Mandarin Chinese and its characters

Mandarin Chinese, which is also known as pútónghùa, zhōngwén, hànyǔ, and guǒyǔ, is spoken in China and Taiwan as a native language. Due to its popularity, Mandarin is also used in different countries all over the world such as Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines…….In fact, Mandarin is one of the most broadly spoken languages in the world together with English and Spanish.

People in different areas of China speak different dialects as Min Nan, Hakka, Fujian, Cantonese, etc, which may sound very different to standard Mandarin. Fortunately, the meaning and the written language is the same for all kinds of Chinese dialects.

Generally speaking, students prefer to write simplified instead of traditional Chinese characters as they are much more simple. One of the ways to master the characters, to understand the two, they are in fact interconnected with each other. Taiwanese uses traditional characters only while Chinese uses simplified characters. However, not every Chinese character has both simplified and traditional versions, so sometimes you may have no option but to write the complicated form.

How to count from 1 to 10 in Chinese

Chinese character

Pin Yin

English meaning
















Chinese New Year Foods

Chinese New Year is on the first day of January for lunar calendar and it is the biggest celebrated festival for Chinese people.Chinese New Year foods are very important to Chinese people and the typical New Year foods are niangao, dumplings and fish.


NianGao is mainly made from glutinous rice flour and sugar. NianGao sounds like “getting higher and higher year by year” in Chinese language. Chinese people think that if they get higher, they will be more successful in their life.

Dumplings 饺子

Most of Chinese people know how to make dumplings because it is a quite popular food and easy-to-cook. Chinese people trust that eating dumplings will bring fortune and they can make more money in a coming year.

Fish 鱼

In Chinese, Fish sounds like “saving more”. Chinese People usually keep more money at the end of the year because they strongly believe that the more money they save, the more money they will earn in next year. There is an idiom called年年有余(/nyen-nyenyo-yoo/) which means every year people will save more.

30 Useful Chinese Expressions

Dos and Donts when Travelling in China

Numbers Made Easy

Often when I teach Chinese numbers in my mandarin class, students find it really helpful to learn Chinese numbers. Different from English, most Chinese vocabulary associated with numbers such as days of the week, months of the year are using vocabulary of numbers themselves. For Chinese learners, learning Chinese numbers will not only enable them to know how to count, tell time and negotiate prices in Chinese language, but can also help them to master a group of vocabulary all of a sudden.

The creation of Chinese numbers follows a mathematic system. Basically, we only need to remember how to count from 1 to 10, and can continue the counting based on the mathematics rules. Counting from 1 to 10 will be as follows:

yī(one),èr(two), sān(three), sì(four), wǔ(five), liù(six), qī(seven), bā(eight), jiǔ(nine), shí (ten)

shí yī (eleven) *as eleven is ten plus 1*, shí èr(twelve), ……èr shí (twenty)*as twenty is two tens*

Based on this rule, we can count till Jiǔshíjiǔ (ninety-nine), which is nine tens and nine. 100 in Chinese language will be Yī bǎi. Similarly, 200 and 300 will be èr bǎi and sānbǎi and so on.

Once you know how to count in Chinese, it will mean that you will learn a group of Chinese vocabulary associated with numbers in no time. For example, 12 months in Chinese language will be as follows:

yī yuè (January) * yuè means months, so literally it means the first month of the year*

liǎng yuè (February)  , sān yuè (March) , sì yuè (April) , wǔ yuè (May), liù yuè (June),

qī yuè (July),  bā yuè (August),  jiǔ yuè (September),  shí yuè (October) , shíyī yuè (November) , shí’èr yuè (December)

Similarly, days of week are as following:

Xīngqí yī (Monday) * Xīngqí means certain day of the week, so literally it means the first day of the week*, Xīngqí èr(two), Xīngqí sān(three), Xīngqí sì(four), Xīngqí wǔ(five), Xīngqí liù(six)

Do you think it is really efficient to learn Chinese numbers? 🙂

– Anne Ma (Mandarin Teacher)

Do you Know Mike Sui?

