Chinese New Year 2018 – traditions and vocabulary list

Chinese New Year 2018 – traditions and vocabulary list

Let me start by saying…. Happy Chinese New Year everyone! Well, almost! Chinese New Year starts on the 16th this year.

In this post, I’m going to introduce Chinese New Year, talk briefly about how the 12-year zodiac works, outline some common traditions and then I’ve prepared a vocabulary and phrase list for you at the bottom! After that, I’ve given you some further reading in case you’re wanting to learn more and Chinese New Year!

Ok, let’s get started.

You might be interested to know that unlike ‘our’ New Year, Chinese New Year is never on a fixed date. The reason for this is that the Chinese New Year is based on the lunar calendar.

This year, Chinese New Year begins on Friday, the 16th of February. Just a few days after this blog post comes out.

The celebrations will be lasting over two weeks! Young Chinese who moved to the big cities for work will be flocking back home to their 老家 ‘hometown’ to spend the New Year with their family.

Chinese families typically gather for a big reunion meal (饺子 ‘dumplings’ will be eaten) on New Year’s Eve and then they clean their home on New Year’s Day to rid the house of all the bad energy and misfortune and make room for a fresh start.

Children will be given 红包 ‘red envelopes’ filled with lucky money. The popular messaging app, WeChat, now even has an inbuilt red envelope setting, which allows you to send lucky money digitally. Cool, right?

This year will be the year of the dog. If you’re unsure of exactly how the Chinese zodiac works, here’s a quick explanation:

The Chinese zodiac consists of a twelve-year cycle. With each year in the cycle corresponding to an animal. So, this year is the dog year, next year will be the pig and so on.

The twelve animals are:

Tiger – 老虎

Rooster – 鸡

Rat – 老鼠

Ox – 牛

Rabbit – 兔子

Monkey – 猴子

Dog – 狗

Pig – 猪

Horse – 马

Snake – 蛇

Dragon – 龙

Goat – 羊

According to Asian astrology, your Chinese zodiac animal determines a lot about your personality.

Check out this link to see which animal you are!

Here’s a Chinese New Year themed vocabulary list. You can print it out and stick it on your wall if you like!

Chinese new year phrases

Further reading:

Lucky foods during Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year 2018

Chinese New Year taboos


How to become FLUENT in Chinese in under a year

How to become FLUENT in Chinese in under a year

I hope everyone had a wonderful New Year, drank lots, ate lots and overall had a much-needed rest!

However, it’s time now to get back to the grind. For some of you that means going back to work and for others, it means going back to school. For all of us, though, it means getting back to pursuing our language goals!

And so, on the off chance that your New Year’s resolution for 2018 is to become fluent in Chinese, I’ve decided to write a blog post about how you can achieve just that!

Before we delve into that, however, let’s first define the word ‘fluent’. Many people disagree on the meaning of the word ‘fluent’ and as a result, there is much controversy surrounding people who claim to be ‘fluent’ in many languages.

Benny Lewis, the Irish polyglot comes to mind with his ‘Fluent in 3 months’ language missions where he attempts to learn a new language to ‘fluency’ in just 3 months.

Many people hail Benny as a language learning genius for what he’s been able to accomplish, while others say the level he’s able to attain is actually nowhere near true ‘fluency’.

So why do people have such different views?

It’s because they have different definitions of ‘fluency’.

While some people believe fluency to merely be the ability to fluidly engage in conversation, others believe it means total and utter mastery of the language.

What’s my view, you ask?

I share the popular opinion that one should have the right to call themselves fluent when, and only when they have achieved a level that corresponds to ‘B2’ on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). If you’ve never heard of that before, then check out this helpful Wikipedia page.

Also, I believe ‘fluency’ to only refer to one’s speaking skills. So, yes, you can technically be ‘fluent’ in Chinese without knowing how to read or write it.

I have met a few people like this before. “Great!” You’re thinking, “I’ll just neglect characters all together and speak, speak, speak!” Okay, slow down. That’s not a good idea.


Because the act of reading in a language is a very good and arguably very necessary thing to do if one wishes to become ‘fluent’, according to the definition I provided, that is.

Yes, I know I just contradicted myself by saying I have met people who could speak Chinese fluently but couldn’t read or write it.


What I said wasn’t entirely true. These people I referred to were either ‘special cases’ – people who’d spent lots of time (I’m talking multiple years here) in the country, immersed in the language OR they did have SOME knowledge of characters, just not enough to read, say, an entire novel.

Anyway, I’ll stop my rambling now. Let’s get into how to become fluent in Chinese by the end of 2018!

Recognize that it’s not going to be easy

Achieving fluency in a year is not going to be easy, especially if your target language is Chinese.

Even though a year sounds like a long time, it really isn’t. Achieving fluency in Chinese by the end of 2018 is going to take dedication, commitment, the right resources and most importantly, planning. Which bring me to my next point.

Plan, plan, and plan some more

All the resources, teachers and textbooks in the world aren’t going to help you if you don’t have a solid plan in place for exactly how you’re going to achieve fluency.

In order to come up with a watertight plan for exactly how you’re going to achieve fluency, you need to first define your goals.

In our e-book, Talking Mandarin, we’ve written a section on goal setting. I’d really recommend picking up a copy, which you can so here.

