Model Mandarin: September


Remember how to speak by saying things you shouldn’t.

All languages have homophones (words of identical pronunciation, with different meanings), but in Chinese practically all of them are. To make it wilder, even the same word can have several meanings. A prime example is yì si (意思).

yǒu yì si (有 意 思)
Funny, interesting

bù hǎo yì si (不 好 意思)
Ashamed or embarrassed; Excuse me

shén me yì si (什 么 意 思)
What’s the meaning?

Two students are discussing their Chinese class.

A: Zhāng lǎoshī de kè zhēn you yìsi.
张 老 师 的 课 真 有 意思。
Miss Zhang’s class is really interesting.

B: shì ā, xià cì wǒ dōu bù hǎo yìsi chí dào le.
是 啊, 下 次 我 都 不 好 意思 迟 到 了。
Yeah, I would be ashamed to be late for the class again.

A: bù hǎo yì si shì shén me yì si?
不 好 意思 是 什 么 意思?
What does “bù hǎo yì si” mean?


A supplement for grammar practice

Gǎo (搞) is very popular in speaking Chinese. It means “to carry out something” or “to be engaged in a certain type of work.” It also means “to manage to get something.”

tā shì gǎo xiāo shòu de.
他 是 搞 销 售 的
He’s engaged in sales work.

Tài è le, qù gǎo diǎn er chī de dōng xi ba.
太 饿 了, 去 搞 点 儿 吃 的 东 西 吧。
I’m starving, let’s get something to eat.

Sometimes it can also mean, “got it wrong.”

nǐ gǎo cuò le, wǒ bú shì Daisy.
你 搞 错 了, 我 不 是Daisy.
You are wrong, I am not Daisy.

Try to use it to surprise your friends; it could smooth out an awkward conversation.


Mnemonic devices that work

Sometimes the radicals will look different from their original set up. For example, Huǒ (火), as a radical is generally related to fire. When standing on the left of a character, it is written as “火,” but when used as the lower part of a character, it is written as “灬” known as the four-dot bottom.

arbecue – 烧烤 (shāokǎo)
Traffic light – 红绿灯 (hónglǜdēng)
Hot- 热 ()
A bit, a little – 点儿 (yīdiǎner)


Conversation starters for Guangdongers

Sa sa sui – it means “a piece of cake,” and refers to small case, not a difficult thing to do. Good for jokes when talking about your Chinese skill. (Speak sa in a steady tone and sui a little lower.)