Fun With Mandarin

What do you already know about Mandarin?

For starters, your cup of cha in the morning comes from a Chinese word. In Mandarin, it is pronounced as chá, spoken with rising intonation when it is pronounced correctly. Martial arts enthusiasts would know words such as  gōngfu and  tàijíquán, although they might be more familiar with the spellings Kung-fu and Tai chi chuan.

How hard is it to learn Mandarin?

Mandarin is a tonal language, which means the pitch or intonation in which a sound is spoken affects the meaning. For example, if you say ma with a high tone it means mum, but ma with a rising tone means spicy. The grammar is surprisingly straightforward, with none of the tenses, plurals, cases or genders that can make learning European languages difficult.

The tongue twisters could help you practice the tones, which are marked above the vowels.


Sì shì sì, shí shì shí, shísì shì shísì, sìshí shì sìshí.

Four is four, ten is ten, fourteen is fourteen, forty is forty. 


Chī pútao bù tǔ pútao pí, bù chī pútao dào tǔ pútao pí.

When you are eating grapes, you don’t spit out the skin, but when you are not eating grapes, you do spit out the skin.



Ni hao

The most common greeting line in Mandarin Chinese is ni hao , which can be used when you meet people for the first time, and can also be used at any time of the day. Ni means you in its singular form. Hao means ok.



Xiexie is commonly used, meaning thank you. Bu keqi - literally means ‘do not be polite' is the response to xiexie, the English equivalent is You are welcome.



Zaijian is the expression used to say goodbye to people and it can be used in all situations, formal or informal and at any time of the day.


Chi le ma

Chi le ma - this is the most common way Asians greet each other. It literally means 'did you eat'. The local Hokkien dialect is jiak-ba-boi. Ma indicates a question. By adding ma to the end of a sentence, you turn it into a question. Ma is a neutral tone. It means that it does not carry a tone.

Ordering food & shopping


Wo yao

When ordering food you can use the expression ‘Wo yao…’, literally meaning I want… Bubble tea is one of the most popular drinks in Kaohsiung, which contains a tea base mixed with milk, to which chewy tapioca balls and fruit jelly are often added. When ordering, say ‘Wo yao he naichai’, I want to drink bubble tea.


Qing lai

You can also use the expression “Qing lai…” to order food, which means “Please bring…” For instance, if you want to order the famous ‘beef noodle soup’, say ‘Qing lai yi wan niuroumian’, please bring one beef noodle.


Zhe & Na

When you are ordering or shopping and you are not sure of the language, you can always use the trick of pointing and saying ‘zhe’ or ‘na’, meaning ‘this’ and ‘that’ respectively.


Duo shao qian

‘Duo shao qian’ literally means how much money and it is commonly used when you want to know the price of the products.


Qing mai dan

If you want to pay the bill, you can say ‘Qing mai dan’.


Tai gui le

Tai gui le! That's too expensive! (A good bargaining trick)

Asking for directions


Qing wen

If you want to raise questions, simply use the construction ’Qing wen’. It literally means ‘please ask…’ and it is a polite way of ask question.


Zen me zou

When you ask for directions, you can use the expression ‘… zen me zou’, meaning ‘how can I go to…’ For instance, wonder how to go the Congress venue, you can ask ‘Bo er yishu tequ zen me zou’ - how can I go to Pier - 2 Art District?