The gist of it though is to define a very specific goal, which you will then break up into smaller milestones. Remember to attach a time frame to each milestone.

For example, you could have 12 monthly milestones or perhaps 6 2nd monthly milestones.

Each milestone should then be broken up down into weekly action steps. I know it sounds like a lot of effort, but if you’re serious about achieving fluency then you need to have a seriously well thought out, step-by-step plan.

Again, this method of goal setting is very powerful. To learn more, grab a copy of our e-book.

Once you have a rock solid plan in place, it’s time to…

Gather your resources and create your ‘curriculum’

This may actually be one of the easiest steps in the whole process of learning Chinese to fluency. Don’t get me wrong, choosing the best resources for you, that match your style of learning, is very important but the sheer abundance of resources available today (both free and paid) makes finding resources extremely easy.

If you’re truly serious about achieving fluency by the end of the year then you need to take some time to do research on which resources will benefit you, personally, the most.

Once you’ve done this you need to take some more time and build yourself a custom curriculum that will take you from beginner to fluent over the course of your chosen time-frame (one year)!

How do you do that?

Well, this is where the importance of graded learning comes in. In other words, graded learning refers to a step-by-step approach to language learning, whereby with each ‘step’ you increase the difficulty of what you’re studying by a small amount so as to make sure you’re constantly challenging yourself.

This approach ensures that you aren’t wasting time by re-learning things you already know or spending copious amounts of time and energy doing exercises that are too easy for you.

However, there is a drawback to this approach. If you make things too difficult for yourself, you won’t learn anything and will instead feel demotivated.

So, you need to find a balance.

Make sure that the resources you’re working from at any given time are just a little bit above your level – enough to keep engaged and but not too much that you have no idea what’s going on.

I’d encourage you to pick up our e-book to get more in-depth information on this approach to learning Chinese.

Make sure to include time with native speakers in your plan

This one is very important. I’m sorry to say this but you’re not going to achieve fluency by studying solely on your own. You’re going to need to spend time with native speakers one way or another.

And by ‘spend time with native speakers’ what I really mean is come up with a plan that allows you to speak with native speakers as much as possible.

This could be as easy as going onto italki and scheduling a weekly Class with a tutor or you could look for Chinese teachers in your area whom you can have one-on-one classes with (highly recommended, by the way).

OR ,

You could even plan a trip to China or Taiwan for the end of the year!

Whatever you decide to do, it’s important to get practice with native speakers. At the very least you’re going to need a native speaker to correct your tones.


Because nobody pronounces tones correctly right from the get-go. Your Chinese will benefit greatly from a bit of pronunciation training early on.

This brings me to my next point.

Take tones seriously right from the beginning

Tones need not be so scary as people make them out to be. They are actually quite straightforward!


If, in the beginning, you get into the habit of, say, pronouncing a second tone like a third tone then it’s going to be really hard to correct that later on.

That’s why you should take tones seriously from the beginning and invest a little extra time and perhaps money into finding a native speaker to correct your pronunciation.

Again, a Chinese friend, italki tutor or local Chinese teacher will do the trick.

Pinyin is your friend

Many learners of Chinese are so frantic to get to grips with Chinese characters that they almost neglect Pinyin entirely.

Don’t underestimate the power of Pinyin! Especially if your goal is to speak Chinese fluently.

In case you have no idea what Pinyin is, essentially it’s the Romanized form of written Chinese. If you want more information then check out this link.

A solid understanding of how to read and write in Pinyin will unlock so many resources that were previously inaccessible. That’s why Learning Pinyin to a high proficiency is an absolute must.

And the good news is that it won’t take long at all!

That’s right. Pinyin is pretty straightforward and dare I say easy to learn.

Many, many textbooks and other Chinese learning resources are written in Pinyin (or at least, the pinyin accompanies the characters) so you don’t even need to know a single Chinese character before you dive into your studies.

If you want to practice your Chinese by texting with friends or other Chinese natives but you don’t know enough characters – just write in Pinyin. They will have no problem understanding as long as your tone marks are correct.

When you receive a response just copy and paste it into a Characters to Pinyin translator like this one and away you go. You can have a whole written conversation in Chinese without knowing a single character.

Cool, huh?!

Now, I’m not saying that you should just neglect characters all together and just focus on Pinyin. All I’m saying is that knowing Pinyin allows you to ‘hack’ your learning – by letting you read anything in Chinese without actually knowing how to read in Chinese… If that makes sense.

Reading is a really important exercise for improving your vocabulary and grammar knowledge but if you had to sit down and learn 3000 characters first, you’d never achieve fluency in under a year.

That’s why I’m highlighting the importance of knowing how to read Pinyin.

Study at least a little every day

This really is the key to progressing in any skill. DO IT EVERY DAY.

Studying for hours one day and doing nothing the next is not as effective as doing a little bit every single day.

I agree that is it hard to imagine yourself studying Chinese every single day for a year. Realistically, you’re probably going to miss a couple of days here and there, and if that’s due to being sick or planning your wedding (for example) then that’s OKAY!

Otherwise, though, it’s pure laziness and that’s just not going to fly, homeboy/girl!

Immerse yourself in Chinese

It’s really important to understand that purely ‘studying’ Chinese is not enough to achieve fluency.