There are many interesting stories happened in your journey of Mandarin learning.

Recently, Mike Sui is very popular among Chinese learners. Have a look at his performance at the bar.

He imitated different accents in this short video:

Hope you enjoy your learning with Our SLS excellent teachers!

Learning Chinese Characters Without Rote Learning

To learn Chinese characters, first of all we will need to know some history and features about this ancient writing. The history of Chinese characters can be traced back into more than 3000 years ago, and at the very beginning of its development most Chinese characters are “pictographic”, which means you can easily guess the meaning by looking at the shape of the characters. The examples are 木(mù) (wood or tree),目(mù) (eye). Both characters have the same pinyin. The former character ‘木” used to be looking like , which by the shape looks like a tree. The top horizontal stroke imitates the branches of a three whereas the bottom two strokes imitate the roots of a tree.  The latter character “目” originally looks like  and is actually a picture of an eye.

As time goes by, only using picturesque characters could not meet the increasing demand of Chinese characters. There then came other groups of Chinese characters. One of those groups is called “indication”, which means you can guess the meaning by looking at different parts of the characters. For example, the character “林(lín)” has two trees in one character. The word “林” means “forest”, which actually indicated by the parts of the character. Instead of using rote learning to remember Chinese characters, we can learn characters much more efficiently by analysing the development of the characters and their features.

Another important group, which represents a very characteristic feature of Chinese characters, is called “picot-phonogram”. The characters in this group are often composed of two parts (mostly left-right structure), and the left part indicate meaning of the characters (usually pictographic characters) whereas the right part indicate the pronunciation of the characters. For example, the word “淋(lín)” (meaning “get wet”) has its meaning part  in its left and the phonetic part “林” in its right.

Why Chinese characters?

After learning Chinese for a while, many students feel that the more they learn, the more confused they sometimes get about this language. For example, pinyin “tā” can mean “he”, “she” or “it”,and “jī” can either mean “chicken” or “machine”. However, when we have a look at their according Chinese Characters, we will find though they have exactly the same pinyin, they actually have different Chinese characters to go with them. That is the reason why start from pre-intermediate course, we are introducing more and more Chinese characters during the lessons.

Moreover, through learning Chinese characters, it will not only help the students get a better understanding of the Chinese language, but also introduce them cultures and ways of thinking of Chinese people. Let me take an example of the word “女(nǚ)” (meaning woman or women), which is actually a pictographic word whose ancient form looks like . This original form for woman depicted her in a bowing position with two arms crossed together like a servant. It is shows humbleness and inferiority position of women in Chinese culture when the word was created. In ancient Chinese culture, women neither went to school to receive education nor went out for work. Instead, they were the group who are doing the housework and serving their husbands. Of course, things have been changed for so long and in modern China women generally have the equal right for education and work as men do. But still, in some parts of China, especially in rural areas, people still believe only sons can carry the family lines and therefore much more important than daughters.

Would it be interesting and helpful to learn some Chinese culture through learning Chinese characters?

By Anne Ma (Mandarin Language Consultant)

Methods for Learning Mandarin

Visual Methods for Learning Mandarin Chinese
•    Use textbooks, flashcards
•    Make notes, lists and diagrams
•    Watch Mandarin-language videos
•    Use  coloured highlighters for various language functions like verbs, nouns, measure words etc.

Auditory Methods for Learning Mandarin Chinese
•    Use audio materials like CDs and MP3 files
•    For classroom study, ask if you can record the lessons
•    Watch Mandarin-language videos and listen to Mandarin radio
•    Record all your written notes

Kinaesthetic Methods for Learning Mandarin Chinese
•    Use flashcards and interactive software
•    Play role-playing games and practice dialogs with a partner
•    Study in the language lab and with other people
•    Find a language-exchange partner

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