Posts Tagged ‘Zhōngwén’

The ups and downs of tīng bù dǒng moments

peckishlaowai Posted in Learning Mandarin,Tags: , , ,

‘Tīng bù dǒng’ or 听不懂 – the most comforting phrase I know in Mandarin Chinese – yet the one I despise the most. The phrase I always revert to when my listening skills have failed me – failed me completely with the most basic of sentences.

This “safe” phrase – is one that has the power to crush a Mandarin conversation right there and then – that is IF you let your confidence and emotions control you rather than you being in control of the situation.

Earlier this week I went to the corner shop and I bought a few things. The lǎobǎn (老板) of this particular shop, knows that I can speak a little Chinese and as I was paying for the things I bought he said something in Mandarin to me. I wasn’t quite prepared for what he had to say and I realized that what he had said had been too fast – I had caught NONE of it. My automatic response as you can gather from the title of this post had been ‘tīng bù dǒng’. I asked the him to repeat what he had said and the second time I at least caught the whole sentence and focused on some of the key words but I still had NO context – I actually had no idea what he had said to me. Also, I had not initiated the conversation on this occasion so I guess this didn’t help the situation either.

At this point I switched to English, and asked him to explain what he had said in English. He gave me a brief but helpful run-down. It turned out he was saying ‘wǒ yī yuè huí guó.’ (我 一月回国 / I’ll return to my country in January). I mean honestly – seriously – it’s a five word sentence and it’s all stuff that I know – something I reckon I know how to say in my sleep. I am so embarrassed that I still find myself in a ‘ting bu dong’ boat like this with Mandarin stuff that I ALREADY KNOW – have known for quite a while. I’ve passed (written) exams on this???

The only difference and real improvement I’ve shown is I guess how I handled the situation – in the past I would normally have used the ‘ting bu dong’ phrase to END the conversation as I’d normally feel overwhelmed (like an idiot) and I would have wanted to get away from the akward situation.

Now I still have my ‘听不懂’ moments but my aim is to try and stay CALM – ask questions to understand (even if it is in English), ask them to repeat and I try not to feel like an idiot (at least not too much).

I stick around too to practice some Mandarin afterwards and after all of this the person I’m speaking would normally be very surprised that I can actually string a few words together to form a beautiful Mandarin sentence. I’ll admit – it’s at moments like these when I see them slightly surprised – that I feel just a teensy bit satisfied with myself.

Sometimes studying Mandarin feels like a lost case and other times it is the most rewarding journey ever. I honestly hate the fact that I get flustered and have to say ‘ting bu dong’ when my listening skills and ability is poor. Other times I revel in the fact that I learned one crucial important word to use in the language or the fact that I am still progressing in Heisig.

Ah Mandarin – what a roller-coaster ride you give me…

Useful vocab?

Roller coaster: 过山车 / guòshānchē
听不懂 / ‘Tīng bù dǒng’ (literally listen not understand)
lǎobǎn (老板) = boss; shopkeeper; proprietor

Mandarin around the world… You say Guóyǔ, I say Pǔtōnghuà

peckishlaowai Posted in Learning Mandarin,Tags: , , , ,

As far as I know it’s important to be aware of the different regional names / words that exist when referring to Mandarin – and even better to know which one to use when speaking to Chinese people from different countries. Certainly, here in New Zealand, it is useful to know, as I meet Chinese immigrants from Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China.

I think you’re very likely to offend a Taiwanese, if you asked them whether they speak Pǔtōnghuà and vice versa likely to offend a mainland Chinese if you asked them whether they speak Guóyǔ. (Yes I realise we’re speaking of one and the same language – minus the accent and perhaps “slight” regional differences.)

Anyway, to start with it’s important to know a little bit about those countries where Mandarin Chinese is an official language:

  • China (the People’s Republic of China) Zhōngguó (中国; 中國)
  • Taiwan (Republic of China) Táiwān (台湾;台灣)
  • Singapore Xīnjiāpō (新加坡) (one of the four official languages)

In China (including Hong Kong special administrative region & Macau:

Mandarin is known as Pǔtōnghuà (Simplified 普通话 ; Traditional普通話)

Meaning: common speech (of the Chinese language)

Cantonese is largely spoken in Hong Kong, thus I suspect there is a Cantonese word for Mandarin that may be more prevalent than the Mandarin word Pǔtōnghuà when referring to Mandarin. Any corrections on this would naturally be welcome…


Mandarin is known as Guóyǔ; (Simplified Chinese: 国语; Traditional Chinese: 國語)

Meaning: national language’

Singapore & Malasia:

Mandarin is known as Huáyǔ; (Simplified Chinese: 华语; Traditional Chinese: 華語)

Meaning: Chinese language (in a cultural sense).

I suspect it may be kosher to refer to Putonghua when speaking to a Singaporean, but I still think it’s best to refer to Mandarin as Huáyǔ when speaking to a Singaporean or Malaysian Chinese simply because it is the word they themselves are more likely to use (and I guess therefore would be more respectful).

Zhōngguó huà (中国话) and Zhōngwén (中文)

These two words can also be used to refer to Mandarin. However the difference between these two is that

Zhōngguó huà refers only to spoken language i.e words e.g.

Wǒ huì shuō zhōngguó huà


Zhōngwén (中文) refers to the Chinese Language in the sense of both the spoken and written language:

wǒ huì shuō zhōngwén


With the latter, you’re stating that you’re learning both how to speak Chinese as well as write it.

Hànyǔ (汉语 / 漢語)

Of this one, I’m not entirely sure at all – it seems that Hànyǔ is very much interchangeably used with Zhongwen, however this may not always be the case and I don’t know whether there are any exceptions.

It also seems that Hànyǔ is the preferred option for academic / educational purposes. Most courses refer to Mandarin as Hànyǔ and not Pǔtōnghuà

Apparently, 汉语also refers to the language spoken by the Han nationality, i.e. Pǔtōnghuà the standard contemporary Chinese language.

Well, I hope this is just slightly useful. I still need to do some more research into the last one and see if I can find anything more concrete…