By Sophie Combers
Great numbers of people come to China to do an internship through InternChina, and a good few of them also come in order to learn a little Chinese at the same time.
Of course, anyone who has studied Chinese as a second language knows Mandarin is no easy tongue in which to even achieve competency, let alone fluency.
Many may have studied Chinese in the classroom previously—that’s what I did. It’s very different, however, to hear the language around you every day; on the street, on the radio, on television, and written across billboards and signs.
This twenty-four-seven immersion tends to speed up your learning much faster than you’d expect—it’s hard not to pick up a few words when the sounds of Chinese stream steadily about you in a hundred currents of language, and it’s harder still to live in China without knowing a few words to help you function in everyday life. Knowing basic greeting words, numbers, and how to express your level of language skill are good pieces of knowledge to have under your belt (although, don’t be too scared—many people in China, unless told otherwise, will assume foreigners don’t understand a word).
There are a few difficulties related to learning Chinese. Unless you’re one of those lucky people who already speaks a tonal language, Chinese can often be a real challenge with its tones, and its many, many, many written characters. But I would argue (with my own far from fluent Chinese skills) that it’s still good to learn.
Not solely for the workplace or for a resume bullet point, although those are sound and solid reasons beyond a doubt.
Here’s another reason I realised during my sojourn in Qingdao—Chinese is just so fascinating!
Here’s a secret: it’s true that sometimes (or often) all the tones will sound the same, every grammar rule will seem impossible to sort out, and all the characters will seem to be hatching devious plots to scramble themselves before your eyes.
But Chinese’s written pictorial words can also become artworks of ink and water and grace on paper; black characters so fluid they seem to stir into motion and life, their every tiny image telling a different story, holding millenniums’ worth of China’s age-old history and culture.
Chinese’s spoken words can form sequences of flowing sounds so clear and quick they remind you of a series of chiming bells, simple and easy as blinks of sunlight.
And when in China, there’s no delight quite like being able to respond in Chinese to a question spoken in Chinese, translating the other person’s query and your own answer and hardly needing to think about it. You can feel truly at home once you can speak the local language, it really is one of the best ways to get to know China and its people. One of my favourite quotes, attributed to Nelson Mandela, is: ‘if you talk to someone in their own language, that goes to their heart’.
Chinese isn’t just grammar and route learning, it gives you the power to understand the fabric of the world around you in the country itself.
And gaining that ability makes all the hours of memorising words, all the embarrassing moments of miscommunication—one hundred per cent worth it, and more.
If your asking this question you’re already going about it the wrong way before you even start. Sure, learning Chinese is not a simple task for native European speakers, but that’s just because at first glance the language seems so different from what we know. When you break it down though, and set your mind to learning some of the basics you soon realise it’s not so alien as you first thought. The first hurdle is to get over your fears of learning a new language and have confidence in your own abilities. Giving up with a laugh and saying “I just don’t have the brain for languages” is not going to get you anywhere.
I’m particularly passionate about this because I see how much of a difference it makes when foreign tourists, students and interns make an effort to communicate with their Chinese friends and colleagues in Mandarin. Relationships in China are key to success in every walk of life. Even a simple sentence like “where are you from?” in Chinese demonstrates that you are open minded and eager to learn about your surroundings and the people you meet (even if you do not understand a word of the response!).
So, how do you begin to tackle the mountainous task of speaking Chinese? Where there is a will there is always a way. You just need to find the best way to make your memory work, this has to be personal to you I believe.
As inspiration for you all I’m going to give you a little insight into how my memory works…
Step 1. Start with the things that matter (i.e. food in my case). Choose a few of your favourite foods and cement those sounds in your mind with some word association.
Have you ever tried a ròu jiā mó (肉夹馍) for example? It’s a delicious stewed meat filled flatbread that sounds suspiciously like Roger Moore (otherwise known as 007):
Step 2. Next most important for me is something to wash the food down with, and since I live in Qingdao nothing can be better than a nice bottle of Tsingtao Beer. If you can’t find a single word to remember something by then start building a story to remember the sounds.