You need to experience the language. You need to absorb the language.

And how do you do that you ask?

Simple. By immersing yourself in it.

Don’t worry, though. You do not have to go to the country to truly immerse yourself in a language!

You can read more about how to immerse yourself in a language without going to the country, here.

Have fun!

Lastly, remember that learning a new language is supposed to be FUN!

If you’re tearing your hair out every day while you pour over grammar rules and try to make sense of everything, YOU’RE NOT GOING TO LAST A WHOLE YEAR.

And this is why so many people give up on learning a new language.

In the beginning focus on speaking and listening. Just accept that fact that you’re not going to understand all the intricacies of a language overnight.

Open your mind to the language and allow it to flow through you. Surrender yourself to the language learning process.

If something is really bothering you, then find a tutor or native Chinese speaker to help explain it to you.

Just remember that feeling confused is totally normal!

Further reading

Here are some other articles that I really recommend you read.

Benny’s Top Resources for Learning Chinese

Have fun learning Chinese or else…






Chinese Christmas Vocabulary (free download)

Chinese Christmas Vocabulary (free download)

While China may not be the best place on Earth to celebrate Christmas, you can certainly feel the Christmas vibe in the big cities (don’t expect to get the day off work, though).

If you look below you’ll see that we’ve created a Chinese Christmas-themed vocabulary list so that you can continue your studies during the festive period. (download a high-quality version for printing out below).

Click here to download a high-quality version.

That’s it from us! We hope you enjoy your holidays. make sure to SUBSCRIBE for some awesome new content in 2018.

From all of us here… MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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5 Reasons why Chinese is the BEST language to learn in 2018

5 Reasons why Chinese is the BEST language to learn in 2018

It’s already December, which means that 2018 is just around the corner! As the New Year approaches I’m sure you’re already thinking about your New Year’s resolutions and goals for 2018. I know I am. In this blog post, I want to tell you why Chinese is the best language to learn in 2018 and hopefully after you’re finished reading this, you’ll have added another New Year’s resolution to your list.

Okay, let’s get down to business. These are the top 5 reasons why Chinese is the BEST language to learn in 2018.

1. There are more job opportunities than ever for foreigners in China

China is becoming increasingly open towards the West and Western culture and acknowledges the need for skilled foreign professionals in order to achieve its goal of world domination.

Just kidding about the world domination thing but seriously, the amount of expats in China has increased a lot over the years! There are over 550000 foreigners living in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangdong alone.

In the past, the only job known to foreigners in China was ‘English teacher’ but that’s not the case anymore.

The English language domain is, however, a huge and ever-expanding market in China. With the overwhelming majority of young learners and students studying English as their choice of second language, the need for native English speakers is always increasing. The value of the English training market in China is reported to be over $4.5 billion USD, with growth expected to be around 12% for at least the next few years.

While teaching English may be the most popular job to do in China (among foreigners, anyway), there are lots of opportunities available in other fields too.

China’s tech industry is growing rapidly and due to this, China faces a shortage of IT workers. Many companies are looking to employ IT professionals for jobs in software engineering, computing, development and more. Shenzhen, in the South of China, Beijing’s Zhongguancun area and Shanghai are China’s biggest tech hubs.

If you have an excellent command of the English language and enjoy writing/reporting you can look for jobs within the field of news and journalism. With lots of English language, state-run news companies the demand for professional writers is also on the rise.

There are a plethora of other fascinating jobs available for foreigners in China that include: Sales and marketing, hospitality and hotel management, engineering, translation, and trade. Find out more here.

2. China’s economy is booming and will soon overtake that of the USA

It’s long been said that China’s economy will overtake the USA’s and it looks like it’s going to happen relatively soon. A new study by PriceWaterhouse Coopers indicates that China’s economy will be bigger than the USA’s by 2030 (perhaps well before).

China’s economy has been slowing down is past years but recent forecasts indicate that it may be on the rise once again. China’s economy is expected to grow by 6.4% on average from now until 2021.

In addition to this, IMF attributed the global economic growth and particularly Asia’s growth, to China’s booming economy. “Growth prospects for emerging and developing economies are marked up by 0.1 percentage point for both 2017 and 2018 relative to April, primarily owing to a stronger growth projection for China, ” said the IMF.

China economic trends. Why learn Chinese in 2018


3. Speaking Chinese will make you a more attractive applicant

Adding “fluent in Chinese” to your resume is certainly likely to make you stand out from the crowd and possibly help you land a job over other, similarly qualified candidates.

Learning Chinese will expose you to a whole new way of looking at the world. Expanding your mind in this way will help to improve your communication skills on all fronts (even in your native language).

Knowing a language like Chinese is especially helpful if you’re applying to a marketing/sales job at a global company. Understanding the Chinese language will mean a greater understanding of the Chinese people and the Chinese market. Employees with this kind of knowledge are highly sought after by many organizations.

Take a look at the graph below comparing job trends for various major languages.

Graph comparing job trends for various languages. Why learn Chinese in 2018


4. The expat life in China is of a high quality

The big cities in China – Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou are the most popular destinations for expats. Big cities in China are often quite westernized and offer the comfort of safety, efficient transport and easy access to Western-style supermarkets, restaurants, and pubs.

