How to Speak Chinese With English Translation

Chinese is a tonal language that may present difficulties for beginners.
Chinese is a tonal language that may present difficulties for beginners. (Image: Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images)

Due to China's rise as a leading economic power, learning Chinese is becoming more and more common these days. As opposed to European languages, however, Chinese may present some serious challenges to the native-English speaker. But with enough perseverance, leaning an Asian language may prove to be both personally rewarding and beneficial in the context of today's world economy.

Get a quality phrasebook. If you are planning a visit to China, you may wish to take a phrasebook with you. However, one unique aspect of the Chinese languages, including dialects such as Cantonese, is that they are tonal. Speaking a tonal language is similar to singing. Placing the appropriate emphasis on syllables is critical. Two different words may be spelled the same way but may have different tones. Tones may fall, rise, dip or remain monotonous. There are even 'neutral' tones with no tone.

Focus on learning the romanized script. If you plan to speak Chinese with the aid of an English-to-Chinese phrasebook, you may notice that there are two ways of writing Chinese--the traditional method using Chinese characters and there is the romanized way called 'pinyin,' which is aimed at learners of the language. The pinyin spells the word and denotes the tone by means of an accent. In Mandarin Chinese, there are a total of four tones, not including the neutral tones. Each of these tones has a unique symbol.

Purchase audio tapes. May phrasebooks come with CDs. If you are completely new to the Chinese language, it is recommended that you have a good understanding of the language's tones, which will in turn give you a feel for pronouncing words. If you have a friend who speaks Chinese, it is highly advisable to ask for her help in speaking the language.

Use the traditional script if you find the pinyin difficult to master. As the English-Chinese translations in a phrasebook are often accompanied by their Chinese characters, you could quite easily show these characters to a local. This method may save you some time if you find that mastering the tones are proving difficult.

Tips & Warnings

  • The largest dialect of Chinese, Mandarin Chinese, is a Sino-tibetan language. Sino-tibetan languages are far removed from languages of European origin, especially in terms of language structure and logic. For this reason, it is not feasible to speak Chinese by directly translating from English sentences. Verbs are not conjugated, questions are phrased differently and the subject and object of a sentence tend to come in a different order. For these reasons, it is beneficial to learn Chinese in a classroom setting to become fluent in the language.

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