Model Mandarin: Lessons in Love

0514_MMTop Tip: Don’t Mind the Big Things

Tones are important. They can be the difference between buy and sell (mǎi or mài) or between referring to someone’s mother (mā) as a horse (mǎ). While it can take some time to develop the ear to recognize them, and even longer to train your voice to speak them, in the meantime you can still be understood. Chinese songs follow the melody, not the tone, and the lyrics are still easily followed. Often it is the context of what is being said that improves comprehension. If someone asks what you do, and you reply you are an always (lǎoshì) instead of a teacher (lǎoshī) it is likely you will still be understood. Unless you’ve already called their mother a horse, in which case the conversation might already be over.
If you spent last month’s Valentine’s Day alone, it could be time to adopt the fast track way to learning Chinese—getting a Chinese boyfriend or girlfriend. If there is someone who has caught your fancy, the following language will help get you started.

Talking Points: Lessons in Love

Wǒ xiǎng // qǐng nǐ // chī-fàn
I would like // to invite you // for a meal.
‘xiǎng’ – would like is more preferable to
‘yào’ – to want, as it is more polite.
‘qǐng’ is the standard verb used to invite, but it also implies the meaning to treat someone : you will be expected to pay for the meal.
‘chī fàn’ is a verb phrase made up of ‘chī’ – to eat and ‘fàn’ – a meal.

Nǐ xiǎng // hé wǒ // qù gōng-yuán // ma?
Would you like // with me // to go to the park // ?
Adding ‘ma’ at the end forms a question, changing You would like into Would you like?
In Chinese, ‘with me’ is said before the verb. To offer other activities, simply change the verb phrase at the end of the sentence.

qù kàn diàn-yǐng – go to see a movie          qù jǐu-bā – go to a bar
lái wǒ jiā – come to my house
Another way to ask to do something with someone is to use the word ‘together.’

wǒ-men // yì-qǐ qù// mǎi dōng-xi, // hǎo ma?
We // together go // shopping // ok?

Whereas in English we say ‘go together,’ Chinese has the words swapped, with the verb after ‘yì-qǐ’.

Shopping is expressed by saying ‘buy something’, but guàng jiē is also commonly used, meaning ‘to stroll down the street’ or ‘window shop,’ and is used when there is no item in particular you want to buy, but instead want to just casually look around.

Character Focus: Order Confidently

Ordering food at Dongguan’s many ‘hole in the wall’ restaurants can be a challenge; the menus are in Chinese, there are limited pictures and the staff is unlikely to speak any English. Picking a dish at random may seem the only option available, but armed with the knowledge of just a few characters the process becomes a lot easier. This month we focus on telling your rice from your noodles, and where to find the good meat.

Untitled-2fàn – Meaning rice, when this character is added at the end of a dish’s name it means it will come in a smaller portion but with rice. Often there is the option to have the dish without rice but in a larger portion. This will be the one with the higher price.

Untitled-3miàn/fěn – Both mean noodles, but 面 refers to the thicker kind, while 粉 is usually the thinner.


Untitled-4tāng – Soup.
Often this will be combined with 面 or 粉 to make a noodle soup.


Untitled-5ròu – This character at the end of the name will mean it is a meat dish. If worried about the type of meat you will be getting, a safe bet is usually to look for a beef dish with the characters 牛肉.


Untitled-6tǔdòusī – Sliced potato strips. If overwhelmed by the number of options, it is worth learning to recognize these three characters. The dish is common in many restaurants and it is a safe bet
on a good eat.