The only downside to living in a big city is the poor air quality, which is especially prominent in Beijing and Shanghai. However, China has been making considerable efforts to reduce air pollution and will continue to do so.

In order to reduce air pollution, China has put a plan in place to reduce the number of coal-burning power plants and instead invest in solar and wind energy. Earlier this year, China announced the closure or cancellation of 103 coal-fired power plants.

Anyway, what do the expats themselves think of life in China? Well, according to these statistics, over 76% of all expats in China indicated they were satisfied by life in China, 14% reported feelings of neutrality and the other 11% said they were less than satisfied.

Map showing spread of expats living in China. Why learn Chinese in 2018


5. Learning Chinese is now easier than ever

Thanks to the growing power of the internet, and increase in resources/materials over the last few years learning Chinese is now easier than ever. The Chinese language has been demystified and there now exists a plethora of amazing resources for learning the language.

There are just so many courses, textbooks, and free resources (like our free phrase book, for example) available that the average Chinese learner is spoilt for choice. If you’re interested to know about all the wonderful online resources (both free and paid) available for learning Chinese, then grab a copy of our e-book where we outline the best of them!

Thanks for reading everyone!

we wish you much success in your future Chinese learning endeavors.

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Single’s day in China – the world’s craziest shopping holiday

Single’s day in China – the world’s craziest shopping holiday

Yesterday was the 11th of the 11th, a day which China has dubbed ‘Single’s day’. What is single’s day you ask?

Well, it was originally started as a celebration of being single in a culture and country that puts pressure on its youth to enter into relationships and eventually get married.

However, largely thanks to the retail giant, Alibaba, single’s day has now become the world’s largest shopping holiday! That’s right, even bigger than Black Friday, Cyber Monday or any other Western shopping holiday.

But how big is single’s day really?

To really put it in perspective how big single’s day really is, in 2016 over $17 billion was spent on single’s day, which is more than double what was spent on Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Amazon Prime day combined!

I bet you’re wondering what the grand total was for this year, aren’t you? A whopping $25 billion !!

Why has ‘single’s day’ become a shopping holiday?

The highly esteemed CEO of Alibaba, Jack Ma, decided back in 2009 to create a shopping promotion around a holiday. The holiday he chose was 11/11, or single’s day!

The idea behind their promotion was for single people to let go of the societal pressure and treat themselves in celebration of being single.

So… Does that mean only single people can splurge on single’s day?

Nope! Since 2009 the holiday has evolved dramatically and I now would argue, is only about the shopping! Anyone can take advantage of the crazy sales that happen on single’s day.

While it is mostly Alibaba doing the selling, through Tmall (天猫) and Taobao (淘宝) – their two biggest selling platforms in China, other eCommerce platforms such as and a host of others have also jumped on the bandwagon. Even brick and mortar stores are partaking in the madness.

I can’t even imagine how hard the 快递 (delivery men) are working to get everyone’s packages delivered on time. Just take a look at the pictures below.

What can we learn from single’s day?

Single’s day targets the young Chinese middle class who show evidence of stepping away from the traditional Chinese values of frugality and getting by with what you have.

The enormousness of single’s day is proof of a shifting culture and mindset among many young Chinese.

Single’s day also represents a global shift in power within the eCommerce industry. China has shown that it’s clearly way ahead in terms of its online sales and consumer engagement.

Once again it’s China surging ahead and the rest of the world marveling at what it’s been able to achieve.

Single’s day not only represents China’s growing power as an eCommerce giant but it also represents an opportunity for Western retailers to get rich selling goods to China.

If you do plan on selling in China though, then you’re going to have to things the Chinese way! Studying the brilliance of Jack Ma is the first step to understanding just how to break into this highly lucrative market.

Although this post is technically a day late… From all of us over here at Talking Mandarin:



Further reading: – Why single’s day in China is the biggest shopping spree ever – Single’s day celebrates the new religion of China’s middle class – consumerism

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Teaching English in China – is it right for you?

Teaching English in China – is it right for you?

Are you contemplating the idea of teaching English in China but don’t know if you have what it takes? Well, congratulations, you’ve found the right blog post!

Today I’m going to talk about my personal experience teaching English in China, why I did it and whether or not it’s something I would recommend. Read ahead to find out what you may be in for!

My story

I went over to China after I finished high school. I completed my TEFL course (two of them in fact) online and immediately set off for Beijing where I enrolled in an internship program.

As part of the program, we did some practical training in Beijing as well which was a nice supplement to the theory I’d learned in the online TEFL course. However, by the time it came for me to teach my first lesson I still felt like I had absolutely ZERO idea what I was doing.

That’s where my co-teacher came in. You see, in some schools, you will be teaching alongside a local (Chinese) English teacher and the two of you will carry out the lesson together.

Having a co-teacher was great. She had lots of experience and of course, already knew all of the kids. I looked to her to drive the lessons forward and I stepped in to do my part when needed.

Having a co-teacher took a lot of pressure off of me.

Aside from that, being a local teacher, she understood Chinese students really well and could yell at them in Chinese when they misbehaved.

However, you won’t always have a co-teacher. Many schools expect you to take the class all by yourself (depending on the age of the children – Kindergarten is different but I’ll get to that).