For example, Joe likes to drink beer. Sigh, but then he always needs to pee.
Pee Joe! Beer = pí jiǔ (啤酒)
Step 3. Once you’ve learned a few key words then you’re ready to start expressing your needs. Make yourself heard! When your colleagues are too busy trying to finish off their emails before lunch and your stomach is starting to growl with impatience it’s easy enough to let your imagination run wild…
Imagine Ursula the evil sea Queen from the Little Mermaid flipping her lid. I need food NOW! I’m starving = è sǐ le (饿死了)
Step 4. Then after a while you’re going to have to start recognising some of the more regular responses you hear in shops and bars in China.
The most frequent of these is méi yǒu (没有) meaning don’t have. “Do you have any Mayonnaise?” the foreigner asks with desperate hope in their eyes. “Meiyou” responds the shopkeeper with a incredulous laugh.
So you see! Easy, you just learned 4 things in the space of a few minutes.
I hope this encourages you to come out to China and try learning the language for yourself. It helps to get a good grounding in the basic grammar and pronounciation from a native Chinese speaker to get you started.
You can sign up for classes here in Qingdao, or in Chengdu, Dalian and Zhuhai too. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Mandarin Chinese. Notoriously one of the hardest languages in the world to learn, but you’ve put that aside and you have brought yourself to the other side of the world for the internship of a lifetime.
So in order to get you on your way, we are going to give you some essential words and phrases.
First let’s cover some of the basics:
As you know, Mandarin is a tonal language made up of four tones. These can’t be ignored. So when speaking Mandarin it is better to exaggerate them than to ignore them completely.
The First Tone:
This tone is a flat sound. In English, it is the same sound as when you don’t know something and you say ‘Eerrrrr’. This is the flat tone that you want.
The Second Tone:
The second tone is a rising tone. In English this tone sounds similar to how you would raise your voice at the end of a question e.g “Why?”
The Third Tone:
The third tone is a tone that falls and then rises again. This is a hard tone to master for English speakers. Imagine your friend has just told you something shocking and you reply with “Really!?”. Aim for a strong falling and rising sound.
The Fourth Tone:
The fourth tone is known as the angry tone. A short, sharp sound as if you were angry and telling someone “No!”
So you now recognise the tones but don’t understand the words being said to you?
There is a way to make sense of the Chinese words that you will hear, into words on a piece of paper that you can then read and visa versa.
This is known as Pinyin. This is the phonetic translation of Mandarin pronunciations of Chinese characters, into a Latin alphabet.
It’s important to learn how to pronounce the sounds of the Pinyin alphabet accurately, so it would be best to get the assistance of a Chinese teacher to learn the fundamentals as most don’t sound as you might expect them to be pronounced. In the same way that ‘J’ is pronounced differently in English and Spanish.
Above the pinyin, the tone that the word should be said in is always indicated to help you.
The great thing about pinyin is that you can then type it into a mobile dictionary like ‘Pleco’ and it will show you the meaning of the word and the Chinese characters.
Now that we have the basics down, let’s give you some essential phrases:
Apply here, to put your language skills to practise!
It’s been a while since my last blog. So what news do I have today?
Last week we made it a bit further away from Zhuhai. It was our holiday and we had two destinations: Inner Mongolia and Xi’an.
For Inner Mongolia, which was the first stop, we didn’t have many plans. The only thing I really wanted was to finally sit on a horse back again. After arriving in the hotel in Hohhot (Inner Mongolia’s capital) we walked through the city to do some sightseeing. We saw the old town, a nice mosque and a palace and visited a park.
But quickly we noticed that Hohhot is not the most beautiful city and made plans to find a tourist center to book a trip to the grasslands. In the end with the help of a Chinese guy, we could make a booking for a trip of two days – although we were not very sure what exactly was included because the description was all in Chinese.
