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Monthly Digest of Chinese Learning – Feb 2015

There is an abundance of wonderful Chinese learning blogs and articles on the Internet. Sometimes it is just impossible to filter through every single one. Don’t you wish you had someone to do it for you? Of course you do, and luckily for you, DigMandarin is always ready to oblige you. Here is our selection for best articles in the month of February.

Understanding Modern China through Comedic Rap


“Laowai Style” by Jesse Appell is a parody of the sensational hit, “Gangnam Style”. This song is about the life of a foreigner in Beijing. Appell is a Fulbright Scholar in China and stand-up comedian earning a living. He has been making Making Sen$e far-flung Sino-economics correspondent since 2012.

In 2013, he debuted another hit, “Mo Money Mo Fazhan” as parody of “Mo Money Mo Problems”. The more development and consumption in Chinese society results in more ills that afflict it the country, for examples, pollution and economic inequality. Another song that he released explains this tension is “China’s Theme Song: Can I Subsitute GDP for Disposable Diapers?”

Paul Solman caught up with Appeal, his former student, in Boston for the Thursday night segment of Making Sen$e. He explains why money is such a big deal in China – more so than in the United States. “Everyone’s always talking about how am I going to make money? How much did that subway cost to build? How much do I pay to go on the subway? These issues come up in America, but they’re everywhere in China.”

As a result, he continues, “Everybody is street wise economist and everybody is a streetwise finance expert and is trying to figure out how to just get it done.” Take a look at other his other songs that he had done which discuss other problems that China poses on itself.

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How Chinese People Actually Say “No”

(Yoyo Chinese)

We all know there is not particular word in Chinese that can be translated as just “no”. But did you know that there are all sorts of phrases that could mean “no” even if they mean something else when taken literally? These phrases can be misleading if you come from a culture that values direct communication.

One of the biggest differences between Chinese and Americans is that Americans are more “direct”. This communication difference usually can make Chinese people feel uncomfortable. On the other hand, the “indirect” nature of Chinese interaction can drive an American crazy. They feel they need to guess what a Chinese person meant and have to force people to give a clear yes or no answer.

Westerners may expect people to mean what they say and take their words at face value. We need to take look at how to communicate the possible indications of the Chinese people are saying. Let’s take look at the different phrases and examples how they might be used.

“Don’t Have” – méi yǒu (没有)
If you have ever entered a store where you ask for a particular item, they may tell you “méi yǒu”. Even though you’ve bought it there before, or you know someone bought it there early. It actually means in some cases is that “we don’t have it”, but in other cases it means “I don’t want to/can’t help you.” You will usually hear this from time to time in government services offices or if you catch someone in a bad mood.

“Let me think about it” – xiǎng yī xiǎng ba (想一想吧)
If you ask a coworker if he or she will go to the boss with you to ask if everyone in your department can leave early on Friday, then he or she tells you “xiǎng yī xiǎng ba”. Even though they say they will think about it, it actually means, “I don’t want to, but I don’t want to tell you that” This coworker is making sure your relationship with them remains in good terms however doesn’t want to risk upsetting you with a no so he or she says they will think about it.

“Another day” – gǎi tiān ba (改天吧)
You are at a live music bar with some friends and asked a Chinese friend to join you. He seemed excited to be invited but when it comes time to meet, he says his uncle is in town, so he can’t join you. He says “gǎi tiān ba ”. You tried to reschedule with him but he gives you a vague response. It actually means, “I don’t want to, but I need to find a way to let you down easily”. It is a white lie excuse that helps save face and keep the friendship.

“Next time” – xià cì ba (下次吧)
Heading out after work for dinner with some friends and you ask your coworker to join you. He or she says they are busy so maybe next time. And when you ask her again, he or she says the same thing. It really means “No thanks.” If this is happens to you, save yourself the embarrassment and don’t take it literally, it may only result in the same answer in the future.

“It’s unclear to me” – bú tài qīng chu (不太清楚)
You ask for direction from someone on the street, but before you finish asking your question, the guy shakes his head and says, “I’m not sure”. It actually means, “I don’t want to tell you or I truly have no idea. Please don’t ask me again”. If someone is quick to say this phrase, it is best to just leave it at that. Bú tài qīng chu is a clear sign you better ask someone else.

“In two days” – gùo liǎng tiān ba (过两天吧)
You ask the shop assistant who said “méi yǒu” when the store might more of the item you are looking for in stock. She replies with “gùo liǎng tiān ba” which you understand to be two days time. It actually means “Maybe at some time point in the future. I don’t know when”. This phrase is just a saying that doesn’t literally mean 2 days time, but some time later.

Once you identify the thinly veiled “no” in Chinese, you will be able to save yourself a lot of misunderstanding. But the advantage of learning these phrases was being able to use them for your own purpose. Given it a shot and see how you can build relationships in China.

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Nine Tips about the HSK

(Written Chinese)

Have you been learning Chinese and want to a way to prove it? You can get a certificated for your Mandarin language skills with the HSK.

1. What is the HSK?
HSK stands for:
Hanyu = 汉语 (han4yu3) which means “Chinese language”
Shuiping= 水平 (shui3ping2) which means “level (of achievement etc)”
Kaoshi= 考试 (kao3shi4) which means “exam”
It is a test that measures a person’s proficiency in Mandarin, testing listening comprehension, speaking and writing.

2. Why do I need to take the HSK?
Studying Chinese can be difficult to see improvement and you may feel like you are treading water in the language. Having a goal like the HSK can help give you Chinese studies a purpose. This test will also serve you in your university studies or on your resume. It will ultimately show you where your Chinese level is.