I should mention that although we were technically interns, we weren’t really interns. We were essentially full-time teachers, with full-time teacher responsibilities on an intern’s salary.

You’re probably wondering, why would you waste your time doing an internship?!

Well, there are a few advantages to doing an internship over getting a full-time job in China.

The first is that interns can teach in China on a student visa. For any kind of full-time position, you’d need a working visa, which can be a real battle to obtain. As an ‘intern’, however, a student visa will suffice.

Internships also typically have short contracts (six months usually). This is nice because if you decide the middle kingdom just isn’t for you, you’re not locked into a 1-2 year contract like most schools would require you to be.

Finally, you do NOT need a degree to be an intern English teacher, whereas many fulltime positions would require this.

Anyway, after the internship, where I had been teaching primary school, I went and got a full-time position…at a kindergarten!

Teaching at a kindergarten

Teaching at a kindergarten was certainly an interesting change of pace for me. Whereas the primary school had been fairly regimented and the day-to-day tasks were pretty similar, kindergarten was unpredictable and all over the place!

Kindergarten children are, obviously, a lot younger than primary school children and so require your constant attention. Although my job title was ‘foreign teacher’, I was, in fact, an English teacher, math teacher, art teacher, fitness teacher, caretaker, and policeman all in one!

In other words, I also taught art, math and fitness classes (When I say ‘fitness’, what I mean is outside play time). I also had to watch the children, play with them and just generally make sure they were safe and happy at all times.

I wasn’t alone, though. I worked as part of a team. In my kindergarten, there were four teachers in every class. The foreign teacher (a.k.a me), the Chinese head teacher, the assistant teacher and the ‘life’ teacher.

We all did our thing and helped each other out when needed. I was lucky to have such fantastic teachers in my class. We all got on really well and my Chinese improved so much because of them.

I should mention that not all kindergarten jobs are the same. You see, the kindergarten I taught at branded itself as an ‘international’ kindergarten and so in every class, there was one foreign teacher.

However, many kindergartens can’t afford to have a foreign teacher in every class and so instead will higher one foreign teacher to teach English to ALL the classes.

It sounds hectic but the upshot is that your ONLY job there is to teach English. You won’t necessarily be asked to look after children or do extra activities with them. Some people prefer this.

I substituted at a different kindergarten, for another teacher at one point and I had to teach 5 classes every day (as opposed to just one at my main job) and I found it exhausting. Not only that but planning 5 different lessons each day was a real challenge.

What I learned being an English teacher in China

Being an English teacher in China I learned responsibility. I was just 19 at my first job but I was responsible for improving the English of a class full of Chinese children.

It was tough but I found it enjoyable and satisfying watching the children grow and improve.

I taught kindergarten for about two years. When I arrived I had many kids in my class who hardly spoke one word of English and I’m proud to say that by the time I left, they could all speak and understand basic English.

However, it’s important to remember…

As an English teacher in China, your job isn’t just teaching English!

You’re there to teach the children about the world, about different cultures and different food. While you’re in China you are an ambassador for your country (and for the West in general!)

Many of the children you’ll be teaching won’t know much about other countries or cultures and sometimes your Chinese colleagues won’t either. It’s your job to educate them!

THIS is the real job you’re there to do.

To sum up, I would recommend teaching English in China to just about anyone. I honestly thought I wouldn’t have a clue about dealing with children but I managed to figure it out. If I can, you can!

If you’re still on the fence, I want you to think hard about the following five questions:

  1. Do you feel as though you desperately need a change?

  2. Do you enjoy being challenged and pushing yourself?

  3. Can you handle responsibility?

  4. Do you feel as though its time you’ve gotten out of your comfort zone?

  5. Are you good on your feet/when you need to improvise?

If you answered yes to these 5 questions then get off the fence, buddy! You’re going to China!

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Sheldon speaks Chinese – The Big Bang Theory (analysis)

Sheldon speaks Chinese – The Big Bang Theory (analysis)

Learning Mandarin by watching… The Big Bang Theory? We’ll get to this in a minute but first…

A quick tangent about tones in Chinese

One of the reasons Mandarin Chinese is so intimidating to people is the notion that if you mess up the tones even just a little bit, then the meaning of what you’re trying to say can change drastically. This is the reason why It’s really important to focus on tones right from the start when learning Chinese!

I don’t want to scare you too much. It’s just important to emphasize that tones are not simply a small part of the Chinese language, they ARE the language.

It’s important to remember that in order to be understood when speaking Chinese, the very minimum you’ll need is a decent command of the four tones. Notice how I said tones and not pronunciation!

Pronunciation refers to the way the word is said and tone refers to the pitch of a word. Often times, if you pronounce something wrong, you can still be understood provided your tones are correct!

This is actually pretty cool because it means that having correct tones can save you when you mess up a word’s pronunciation. Unfortunately, however, it doesn’t work the other way round.

For the rest of this blog post, we’re going to analyze Sheldon’s use of Mandarin in ‘The Big Bang Theory’.

So, without further ado, let’s get into it!

Sheldon speaks Chinese

If you’re a fan of the hit show ‘The Big Bang Theory’ then you may have noticed that various characters throughout the show’s 10 seasons have had a go at speaking Mandarin.

