Model Mandarin: November 2015

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

Thanksgiving 感恩节(gǎn’ēn jié) is coming! And we are sure many of you are looking forward to a feast with turkey火鸡(huǒjī)? All of which reminds me of chat I had with my student Iria.

During one class break, I was chatting with Iria in Chinese about Thanksgiving Day. She asked: “你有火机吗?” (Nǐ yǒu huǒjī ma?)

To which I responded: “我没有火鸡。在中国,没有火鸡。” (Wǒ méiyǒu huǒjī. Zài Zhōngguó, méiyǒu huǒjī.) She looked confused and asked: “Then how do Chinese people smoke?”

I laughed as I realized she was talking about a cigarette lighter, and I thought she was talking about turkey. Though different Chinese characters, they sounds the same, even the tones. Explaining the difference I told her: “Lighter is ‘fire machine’火机(huǒjī) and turkey is ‘fire chicken’火鸡(huǒjī).” So, you are best off using 打火机(dǎhuǒjī) for lighter, so there are no misunderstandings.


gǎn’ēn jié
感 恩 节

火 鸡

(dǎ) huǒjī
(打) 火 机

TALKING POINTS A supplement for grammar practice

The Chinese word- 打() has many meanings, which can be used to form different words and phrases. The basic meaning of 打() is “hit or beat”. As the left radical shows, the meaning is usually related to “doing something with hands”.

The most common usage is in reference to playing ball sports (but only when hands are involved):

dǎ wǎngqiú
play tennis

dǎ lánqiú
play basketball

dǎ yǔmáoqiú
play badminton

dǎ pīngpāngqiú
play ping pong

dǎ gāo’ěrfūqiú
play golf

However, when it comes to “playing soccer” we don’t use打(), as we don’t use our hands to play soccer. We use feet to kick-踢(). So, we say 踢足球(tī zúqiú).

Here are more instances when we use 打() in our daily life:

hold umbrellahola

dǎ diànhuà
make a phone call

take a taxi

to type


CARTOON CHARACTERS Mnemonic devices that work

The radical we are going to talk about today is 艹 which means “vegetation”. It looks like grass, right? As the meaning suggests, the characters using this radical must be related to plants or trees.

chá 茶 – tea
The Chinese people simply love tea茶. Let’s learn it. You can separate it into three parts: 艹,人,木. Well, 木stands for trees. So, it is a picture of a person人 picking tea leaves from tea plants.

Hear this mini audio lesson online at

cài 菜 – vegetable
This character is similar to 茶. The middle part 爫 looks like a hand trying to pick- up something. So, you can imagine the picture is a person 人 using hands 爫 to pick up vegetables from plants 木.

Hear this mini audio lesson online at

CANTONESE CORNER Guangdong conversation starters 

geng2 hot3 (颈渴) – Autumn is dry and can make you thirsty. This word means “thirsty”. For example, I am thirsty and will buy something to drink.(Ngo5 geng2 hot3 liu5, heoi3 maai5 ye5 jam2.) (For geng, raise the tone from mid to high. And then it drops steadily to a mid-low tone at the end.)

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