Learn to read and type Chinese

2017-02-16 00:00

This lesson is meant to teach people the basics of Chinese. Below you will find an introduction and background to learning Chinese, how to type Chinese characters, tone rules, and a reading/comprehension lesson.

Getting started

So you want to learn Chinese? Great! As I have no means of teaching you how to pronounce Chinese or Pinyin via this document, this book will only teach you how to read and type Chinese. I also recommend mastering Pinyin before you start these lessons. Pinyin is the romanized, pronunciation system that Chinese speakers use in dictionaries and it is also the same system they use to type Chinese characters. Once you master the pronunciation of Pinyin, you will be able to pronounce any words that you come across. This is because you can find the Pinyin (the pronunciation system for Chinese) in dictionaries.

Before we begin, I recommend setting up a Chinese input method for the operating system you are using. This way you can practice typing Chinese. It will also help you become more familiar with the characters. Although, it may not help you speak, write and listen, but at least you’ll be able to type and read, which is what I aim to teach you.

A few things I want you to remember

A few more details on Chinese

How to type Chinese characters

If you type “wo”, the “我” character will appear above the words you are typing. You can choose this character by hitting the spacebar. You can also type whole sentences and, if all of the characters that appear on the screen are the ones you want, you can just hit spacebar and it will choose all of the characters in the sentence.

If you need to select individual characters in a sentence while typing, you can use numbers or arrow keys to choose which characters you want.

We can then see that all of the character options begin to showing up, and that “我” can be chosen by typing the number beside it. On mine, it’s 1, so I type “1” and it will select “我” for me. You can continue to select the characters you need in order to finish a sentence. Most input methods will learn by themselves which characters you will most often. This allows the input to become more convenient over time if you are using it often. Input methods in this manner are needed as the Chinese language has many words that sound the same.

If you want to type English in the middle of your sentence, you can type a word in English, while using a Chinese input method, and then hit the enter key, this will choose and keep the romanized letters you type.

Tone Rules

In Chinese there are a few rules that apply when two or more tones come before or after one another, as well as a couple of characters which have their own rules. In this guide I will be labelling tones with numbers rather than accents.

Common representation of tones with accents

1st Tone: mā

2nd Tone: má

3rd Tone: mǎ

4th Tone: mà

5th/neutral Tone: ma

My representation of tones for this guide

1st Tone: ma1

2nd Tone: ma2

3rd Tone: ma3

4th Tone: ma4

5th/Neutral Tone: ma

The reason I’ve chosen to represent the tones this way is because when you are clarifying which tone someone is saying in spoken Chinese, you will be able to recall which tones correlate to which number more easily.

Where you should write the tones

I am covering a bit on the tone accents above the characters before I start using my representation of the tones because there are some fundamentals that are standard, usually, when writing tones.

All of you have to remember is the order of the pinyin vowels: a o e i u ü.

These vowels will help you determine above which letter the tone will be placed.

In “ni” the first, and only, vowel is “i” so the tone goes over the “i”, but in “hao” we have two vowels. Which one comes first in the sequence above? (“a” in this case, so the tone goes over the “a”.)

There is one exception that I can think of, though, and that is the “iu” combination. For this combination, the “u” gets the tone.

Don’t worry too much about where to write the tones above the pinyin. If you place the tone above the wrong letter, it won’t change the meaning of the word and native speakers will still understand you.

Connecting Tones

When certain tones and certain characters are connected, tone changes may occur. Luckily for you, I’m going to make a list so you can see how they change below!

Two 3rd tones:

你好/ni3hao3 → ni2hao3


Three 3rd tones:

我很好/wo3hen3hao3 → wo3hen2hao3

“I’m well”

Four 3rd tones (or more) together:

我很想你/wo3hen3xiang3ni3 → wo2hen3xiang2ni3

“I really miss you”

一/yi1 + 4th tone:

一个/yi1ge4 → yi2ge4

“A”; “One” (Quantity, not the number one)

不/bu4 + 4th tone:

不是/bu4shi4 → bu2shi4

“Not”; “Is not”

This may seem overwhelming at first—it was for me—but don’t worry. Just remember that when two 3rd tones come together, the first one turns to a 2nd tone and when the “一” or “不” characters come before a character with a fourth tone, the “一” or “不” take the 2nd tone.

Chapter 1












Chapter 1 vocabulary

王文/wang2wen2 - A full name. The first character, “王” is a common surname. The second character is the first name. In Chinese the last name is said first when you say a full name, but it is uncommon to call someone by their name/full name. 王:King 文:Pattern

李夏蓓/li3xia4bei4 - A full name. The first character, “李” is a common surname. The second and third characters, “夏蓓” are the first name. 李:Plum 夏:Summer (夏天/xia4tian1) 蓓:Flower bud (蓓蕾/bei4lei3)

你好/ni3hao3 (ni2hao3) - “Hello” You can also use it to get someone’s attention on the street or in a restaurant. 你:You 好:Good/Very

啊/a1 - This can be added on the end of sentences/utterances/responses to soften the tone of what is being said.

吗/ma - This is a question particle that can be added to the end of things to turn a statement into a question.

很/hen3 - “very” The “very” connotation can be omitted sometimes.

呢/ne - This is a particle that can be used at the end of sentences to inquire about something, so “你呢” in this case means “How about you?” or “and you?”.

也/ye3 - “too”; “also”

谢谢/xie4xie - “Thank you”

是/shi4 - “To be”; “is” If you add “吗” after it, it means “Is that so?” (“是吗?”)

老师/lao3shi1 - “teacher” “老” means “old” “师” is a suffix for some professions.

不/bu4 - A negator.

学生/xue2sheng1 - “student” “学” means “to learn” (“学习” means “to study”) “生” means “raw”; “to give birth” and many other things.

工作/gong1zuo4 - “to work”; “work” This word can be used as a verb or a noun.

真的/zhen1de - “Really”; “Real” “Really”, in this case, is a statement, not an adjective.

想 or 想要/xiang3 or xiang3yao4 - “to want”; “want to”; “wish to” Most of the time “想” and “想要” can be used interchangeably, but “想要” feels a little softer.

应该/ying1gai1 - “should”; “ought to” Sometimes you will see “该”. The difference is subtle, but, in general you can think of it as the same thing.

好好学习/hao3hao3xue2xi2 (hao2hao3xue2xi2) - “Study hard”; “Study well” This is a common phrase that people use. Sometimes they will say “好好学习天天向上”. A rough translation of this phrase would be “Study hard and improve every day”.

好的/hao3de - “Okay”; “Alright”

那/na4 or 那么/na4me - “Then...”; “Well then...”

再见/zai4jian4 - “Goodbye”; “Farewell” This is a stronger, more emotional goodbye that isn’t used as often as “拜拜”. It could indicate that you are leaving for a long time, but some people will still use it, although, “拜拜” is more common.

拜拜/bai1bai1 - “Bye bye”; “Goodbye” Sometimes, people will use “88” to say goodbye on the internet, because “拜拜/bai1bai1” sounds like “八八/ba1ba1 (eight eight)”.