The first instance of this is at the end of season one when Howard tries to teach Sheldon Mandarin (Chinese must just about be the only subject that Sheldon DOESN’T have a Ph.D. in!).

The reason that Sheldon wants to learn Mandarin is that he believes the local Chinese restaurant, Szechuan Palace, is passing orange chicken off as tangerine chicken (Oh heavens, how could they?).

Sheldon speaks Chinese in the Big Bang Theory

Sheldon wants to confront them about this awful conspiracy and elicits Howard’s help to learn the phrase ‘给我看你用的陈皮’. ‘Show me your tangerine peels’.

Let’s break the sentence down:

给我看 – Show me (literally give (给) me (我) look (看))

你用的 (nǐ yòng de) – your used

陈皮 (chén pí)  – Tangerine peels – NOTE: The word for peel/rind, 皮 (pí), can be used in general to mean the outer skin of something. For example 饺子皮 – means the outside part of a dumpling).

Languages clearly aren’t his strong suit but Sheldon’s pronunciation of this sentence wasn’t bad! I’ll give him 7/10!

When Sheldon is practicing this sentence, he gets tapped on the back by Penny and gets an awful fright. He yells out 吓死我了 ‘you frightened me’. Sheldon nailed this one. 9/10!

Let’s break it down:

吓 (xià) – to frighten, to scare

死 (sǐ) – death

我 (wǒ) – me

了 (le) – Here this particle ‘le’ is used for emphasis

So a more accurate translation might be ‘you scared me to death!’

You’ll see this construction being used quite a bit in Mandarin Chinese. The word ‘死了’ is often used to emphasize a negative adjective.

Let’s have a look at some examples using the construction adjective + 死了

我累死了 – ‘I’m so tired I could die’

我饿死了 – ‘I’m so hungry I could die’

死了 – ‘I’m so hot I could die’

死了 – ‘It’s so painful I could die’

So after all Sheldon’s practice, how were the results of his studies? Well, not very good, unfortunately.


He messed up his pronunciation!

At the end of the episode, Sheldon goes to Szechuan Palace with the intent of asking them to show him their tangerine peels. However, he messes up his pronunciation and instead says ‘鼻涕在哪儿’. Meaning, ‘Where is the snot?’

Clearly what he meant to say was ‘陈皮在哪儿?’ – ‘Where are the tangerine peels?’

NOTE: His mistake here was saying 鼻涕 (bí tì) instead of 陈皮 (chén pí)

Let’s break it down:

鼻涕 (bí tì) – ‘snot’ or ‘mucous’

在哪儿 (zài nǎ ér) – ‘where’

Sheldon’s sentence construction is good, he just messes up the first part of the sentence by saying 鼻涕 instead of 桔皮. Unfortunately, I’ll have to give him a 4/10 for this one.

The construction ‘Object + 在哪儿?’ Means ‘Where is (Object)?’

Let’s look at some examples of this construction:

在哪儿? – Where is the book?

椅子在哪儿 ? – Where is the chair?

手机在哪儿? – Where is the cell phone?

‘在哪儿’ can also be used to ask where a place is. For example:

公园在哪儿? – Where is the park?

地铁站在哪儿? – Where is the subway station?

Just remember next time you want to confront your local Chinese restaurant about the authenticity of their food, have you pronunciation checked by a native speaker first!

Sheldon speaks Chinese in the Big Bang Theory

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Learning Chinese through immersion

Learning Chinese through immersion

One of the very best ways to learn any foreign language is through immersion. You might have heard some people go as far to say that learning Chinese through immersion is the only possible way to learn the language. This is definitely incorrect, although, it probably is the best way.

What is language immersion?

Language immersion is basically the act of completely immersing yourself in the language you’re studying.

How do you do this, you ask?

Well, it may come as a surprise to you, but going to the country where the language is spoken is not the only answer to this question! There are two types of language immersion; what we’ll call ‘in-country immersion’ and ‘out-of-country immersion’ or ‘virtual immersion’.

In this post, we’re going to focus on in-country immersion but make sure to sign up to our newsletter to be notified when new posts come out as we’re planning to talk about these two topics in much more detail in the coming weeks.

Should I really move to China JUST to learn the language?

The simple answer is no. Moving to a new country is a big deal and it would be really hard if you had no idea what you were getting yourself into. It’s not a good idea to make a big move without at least some desire to experience the lifestyle and culture of the country.

Before making a big move it’s a good idea to learn about the local culture, the climate and the rules and regulations with regards to visas and foreign residents.

Also, China is a BIG country (seriously, it’s huge). It’s preferable to do some research about different cities and provinces to decide where you want to go.

By the way, if you happen to choose Beijing you better be prepared for mind-numbingly cold winters and scolding hot summers!

The good news is that if you’re actively studying Mandarin Chinese, chances are that you’ve at least got some knowledge of China and its culture, history, and people.

The next thing worth considering is that China isn’t the only option you have for in-country immersion!

Ever heard of a little island called Taiwan? Taiwan is also Mandarin speaking and its capital city, Taipei, is known for being extremely safe and foreigner friendly!

How would I support myself in China/Taiwan?