The next morning at 7:30 we were picked up by a mini-bus which then took us 3 hours out of the city to the grasslands. As soon as we arrived the doors of the car was opened by some traditionally dressed women who were offering us some wine. Then we were taken to the horses. We joined a small group of Chinese tourists on a 2 hours ride through the grasslands during which we had a break and tried the traditional Mongolian milk tea and some milk candies and dried meat. It was a very sunny and hot that day and soon we burned our skin a little. After returning we went to a big tent in which we were served a Mongolian lunch. The Mongolian women who were offering us the drinks before were now singing traditional songs and were walking through the tent offering drinks again. Next we went to the traditional Mongolian tent which we were to sleep in that night for a short rest. In the early evening we were invited to watch some horsemen wrestle and then it was already time for dinner. A typical dish for this region is lamb and sure it was served during dinner. Before the serving the personnel was singing again until one of the visitors of the camp then was allowed to cut the lamb after putting on traditional clothes.
At night there was a small party with a firework. We were thinking of pushing a cow but didn’t do it in the end.
The next morning we had breakfast at six (yes, six!! Strange holiday, hm?). Right after we hopped back into the mini-bus which we thought was taking us back to Hohhot. But somehow the road didn’t look like the one from the day before and when we finally stopped we realized that they brought us to the desert! We put on some sexy sand socks and a Jeep then took us into the desert driving through the dunes what was a lot of fun. We landed at a place surrounded by a fence where camels were already waiting for us. I never rode a camel before and I must say it’s a pretty strange feeling. And camels look quite funny as well. So I had a lot of fun during that ride.
Next were Quads with which we cruised through the dunes and after that we slid down a high and steep dune on boards. The final activity was a cable slide and then we were hungry enough for lunch.
A final group picture later we got on the road again.
This time we really went to Hohhot. But our trip was not over. The final destination was a huge factory where tourist articles were produced. We had a short guided tour and then could buy all kinds of articles from silver products like bracelets and tea sets, over leather and horn products to candies and dried meat.
Finally we took a cab to the Airport to take the plane which would bring us to Xi’an, China’s ancient capital. Once in Xi’an, it was already past midnight, we went directly to the hotel to sleep. The following day we explored Xi’an’s old town which is surrounded by a big city wall. There were many old and traditional buildings and the weather was great. We visited different markets and had coffee on a rooftop. In the evening we went to a street where they sold a lot of different street food and we did our best to try everything. My personal favorite was a yellow rice cake with a sweet sauce. On that street they were also making different candies. I was impressed by this beautiful and traditional city. Everything was in walking distance, we didn’t see many tourists and the sphere in the whole city was amazing.
On our second day we got up early and went to the bus station to take a 2-hours bus to the father of Chinese mountains: Mountain Huashan. Unfortunately the weather was not too good when we arrived and so the sight we had from this more than 2,000 meters-high mountain wasn’t as impressive as we hoped for. Still it was possible to shoot some ‘misty-mountain pictures’. It was quite a challenge for my being afraid of height-self to climb the mountain. First we took a gondola up and then the climb with many different, steep stairs was awaiting us. On this mountain they have a number of temples, hotels and restaurants and at many spots you can buy ‘lucky locks’ and medals saying how high you climbed. To climb the whole mountain it takes around two days and some routes are very dangerous – we didn’t take those.
As you can imagine we were very hungry and tired so we went to a very nice Xi’an restaurant and enjoyed a very nice dinner before going to the hotel for a rest. Later that night we went out to see Xi’an’s nightlife. They have many very cozy bars with life music and a romantic atmosphere. Again I was amazed by the city. Definitely worth a visit if you have the chance.
Our final destination were the legendary Terracotta Warriors. Again we took a bus which took 2 hours. Once arrived we visited a museum and then went on to the first pit.
I actually, after seeing certain movies including these terracotta guys, expected something huge and impressive but the outcome was rather boring. There was a gallery from which you could look down on the warriors and some signs explained what weapons they were carrying.
