Tones are important. They are also difficult, and take hours of listening and trying to mimic native speakers. But don’t let this worry you, if you are still troubled by tones, practice your language anyway. With good pinyin you are still likely to be understood. Regularly hearing words spoken and repeating them will improve tonal familiarity more quickly. Just remember that until this familiarity comes, you should still be able to match the word with its proper tone. When using tones becomes natural, you will be thankful of this extra work.
Chinese sentences follow a set word order: Subject // Time // Location // Verb Phrase
So to say: I ate lunch at home today. You would rearrange each part of the sentence into its correct position: I // today // at home // ate lunch. – wǒ // jīntiān // zàijiā // chīwǔfàn.
Or to say: They watched a film at the Cinema on Saturday. Rearrange as: They // Saturday // at Cinema // watch a film. tā men // xīng qī liù // zài diàn yǐng yuàn // kàn diàn yǐng le
Some verbs, like ‘zhù’ (to live) need the location placed after the verb. This is an exception, but if you are unsure it is best to follow the structure as the majority of verbs follow it.
An understanding of this structure will also allow you to ask questions, simply by inserting the question word in the right place. This is unlike English, where question words such as ‘Who,’ ‘Why’ and ‘Where’ are placed at the start of the sentence. This means the word order of the sentence has to be rearranged:
I will go at 8 o’clock. What time will you go?
To form the question, ‘time’ has been moved from the end to the beginning.
I went to McDonalds to eat dinner. Where did you go to eat dinner?
Here, ‘location’ has been moved from the middle to the beginning.
In Chinese, nothing needs to be rearranged:
Nǐ shì shéi? You are who? Wǒ shì dà wéi. I am David.
The ‘who’ remains in the same position, regardless of whether it is a question or statement.
Nǐ zài nǎ-lǐ xué zhōng-wén? You at where study Chinese? Wǒ zài Běi jīng xué zhōng wén. I at Beijing study Chinese.
Here, ‘location’ remains in the middle of the sentence.
Learn how to tell your coffees from your teas with the following characters.
kā fēi – Coffee: A cognate word from the English language, ‘kā fēi’ sounds like the English word ‘coffee.’ Therefore the characters are mainly based off their phonetic sounds, 加 (jiā) and 非 (fēi). Both characters have 口 (kǒu – mouth) added on the left side as a hint to the meaning.
chá – Tea: This character is made up of a number of smaller parts, each with their own meaning. 艹 are the leaves, 人 is person and 木 is the plant (although in this case it is changed to 朩). When joined together, the character shows a person harvesting leaves from a plant, in this case the tea leaves.