The next big question is how you support yourself while you’re over in China or Taiwan. Well, there are a few options but the most popular by far is… teaching English!

learn Chinese through immersion by teaching English in China

My kindergarten class in Beijing

Teaching English is the popular choice as it pays quite well and jobs are readily available. Becoming an English teacher provides you with the visa and financial means you need to stay in China and learn Chinese through immersion.

Teaching English in Asia has become a really popular thing to do these days. With China’s recent economic boom, the demand for English teachers in the country has increased immensely.

Many Chinese parents have dreams of sending their kids to high school/university overseas in America or Britain and thus take their child’s English education very seriously.

This means that getting a job as an English teacher in Mainland China is pretty easy! As for Taiwan, I can’t say for sure, but I imagine there is no lack of jobs for English teachers there either. Check out this article if you’re interested in teaching English in Taiwan.

What are the requirements to teach English in China?

Well, to teach English in China full-time, you’ll need a working visa. In order to get one, you’ll need an employer (duh) as well as a bachelor’s degree (your degree can be in anything) and preferably a TEFL certificate too.

Along with those three key things, you’ll also need other standard documents such as a police clearance, health certificate etc. I plan to do another post on this at some point where I’ll go into much more detail.

The working visa laws change quite often in China so it’s a good idea to do some research of your own closer to your planned departure time.

The good news is that if you find a good employer (whether a school or agency), they will help you out with all the visa stuff! Working visas are usually issued for a period of one year and can be extended fairly easily.

English teaching jobs can range from kindergarten positions to corporate training for large companies. Just bear in mind that contracts are usually for a minimum of one year.

What if I don’t have a degree/can’t commit to a whole year?

If teaching English doesn’t scare you but spending a whole year abroad does, then why not do an internship?

Teaching internships in China generally run for six months and are a great way to ease yourself into a new way of life.

Internships are fun and you’re usually placed at a school with other foreigners. The best part about doing a teaching internship is that you don’t need a degree! The minimum you’ll need is a TEFL certificate.

If you’re interested I suggest checking out i-to-i TEFL.

What if I don’t want to teach English?

There are definitely other jobs available to foreigners in China besides teaching English. For example, I had a friend in Beijing who worked as a nightclub promoter and another who was an American football coach!

These kinds of positions tend to be harder to find, and only available in the bigger cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou etc but it’s worth looking around because the opportunities are there!

Another idea is to save up a little more money and enroll in a 3-6 month intensive Mandarin course at a university or language school (check out Beijing Language and Culture University).

The advantage of this is that you’ll get access to quality Chinese teachers and you’ll also get issued a student visa, which can also be renewed should you decide to stay on.

Plus, if you decide to go this route, there’s no stopping you from privately tutoring English to local kids or students in your free time (just make sure they pay you cash in hand, as you’re technically not allowed to earn money without a working visa). Many people do this kind of thing for some extra drinks money!

In conclusion

If you’re really serious about moving to China/Taiwan in order to learn Chinese through immersion then It’s all about doing the research and deciding what option is best for you. Post on forums, speak to friends who’ve done similar things and just try to find out as much information as you can!

You’re also more than welcome to email us at

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Five secrets to fluent Mandarin

Five secrets to fluent Mandarin

This week we decided to focus on writing a post specifically about learning Mandarin Chinese. The topic of this blog post, ‘Five secrets to fluent Mandarin’, actually comes from our e-book. So, if you want to hear us go into more detail on the matter, then pick up a copy here.

Throughout my time in China, I encountered many foreigners who were on a journey to reach fluency in Mandarin. Some of them excelled and some of them gave up early on. I always wondered why this was. Many people would put it down to ‘talent’ and simply say that some people are better language learners than others, but I don’t subscribe to this line of thought… at all!

You see, I believe that anything can be learned. The level to which we can learn a new skill depends on how well we understand it. Passion and desire are the driving forces behind our learning but our level of understanding determines our level of success.

Have you ever heard someone say, ‘the more languages you know, the easier it is to learn another’? Well, the reason for this is that the more languages you have learned previously, the better you understand the whole language learning process. It’s quite logical really, the more you do something, the better at it you get.

However, what if Mandarin Chinese is the first language you’ve attempted to learn and you’re worried that because of your lack of experience learning languages that you’re going to fail?

Well, our aim is to give you all the knowledge and tools you need to succeed in your journey without necessarily having experience learning other languages.

Anyway, that’s enough rambling for now!

Let’s go straight to the five pillars of learning Mandarin, starting with number one…

1. Keep your Initial focus on listening and speaking

A lot of people want to dive straight into learning how to read and write characters when they begin learning Mandarin but we think this is a bad idea.


Because Chinese characters can be pretty intimidating, especially if you have zero knowledge of the language.

It would be really easy to sit and write out Chinese characters for hours each day only to forget them days later. The reason for this is that you need a base level, a foundation, in Chinese before you can comfortably start learning to read and write characters.

The other reason we think everyone should initially focus on listening and speaking is that those skills will improve really fast! Seeing such a quick improvement in your ability to speak and understand Mandarin will give you the confidence boost you need to continue your studies and learn to speak fluent Mandarin.

2. Maintain realistic expectations

We tend to get really excited when embarking on the journey of learning something new and this excitement often fades very quickly when we realise all of the hard work that lies ahead. That’s why if your goal is to be able to speak fluent Mandarin, it’s important to have realistic expectations.

