without knowing any of the language and learn once you are here– people are very friendly and helpful. I hope these will help on some of those tougher days!


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