3. How do I know what level of HSK I should be studying for?
You don’t need to take the HSK test in order, but if you have been studying for a while jump to HSK level 3. If you have a Chinese teacher, you can ask him or her to help you determine your HSK level. There is also a self-assessment tool that you can use without a teacher available on the Hanban website. The HSK is divided into 2 sections: The HSK Written Exam and the HSKK Oral Exam. The HSK Written has 6 levels while HSKK Oral Exam has 3 levels. You will receive separate certificates for completing the two different exams.

4. How can I take the HSK?
There are two ways the Written Tests are taken, in person or online in a testing center. There is no difference in your HSK certificate if you taken the paper or online test.

5. When and where can I find out my HSK Test Results?
After 1 month you can login into your account at chinesetest and enter your registration code to access your results. The results are also available within 2 months of taking of the exam at the test center in which you took the exam. You will need your admission slip to receive the results.

6. How can I get my HSK Test certificate?
Your testing center will provide you with all the information you need to know about obtaining your certificate. Often you will mail them to you or you can pick them up once the results are published.

7. For how long is my HSK Certificate valid?
The HSK certificate has no expiration date when applying for jobs! However, when applying with academic purposes, it is valid for 2 years from the date it was taken. This is of course when you are applying for a Chinese university. Note that employers may not be familiar with the HSK exam, so you can list it as an Official Chinese Proficiency Test ranging from level 1-6.

8. What is the “new” HSK test?
The “new” HSK test is Hanban administered test, which is more practical and easier than the old HSK exams. There was a debate between Hanban, and Beijing Language and Culture University of how to administer the HSK exams. Over time, Hanban were more practical and better testing methods.

9. Top Recommended HSK Resources
HSK Flashcards where HSK 1-6 vocabulary can be pre-loaded in the WCC dictionary app or other dictionary apps. HSK Mock Tests and Practice along with HSK Vocabulary list can be helpful in your studies. Some additional HSK Resources are Podcast to listen to in order to prepare for the listening comprehension.

We hoped this has been helpful to you understanding the HSK test and inspired you to give it try. Good luck in your Chinese studies.

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How Learning some Basic Theory can improve your Pronunciation

(Hacking Chinese)

Ideally, all students would acquire perfect pronunciation through listening to and mimicking native Chinese audio. Sadly, this doesn’t work well for adult learners but seems to work well for children. However, age isn’t an excuse for not learning, so it requires times and effort to learn it. Let’s take a look on how to learn proper pronunciation in Chinese.

The best way to learn is to combine a large amount of listening with practice. Having a Chinese teacher will help act as a role model and give you feedback. Also, theory or phonetics is very important in learning to properly pronounce in Chinese.

Phonetics is important because Chinese had a lot of different ways for pronunciation compared to English. By studying phonetics, you will always find new things that will help you pay attention to crucial aspects of the pronunciation. It will also help you notice key aspects of the spoken language around you with native speakers and differences of what they say to what you say.

Some examples of how theory has improved my pronunciation are:
1. Third tone in Chinese is a low tone. All foreigners have struggled with this one and not all teachers have explained it accurately. It is just a low tone in front of the all tones except another third tone with an optional rise when in isolation or at the end of sentences.

2. “j/q/x” aren’t produced with the tip of the tongue and thus aren’t really between “z/c/s” and “zh/ch/sh”. These sounds are instead produced with the tongue tip down. I had a lot of personal practice and experimentation about these sounds. It has helped the pronunciation of my fellow mandarin students in learning this type.

3. No initial in in Mandarin other than “l”, “m”, “n” and “r” are voiced. Its very common to hear people pronounce initials with voicing, but it isn’t right. It sometimes happens with b, d and g, but these initials can be voiced in the middle of words.

You can argue that I could have corrected all these problems with a good enough teacher. But I think the problem is most people don’t have access to one-to-one tutors that are competent enough to correct details with pronunciation.

Listening, practice and adding theory as a combination of learning is best way to learn to Chinese pronunciation. 95% practice and listening with 5% theory will help you improve in this aspect in Chinese. Try out what you learned and good luck on your studies!

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Chinese Spring Festival: Dumplings Filled with Fortune


Traditional Chinese New Year Spring Festival is coming and many kinds of foods will play an important part in the celebration. Dumplings are big part of the celebrations; let’s see why they are so important.

Why do Chinese like Dumplings?
Chinese people find that dumplings are shaped like the gold ingots from ancient Chinese history. With this similarity, Chinese people use dumplings to wish treasure and wealth to friends and family.

What is the meaning for different filling in Dumplings?
All kinds of meats are used as a base especially pork. However many other ingredients are used for special purposes. Sugar as a filling to give each other a blessing for a sweet new year. Peanuts in Chinese means long life and is used to bless people with longevity. Celery in Chinese sounds like word diligent, so people incorporate it to wish people with diligence in their life. Turnips are believed to good for guiding your qi downward and therefore used to bless people with a smooth and successful life.

What is the meaning of the different shapes and colors of dumplings?
You may see dumplings in 5 different colors, which represents five blessings for a household. These five blessing are longevity, wealth, health, virtue and a natural death (living a full life). Also, you may see dumplings in doubles because two is always better than one.

Chinese New Year will have dumplings everywhere and it is exciting to see the different ways in which it is presented. We hope you learned something new and enjoy the dumplings this Chinese New Year.

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We hope you enjoyed our selection of useful blogs for the month of February. Keep up the learning and remember that DigMandarin is here to help you find all the resources you could possibly need.

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Quy Dai Lam-Quach

He is 郭大贵 who grew up in Seattle and graduated from Seattle University with a Bachelors of Art in Business, majoring in Marketing and Finance. He currently is in Shantou, Guangdong teaching Oral English. 大贵 is a Chinese American who is able to speak Teo Chew dialect. He has been studying Chinese Mandarin for the past year. He personally enjoys being out traveling to new places and experiencing new cultural activities.

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