As the old saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is fluency in Mandarin.

People often start to lose motivation when they aren’t making as much progress as they hoped they would.

But here’s the secret. There are often many ‘clicking points’ in language learning. A clicking point is when everything you’ve been studying suddenly all comes together and you feel like you finally understand everything that was previously lost on you.

It may take a little while to reach your first clicking point but if you follow these five secrets, you definitely will.

3. Study consistently

What ‘study consistently’ really means here is do a little bit every single day. In order to make progress in a new language, you have to be exposed to the language on a daily basis. Consistently spending time with the language will allow your brain to slowly get used to it and you’ll subconsciously begin to decipher all its rules and patterns.

Studying for hours one day and doing nothing the next is not a winning strategy!

Even if there’s one day in the week where you literally only have 10 minutes free, use that time to do something in Mandarin – Review yesterday’s material, listen to a podcast, have a go at writing a self-introduction or send your Chinese pen pal a message. It doesn’t matter, just make sure you’re putting the time in every day to improving your Mandarin and you will achieve fluency.

4. Pay attention to tones

Tones are extremely important in Chinese. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. A somewhat decent command of the four tones is the very minimum you’ll need to be understood by native speakers. It’s really important that you focus on getting the tones correct from day one! Neglecting tones, in the beginning, will come back to bite you later on.

You don’t want to have to go back and retrain your pronunciation after months of studying.

It may be frustrating and difficult but making a conscious effort to learn the four tones, in the beginning, will pay off greatly when native speakers start showering you in compliments – saying things like ‘你的发音非常好!’

5. Study efficiently

Lastly, we have efficiency. Studying efficiently means learning the most that you can in the time that you have available to you. In other words, if you only have 20 minutes a day to dedicate to your Mandarin studies, it’s probably not wise to use that time watching Chinese dramas. It would be a better use of your time to listen to more dialogues and learn new vocabulary.

Also, it’s important that you start to integrate the Mandarin language into your day, every day.

Do you take the subway to work? Well, why not use that time to review the previous day’s dialogues?

In conclusion

These are our five secrets to fluent Mandarin! Remember, our e-book ‘Talking Mandarin’ goes into much more detail on each of these five points, so grab a copy if you’re interested.

Get our e-book.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s post!

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Awesome places in Beijing #1 – the Friends Cafe

Awesome places in Beijing #1 – the Friends Cafe

Ahh Beijing, my second home. It’s a city that many people know for only two things – bad air quality and the 2008 Olympics. And while the air can be quite bad at times, my goodness is this an awesome city!

Beijing is not a ‘love at first sight’ type city. Beijing is complex and takes some figuring out. It’s a city that grows and grows on you, and given enough time there – you’ll almost certainly come to love it.

Beijing is a wonderful and intriguing blend of old and new and is home to some of the most breathtaking and ancient cultural relics of China. Such as the Sumer Palace, the Forbidden City and the magnificent Tiananmen Square. As far as ‘new’ goes, Beijing’s CBD area is as modern as it gets – Housing jaw dropping skyscrapers, hipster bars and coffee shops and wonderfully efficient public transport systems.

There’s something for everyone in Beijing.

Party animal you say? The nightlife in Sanlitun is insane!

A picture of San Li Tun in beijing

Sanlitun, Beijing – known for its bars, clubs and shops

Not into clubs?

Grab a refreshing beer in the Hutongs!

Hou Hai in Beijing

Hou Hai, Beijing – a great place to grab a beer with friends, or enjoy a relaxing boat ride!

I could go on about how awesome Beijing is for twelve more blog posts. Instead, I want to focus on a particularly awesome place to go chill and grab a coffee – the Friends Cafe! The Friends Cafe in Beijing is an exact replica of ‘Central Perk’ – the coffee shop where Joey, Chandler, Ross, Phoebe, Rachel and Monica used to hang out in the hit, American sitcom ‘Friends’.

A picture of behind the counter at the Friends Cafe in Beijing

Friends cafe – behind the counter

Instead of being located on a street corner, like in the show, the Friends Cafe in Beijing is located on the sixth floor of a relatively empty shopping mall. Despite this, looks wise, the Friends Cafe Beijing is as close as you could get to the ‘real thing’ and the atmosphere is great. It’s always packed with young people – foreigners and locals alike and the staff are friendly and relaxed.

Wanna know the best part about the Friends Cafe? They have ‘Friends’ playing on the TV non-stop (with Chinese subtitles of course)! Once you sit down, it’s so hard to leave. You’ll be saying to yourself, ‘okay, just one more episode’.

The TV playing friends in the Friends Cafe!

24/7 Friends!

I remember hearing about the Friends Cafe from a friend (surprise, surprise!). I instantly looked it up on Baidu maps (China’s version of Google maps) and realized it wasn’t far from my apartment. I set off immediately to check it out and while sitting on the famous, big, red couch, drinking my coffee, I remember thinking to myself, ‘man, Beijing really does have everything!’

At one stage, I went there five Sundays in a row. I just enjoyed the whole experience.

It may seem strange to you that ‘Friends’ is so popular in China, but in actual fact, many young, Chinese students watch American shows to improve their English!

Cappuccino at the Friends Cafe

Cappuccino with ‘Friends’ written on in Chocolate sauce

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