In the afternoon we made our way back to Xi’an and then to the airport. It was only a 6-days holiday but summing up what we did and saw it sounds more like 2 weeks. I think it was a very successful trip and I can only recommend to visit Xi’an – see the old town and if you dare climb Mountain Huashan. If you do maybe you would like to see the sunrise from the East Peak?
See you and 再见，
Gianna aka Gini aka 吉娜
Do you also want to spend an awesome holiday during an internship in China? Apply here for an internship in Qingdao, Chengdu and Zhuhai!
When we study a new language or travel to a foreign country, one of the first few things that we have to do is learning to count numbers as it is useful in daily life such as buying foods. The way we count numbers, however, is quite different from that in western countries in terms of the pronunciation and how they are represented in gestures. Hopefully, after reading this blog, it will be easier for you to count numbers in China.
Since Chinese is generally based on pronunciation, it is rather difficult for non-native speakers. Therefore, there will be both phonetic spellings and pronunciation guides for each number.
- Zero (零): [líng]Ling with an upward inflection.
- One (一): [yī] Ee with a long “e” sound.
- Two (二): [èr] Are with a downward inflection for the letter “r”.
- Three (三): [sān] San without an inflection.
- Four (四): [sì] Suh. This word is hard to be represented by using English letters; however it is closest to “suh” with a downward inflection.
- Five (五): [wǔ] Woo with a downward-up inflection.
- Six (六): [liù] Lee-yoo. When you say this, you partially omit the “y” so that the “ee” blends into the “oo”. It sounds pretty similar to “Leo”. It is pronounced with a downward inflection.
- Seven (七): [qī] Chee without an inflection.
- Eight (八): [bā] Bah without an inflection.
- Nine (九): [jiǔ] Jee-yoh. This is similar to saying 6, where the “ee” blends into the “oh”. This is pronounced with a downward-up inflection.
- Ten (十): [shí] Shure with an upward inflection.
Using one hand to represent the numbers one through ten is helpful when you forget how to say it in Chinese. It is also useful to distinguish numbers with similar pronunciation such as four [sì] and ten [shì]. The representations vary in practice from one region to the other. For example, the gesture for number eight below means seven in some regions such as Guangdong and Hong Kong.
Double-digit numbers are composed of saying one single-digit and another. For example, 11 would be “Shee-ee (shi-yi)” and 85 would be “Bah-Shee-Woo (ba-shi-wu)”.
Numbers larger than 99 have special words such as hundred (百, [bǎi]) and thousand (千, [qiān]). In addition, there are some special rules regarding when to use zero for larger numbers as well. For instance, you have to say “Lee-yoo-Bai-Ling-Chee (liu-bai-ling-qi)” for 607 but “Lee-yoo-Bai-Chee-Shure (liu-bai-qi-shi)” for 670.
Want to practice this new skill and get some work experience at the same time? Apply now to come and join us! Internship places available in Qingdao, Chengdu and Zhuhai.
Tomorrow is my last day with InternChina. I have been interning in the Chengdu office, in a marketing/business development role for the past two months. Whilst I have been to China before, especially Chengdu, for travel/study and so on. This time round has been a real eye-opening experience for me. I was given the chance to study Chengdu’s unique business environment and in the process I have learned lots useful and transferable skills.
The marketing side of my internship was very interesting. I learned how social media plays an exciting and ever-changing role in reaching out to people, appealing to their interests or simply sparking interesting conversation that leads on to greater things. Thinking of your own ways to deliver content to a wide audience through social media always challenges your creativity and is exciting.
For the business development side of my internship, I have regularly been going out for meetings with or without my colleagues. Some highlights have been a mixer and an annual meeting held by the British Chamber of Commerce as well as several other business-social events held in local venues.
Aside from marketing and business development I was assigned several ad-hoc tasks as well, such as a video editing and blog editing/writing. Its been rewarding learning how to balance one’s time and efforts.
