I am starting to learn Chinese so that I can fit in better here. It is actually surprisingly easy to get by without learning a single word. Many of the young people here speak English, most menus have pictures and the signs almost universally have English translations on them. That said every time I utter even the most basic Chinese phrase I get a big smile of appreciation. And getting by is great, but I want to actually meet people and learn about the culture here.
I thought it was worth chronicling this as a way to help me commit things to memory. Also, if you have friends or work with anyone that has a Chinese name you are probably butchering the pronunciation. There are a few letters that sound radically different:
|q||sounds like ‘ch’ in English|
|x||sounds like ‘sh’ in English|
|zh||sounds like ‘je’ in French|
|i||sounds like ‘ee’ in tree|
To put that in practice, here are some common last names and their pronunciation:
|Li||sounds like Lee|
|Zhang||sounds like je + ahng|
|Xie||sounds she + a|
Speaking of last names, it is customary to say someone’s last name first, then their given name. If you say someone’s first name only, it means you are good friends–giving new meaning to ‘on a first name basis’.
Those are the biggest gotchas. For more details on pronounciation see Introduction to Pinyin which explains Tones and also has a recording of every phonic.