1 Basics of Chinese

Julian Luo
  1. Lesson 1: basics
  2. Lesson 2 sentence elements: subjects, predicate, objects, modifiers, clauses, complements…
  3. Lesson 3 Patterns
  4. Lesson 4 Statements (affirmative, negative)
  5. Lesson 5 yes or no Questions
  6. Lesson 6 Special questions
  7. Lesson 7 Phrases
  8. Lesson 8 vocabulary
  9. Lesson 9 Common Structures

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playing erHu

Firstly, let’s learn something very simple and you will easily remember:
中国 means China, they are two Chinese characters. How do we read it? we use pinyin. Pinyin of this word 中国 is Zhongguo. It’s still impossible to read I know, but at least they are written in letters. Our course is based on Pinyin, to make it easier for you.
If it is a Chinese statement written, we type 。 at the end instead of a period. Since we are not learning Characters at this stage, we will just type a period like English.

How do you type a 。? We have installed a special input software on our computer, like the version Google developed for us, which is free. When we type . on our keyboard, it will show up as 。 if we switch to this software’s input instead of the original letters-only input method that Microsoft and Apple provide.
Again, you do not need to know how to type it at this stage.

Let’s do a quick test to find out how much you know about China and Chinese first. If you have done this test before, jump to next item.
This quiz is about Chinese culture and language.

[chained-quiz 3]

Chinese characters are optional to learn.
Just give you an example.


means hello. Imagine how long it takes to learn how to write these two characters. Ask yourself, are you ready to spend that much time to learn how to write?

For your information, 8% of Chinese adults do not read, nor write Chinese characters. Obviously they survived, so if you are just planning to travel to China, writing is not a skill you have to learn. More importantly, in modern times, we seldom write, we just type. If you just type, you only need to know how to write in Pinyin, and read in Characters.

Many Chinese courses teach you how to write those characters. They were mostly designed years ago. If later on you are good enough with your speaking skill, it will be easier to learn the characters. My course is designed for those who just want to learn how to speak and communicate, not read and write.

Another example of Chinese words:
For the word Chinese, its official pinyin is zhongwen, and the two Chinese characters are 中文. When I type the two characters into my computer, I actually typed these letters “zhongwen” and the computer displays the two characters. So even you do not know how to write Chinese characters, you will be able to type the characters.

Pinyin, or Hànyǔ Pīnyīn, is the official romanization system for Standard Chinese in mainland China, Malaysia, Singapore, and Taiwan. It is often used to teach Standard Chinese, which is normally written using Chinese characters. The system includes four diacritics denoting tones. Pinyin without tone marks is used to spell Chinese names and words in languages written with the Latin alphabet, and also in certain computer input methods to enter Chinese characters.(Wikipedia)
Hànyǔ Pīnyīn — The real pinyin is like them (left), with four different marks on the vowels of each syllable/word to indicate four different tones.

To make it easier for you I have ignored the marks and just write them as “Hanyu Pinyin” in my course, because they are not important for basic Chinese learners.



  1. Pinyin is a form of Chinese words written in letters, instead of characters.
  2. Pinyin teaches you how to read Chinese characters.
  3. Chinese people type Pinyin into their computers, and the words will show up as Chinese characters.

I also ignored the four tones of Chinese, and simplified them into two, just like in English some syllables are accented while others are not. Pronunciation with two tones are not accurate but will work, because we are used to all kinds of dialects and accents, inaccurate tones are quite common here in China. Choosing the right words to say, and with the right grammar, is far more important than accurate pronunciation in Chinese if you want to learn how to communicate with us quickly.

This website works closely with Google Translate, which provides translation of all the words you need and pronunciation. We will show you links to each word on Google Translate, so you will hear how they are pronounced. This site does not provide audio files or tapes for you to listen to.

You need to know about the time difference.
In summer the time difference between Shanghai and NYC is 12 hours, in winter it is 11. China does not turn the clock.
The reason we need to know about this is that students and teachers living in different time zones will get together regularly on Skype. If you are in the western coast of the USA, remember that the best time to talk to our teachers is either early morning or evening, do not expect an immediate response at noon because we are still in bed.

A question to help you to get ready:
There are a few sounds in Chinese that are hard to pronounce by foreigners, including [zi], which is an important word in Chinese. Now [click here so you can hear the sound.]

Click the icon to the left to hear the sound of this word. It is not easy but answer this anyway.

Which of the following sound is the closest to what you just heard on Google Translate?

bir[ds] | [zir] | [zer] | [dsir]

This is a very tricky question and you may find it impossible to answer. Don’t worry, you are not alone. We are just trying to prepare your brain for this oriental language, especially the sound. Just try to pronounce each sound after clicking the audio icon on Google Translate. Soon you will get there. Most words are much easier to pronounce. This is one of the tough ones.

zi: actual sound is bir[ds]. If it’s difficult for you, then try to say this word: [dsir].

If you like the method of writing zi as dsir, then look up and find our books. They are based on this method.

Another difficult but very frequently used Chinese word is Shi = yes/is/are. Click here to listen to its sound. How would you like to write this sound in an easier way for you to remember?

[Shirt] | [Shoot]

Shi sounds like [Shir]t in English.

Again, this is a very important word in Chinese language, we suggest you keep repeating the sound on your mind until you are confident it’s close to what you heard on Google Translate.

  1. If you are just checking in a word that you need to find out how to say in Chinese, please click here to check the word. Remember that you can hear the sounds of every Chinese word on their page. You may also click vocabulary on our Home page to check for those frequently used words.
  2. We also have a page for very common and simple travel phrases like “byebye/thank you/how are you”, click Home, then scroll down to find the link.

Chinese and English have the same sentence structure for simple statements. The difference is about the modifiers added to these core sentence elements: subjects, verbs, adjectives and objects. In English these modifiers’ locations are relatively flexible, you can say:
I love red roses, or
I love roses that are red.

But in Chinese you can only say I love red roses. The modifiers must be ahead of the objects.

If you want to say
The family has arrived in Shanghai one hour ago. In Chinese it needs to be reconstructed as:
The family one hour ago has arrived in Shanghai, or
One hour ago the family has arrived in Shanghai.

There are some rare occasions in Chinese when certain types of modifiers can be put at the end, either to emphasize such modifier, or just as a tradition. Such as:
I come from the USA. In Chinese we can say
I from the USA come. As from the USA modifies the verb come, and therefore it normally needs to be relocated to be front.
Or we can also say “I come from the USA.” with “from the USA” remains at the end, functioning as a compliment. They are both correct.
There are just some words and terms can be relocated to the end in Chinese. You will learn more later on.

Other examples:

The flight landed fifteen minutes ago. should be said like
> That flight fifteen minutes ago landed.

There was another attack in Paris. should be
> In Paris there was another attack.

Now you have read all the words of this lesson. Please click here to move to next lesson: the elements in Chinese sentences.

nin hao.
Click here to move to next lesson, if you have read everything on this page……….


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