Nǐ huì shuō Zhōngwén ma? (Can You Speak Chinese?)

One of the most common questions people ask me when they find out I that I currently reside in China is this: “So, can you already speak Chinese?”

The honest answer is NO, not by a long shot.

Well, sure I know some words, characters, and numbers. Also, I know enough to order a meal or go  shopping and bargain with the shop keepers, but my knowledge is barely 1% of all there is to know about the Chinese language. (And by saying “Chinese”, I’m actually just referring to Mandarin. There are so many other local dialects/languages other than it.)

My workmate told me that even if a person studies a hundred years to learn Chinese, it will still not be enough to perfect it. After attempting to learn it, I can say that I totally agree.

984471329 1397952041The first thing I learned when I got a tutor to give me Chinese lessons is tones – 1. , 2. , 3. mǎ, 4. , ma (neutral). If you have already attempted to learn Chinese at one point in your life, I bet you read that in a singsong voice, implementing the tones. Right?

Even though this was the first thing I learned about Mandarin, it remains to be the most challenging part of my Chinese education. You see, you have to get the tones right or people more often than not won’t understand what you mean. For example, in the Metro, the loudspeaker announcing the stops always pronounce my station ( 潭村, Tan2 Cun1) as “Tan4-Chun4” in its English version. That’s why during my first months here, no taxi driver could understand where I wanted to go because I kept repeating this wrong pronunciation. Only after I learned the tones did the cabbies get where I wanted to go.

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Another challenging thing is that people here speak so fast! When they do so, it gets difficult to determine the tones so sometimes, even if I know the words, I cannot identify it when they start speaking. Many times, I encountered some people asking me questions that I thought I didn’t understand, but later on realized that I actually knew what they meant when my thought process finally caught up with the rush of words. Often, these realizations come too late, after I’ve already said, “Tīng bù dǒng”! Literally translated as “I hear you, but I don’t understand.”

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Yet, probably the phrase I use most often is “Wǒ bú shì Zhōng Guó rén. Wǒ shì fēi lù bīn rén” (I am not Chinese. I am Filipino.) This is because almost all strangers I meet here (even foreigners) assume that I am Chinese or if I fail to say that I am Filipino, that I am Japanese/Korean. Can’t blame them. Come to think of it, I do look Chinese. For that, I have to thank my grandfather who was originally from Fujian Province.

At the moment, I have stopped studying Chinese (partly because my tutor got married and because lessons were expensive). This will surely not help my goal to at least learn enough to converse properly, but hopefully I will find some other way to learn it (if I am able to combat my laziness).

How about you? Have you ever attempted to learn Mandarin? Do you know other Chinese languages/dialects?

Outfit Details:

  • Green turtleneck top from a local store in Gongyuanqian Metro Station
  • Leggings from a street seller in Yuancun
  • Coat from Banggood.com also featured here
  • Knit hat and boots with the fur from H&M
  • Bag from Zara
  • Eyewear from Forever 21

17 thoughts on “Nǐ huì shuō Zhōngwén ma? (Can You Speak Chinese?)

  1. I feel you. Its really Hard especially if you dont practice it everyday. Try watching some shows with subtitile it might help you somehow to get familiar with the words. But for me i think the best way is still to try and converse with people.


    1. Yes, I try to use it whenever I can, mainly with shopkeepers! :)) My workmates all speak English so it’s easy to fall into the trap of just using English to communicate faster, but sometimes, they also teach me some useful words/phrases :))


      1. Exactly my everyday life right now, the only time i get to speak Chinese is with my mom. Hopefully you get the hang of it and embrace the knowledge. I wish i can learn how to speak it fluently again sometime.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yeah I’m learning a word a day to help me with spoken Chinese at least. Characters are another thing… -.-


    1. I love turtlenecks and this big warm jumpers! My boyfriend says they are shapeless, but I feel so warm and safe like someone is hugging me all the time! hahaha Ok, I will teach you what I know, but I swear it’s not much! :)))


  2. My company has a lot of Taiwanese and Chinese and yet I never wanted to learn because it means I’ll be given more responsibilities including with dealing with the Taiwan and China ops. You look so cute in the photo by the stairs.


  3. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to be learning a new language on top of being in a new place! (Though obviously, you’re sort of used to both now having been there for so long.) I’m not very good at languages, so I would probably be miserable. But I’d like to think it would be a great way to push myself to learn new things since I’d just have to 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It can be a bit overwhelming! I feel most sad that I cannot talk to most of the people here (like shopkeepers and guards). I feel like they have many stories to tell if only we can communicate 🙂


      1. I cant believe that, maybe in the numbers but literally you can see and breathe the difference. HK has nowhere near as many factories spewing out exhaust as those two cities…

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Fair enough! Lucky you because this polluted air is causing me to break out a lot and also made me more prone to sickness 😦


    1. I used to watch a lot of Taiwanese dramas so I sort of learned a few words from those, but the actual speaking is much more difficult :(( Maybe I should get back to watching Taiwanese dramas :))

      Liked by 1 person

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