Most importantly, I have enjoyed using my Chinese for business purposes. Even though I am passionate about Mandarin and Cantonese language and culture, before the main purpose of speaking Chinese was to get a degree and to communicate with my Chinese friends. This time round I have used my Chinese in meetings, events and general business tasks. I would say my Chinese is already proficient, but having the chance to learn new professional vocabulary has been a real plus.
I will be coming back to Chengdu to intern with a local company here, which will hopefully turn into full employment after 6 months. I am therefore very grateful to InternChina for providing me a platform from which to develop my prospective career. I was given time to not only learn new things that will help me later on, but also to establish more connections here. Business in China is all about who you know. Good-old guanxi (關係).
If you would like to know more about a short-term interns role in the Chengdu Office, my intern interview will be uploaded shortly to YouTube. For information specific to Chengdu, as in living/nightlife….our blog is packed with useful information and first-hand experience for your reference.
If you are looking to garner some real, professional experience, why not do an internship with InternChina. It may just give your CV that boost you need, helping you stand out for future employers! Apply Now!
If you have lived, studied or worked in China you may have seen Chinese people playing different drinking games in KTVs, bars and clubs. There are lots of different games and they are actually quite fun. If your a foreigner and you go out with a group of people you are not well acquainted with, or perhaps you are a little shy; it’s a kind of Chinese way of breaking the ice. I’d like to list a few and how to play them.
Game 1 – 吹牛
First of all, there is show-off 吹牛, it has many different names but this is the easiest one to remember. This is perhaps the most common game all around China as the standard rules can vary between the provinces and cities and there is no limit to the amount of players at one time. Each person has a plastic cup with 5 dice inside, each number is representative of its real value except for one which is random (anything you want it to be). The aim of the game is to guess the amount of dice that everyone has together by only looking at your own, although you can lie. However you are not allowed to have 5 dice of different values, there must at least be two of a kind. As a quick example, if there are only two people playing (10 dice), and I have a two 1’s, two 4’s and a 3 – I can say four fours as adding in the one I have four fours (as well as the unknown amount in my opponent’s cup). They may not believe that I have that many and can open (開!), but of course they have lost and they must drink. Similarly, if in the same situation I called 5 threes, and they opened as there cup did not have any three’s inside, then I have lost as I only have 3 threes (adding in the one). So, the aim of the game is to guess whether the other person is bluffing and catch them out or to guess the correct collected amount of dice. Although, Here is an OK explanation of the rules as I am sure many people are confused.
There are also some very specialised rules, for example when playing 吹牛, you can say two/three/four/five …. 1’s. Whenever, you say 1, it can no longer be a wild/random dice and it is only one. This rule continues to be in effect until someone doubles the amount of their next call. For example If player 1 calls four 1’s (three players), and the next person says five sixes only (栽)….that means that if player 1 or 3 were to open player 2’s cup, the collected amount of dice must total five sixes discounting one. However, if player 3 believed that five of the 15 die were sixes he could say 7 sixes flying (飛), as the wager has jumped from 5 to 7, they can now include one.
There are also lots of other rules, like reversing the order, playing with dead dice (nothing is the same), not looking at your dice/or only looking once, and jumping the queue but they are hard to explain at most Chinese people play with the standard rules. Another thing to remember is when the club/bar/ktv is noisy many people will use hand signs to denote their wager….
Game 2 – 青蛙青蛙跳
There are so many other games I could talk about – like 十五二十 (15/20), 美女/警察/流氓 (Beautiful woman/Policeman/Vagabond), 蘭州拳 (Lanzhou fist), 007啪 （007bang), 大西瓜/小西瓜 （big/small watermelon), lucky, clapping rock/paper/scissors, 過反 (pass/reverse),….in fact I think I know around 20 different games. However, I’d like to share one I learned recently, its really easy to play. Its called 青蛙青蛙跳 – froggy froggy jump. No matter the amount of players, each person puts one hand palm face down on the table with their fingers flat, whoever decided to call first must say 青蛙青蛙跳 and then raise one of their four fingers on their thumb whilst keeping the others pressed down on the table. If any one else raises the same finger or thumb as the person who called, they lose and must drink. Then it is their turn to call. Easy.
