Model Mandarin: July 2015

Model mandarinBEAR IN MIND Learn by saying things you shouldn’t

Chinese teachers always say, “Don’t be afraid of making mistakes.” That’s true because you learn from your mistakes, right? Especially those that make you laugh.

Last week, one of my students tried to use Chinese to describe the terrible weather in Hong Kong. She wanted to say, “Because of the storm, the planes couldn’t take off or land.” With one word, her attempt turned a simple observation into fake news of a major catastrophe.

Her Attempt

Zài    XiānɡGǎnɡ    fēijīchǎnɡ,    suǒyǒu    fēijī    dōu    búhuì    qǐfēi    hé    jiàngluò.
在           香港           飞机场,       所有    飞机    都     不会     起飞     和      降落。

I explained to her that she should not use huì (会) here because, in the negative, it means, “Doesn’t have the ability to do something.” She burst into laughter, “It is really a big problem if all the planes don’t have the ability to take off and land!”
Now she knows she should use the word kěyǐ (可以)in this case to express “objective possibility.” Every time she is trying to use these two words, she will think of this funny story which reminds her to use them in the right way.

Vocab List

huì – can

kěyǐ – could

qǐfēi hé jiàngluò – take off and land

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TALKING POINTS A supplement for grammar practice

The sentence structure of Chinese sometimes is quite different from English. When you speak Chinese, but think in English, you will probably say it the wrong way. Get the word order for time and place expressions correct by remembering the simple tricks below.

Time (when)

Mínɡtiān    wǒ    qù    jiǔbā.
明天      我   去   酒吧。
Tomorrow I go to the bar.


Wǒ    mínɡtiān    qù    jiǔbā.
我         明天       去   酒吧。
I tomorrow go to the bar.

To express locality, the place comes before the verb. Maybe it would be tough to take action without arriving on location first, right?

Place (where)

Wǒ    zài    jiǔbā   tiàowǔ.
我    在   酒吧      跳舞。
I at the bar dance.

CARTOON CHARACTERS Mnemonic devices that work

0715_model MandarinPronounce this month’s radical shuǐ. Take a look at it. Does it look like three drops of water? When it appears in a character, the meaning is usually related to “water” or “liquid.”



jiānɡ 江 – river, n.

Does the right part (工) look like a river with a bridge? Maybe you think it looks more like a railroad track, but if you see氵, we can remember it is actually a river.

jiǔ 酒 – alcohol, n.

When you go to the bar, did you hear people say píjiǔ? It means beer.
Jiǔ is alcohol. It is pronounced the same as nine 九, similar to “Joe.” In this story, there is a person named Joe. One day Joe drinks too much jiǔ and gets drunk. Joe knelt down on the ground to vomit (looks like 九). Let’s take a closer look at 酒. Do you see him? He’s on top of the right part (酉), which also looks like a Chinese wine jar. With one story, you can remember two characters –九 and 酒.

Hear this mini audio lesson online at


CANTONESE CORNER Guangdong conversation starters 

bak6 yim3 zai2/ bak6 yim3 mui6 (百厌仔/百厌妹) – This Cantonese word means naughty, so when you’re having some small talk at the company picnic, joke around with a colleague’s kids and ask them if they are a good boy or girl. Guangdongers usually add girl (mui, 妹) or boy (zai, 仔) at the end. (Speak bak by keeping a steady mid-low tone, then take the yim a little higher, but stay steady. For zai, raise the tone from mid to high and for mui go back to the steady mid-low.)

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