This is just a brief introduction to the thousands of games that are played throughout China, there a lots of different games and some people even mix the games together (for example 大戰遊戲 – big war game). If you learn just a few, you can have a really great time.
Come to China and experience real Chinese culture, Apply Now for an internship in Chengdu, Zhuhai, Qingdao!
Lots of us foreigners get home sick when we arrive in China. We miss the everyday things, things you get in the supermarket and local shops. Having read Sebastian’s blog on the Chengdu’s wine/foods fair last week, for Germans it’s beer and whiskey! For the french, Cheese and wine and for us Brits a decent cup of tea/coffee, and maybe a bickie on the side. So, I would like to say a few words on the subject and some of the new changes I think overlay China’s new cultural impetus.
With China’s continued economic expansion and the raising of living standards, many small business owners and hopeful entrepreneurs have decided to import foreign products. Not just the standard foreign food and drink/luxury items that you see in Carrefour/TrustMart/Ito Yokado. But also niche products, such as random selections of German supermarket beers or British Dark Chocolate, French Cognac etc. This is perhaps one of the best ways of showing China’s new cultural linkages with its western counterparts. Similarly, it is a stark contrast to the China of 10/20 years ago.
Many foreigners in China bare witness to the countless nouveau-riche, with their children studying abroad and their Gucci Iphone cases. For this upper class money is but numbers on a piece of paper, prices and telephone numbers are one in the same. Yet, the rise of imported niche products evidences China’s rising middle class. Where increased incomes have fueled a quest to understand foreign cultures not just for monetary gain. Even students from less privileged backgrounds, who have enjoyed their generation’s increased access to education are now taking risks to start up small coffee shops or bars. Not just catering to foreigners, but also providing their generation with better access to new ideas/new concepts for their own character and society’s development. I’m always surprised when I hear a Chinese local mention their love of IPA ale or their love of After Eights. Of course you still get locals who mix Lafayette with Sprite or give you attention seeking glances as they smoke Dunhill Cigarettes in the lift, but their is a sense of change in the air.
For me personally, greater access to different types of coffee has been fantastic. Having lived, studied and now am interning in China I have long abandoned my desire for a decent cup of tea. The teabags are not the problem, the problem lies with China’s fledgling dairy industry and a Chinese preference for Soy Milk. So fresh milk can be hard to come by and is usually fatty. Anyway back to the point……My friend recently opened a Coffee shop, selling 25 different types of coffee beans. Importing beans straight from central and South America as well as North Africa he is a quintessential example of someone trying something different. Moreover, small businesses like his who rely on great personal interest from their owners are a pleasure to visit. The minute you walk in, you really feel welcome. Unlike some places in Beijing, where you order a latte after 10 am and the Chinese/Italian sea-turtle* behind gives you a look of disgust! You should know that, reputation is important for Chinese people, but sometimes image is even more important. Eating sichuanese food in IKEA instead of eating it in the local mama and papa shops and having Louis Vuitton patterned car mats backs up your blowing cows*. So for me, access to a variety of different coffee without a pretentious owners has been bliss!
I think the point I’m trying to make is that, China is not just changing what it eats and what it drinks to look fancy, of course that is still widespread. Rather, China’s attitude towards increased cultural exchange is changing, especially for younger generations. Current economic trajectory may be creating a tiered society, but at least increased awareness of foreign concepts and ideas is reducing friction for everyday conversation, everyday living etc. There is a hopeful sense that the miasma of pretentiousness surrounding imported goods is slowly being sucked out.
China is becoming more and more livable for westerners, so for all of you interns are thinking of coming here…… know that the longer you spend in China the more you will experience increased ease of access to the things you miss from back home! Hope that helps!
Apply now for an internship, experience the real China!
sea-turtle – 海龜 – refers to a Chinese national who has studied abroad and is now back in China.
blowing-cows – 吹牛 – literally translates as blow (v) and cow (n) but it means to brag or talk big about oneself.