Chinese-English Phrasebook

Old Jan 12th, 2012, 04:54 PM
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Chinese-English Phrasebook

I will be visiting China for a month April-May. My only language is English.

I will be trying to learn the phonetics for the standard civilities and some necessary questions; please, thank you, how much, where is the bathroom etc. I have been trying to memorise some characters in Simplified Chinese for numbers and other things; it appears that my mind does not think in Chinese

I have the DK eyewitness guide, but I think I need a smalI phrasebook that I can carry easily in a hip pocket.

I would appreciate reader's advice and opinions of the various phrasebooks they have used and how useful they were in communicating with non-English-speaking Chinese people on their trips.

TIA

Cheers, Alan, Australia
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Old Jan 12th, 2012, 07:10 PM
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Bear in mind that there are many Chinese spoken languages. The written language is the same throughout China, but there are hundreds of different spoken dialects (which sound so different as to not really qualify as dialects, but let’s call them that for ease.) While Putonghua (Mandarin) is widely spoken and is encouraged by the government to be referred to as the “national” language; in many regions most people would not care that you are being polite and saying “thank you” and “hello” in Mandarin. It will mean nothing in Hong Kong or Macau, for example, where Cantonese is the spoken dialect. In Shanghai, it will mostly just mark you as a tourist. (It would be like saying “howdy” to a New Yorker.)

So learning to say hello and thank you in Mandarin as well as Shanghainese, Cantonese, etc might, IMO, be more meaningful.

I would also really urge you to get CDs or tapes, rather than relying on phrase books. All Chinese language are tonal, and you cannot get the tones correct by reading a phrase book. You have to hear the tones and learn them, as the differences are very subtle in some cases. You can buy CDs in most bookshops or on line. You can listen on the flight over.

A phrase book can be useful to show people if you want to know where the bathroom is, as you can show them the characters, but IMO a CD or tape will be more useful if you want to be understood when speaking.
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Old Jan 12th, 2012, 07:20 PM
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From my very limited experience, I would say the key features of a phrasebook are that (a) you can find what you want to say as easily as possible by looking it up in English and (b) it has Chinese characters for the phrase once translated. I'm not sure there is a single "best" option, because I would think it depends on how well the book's organization matches the uses to which you will put it.

I'll second Cicerone's recommendation to try a set of CDs or tapes. Intonation is critical.

Other options to consider are (a) an e-book option and/or (b) something like "me no speak" which combines pictures, English, and Chinese characters for some common items.

Enjoy your trip!
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Old Jan 12th, 2012, 07:44 PM
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I can't hear the tones, being virtually tone deaf, and have simply accepted that I will never speak tonal languages correctly. However, I still managed to travel successfully in China.

I'm not sure why Cicerone is worrying about people thinking you are a tourist - unless you are ethnic Chinese it will be patently obvious. But she is right about the differences in spoken language. Even I could tell that "xie xie" was being pronounced differently in different regions.

Although I gave up on speaking properly, I enjoy the characters, and found this book useful: "I Can Read That" by Julie Mazel Sussman. I bought a useful phrase book in China, not sure whether it is available elsewhere: "Essential Chinese for Travelers" by Fan Zhilong. But as kja says, the most important thing is that your phrase book has characters, not just pinyin.
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Old Jan 12th, 2012, 09:09 PM
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I'm afraid that it's hardly worth the study needed to get the intonations right when I will be spending 3 days in Hong Kong, 3 days in Shanghai and a week in Beijing, among other places. It will be hard enough using one variant without the regional variations.

It is also difficult not to stand out as a tourist when I'm 6' tall and obviously caucasian.

So I'm happy to get one form of Chinese that is reasonably well understood in characters everywhere and phonetics that won't get me punched in the head anywhere; I don't want to be saying "I spit on your mother" when I am trying to say "Thank you very much"

The Sussman book sounds good; I'll check it out. Any others?

Cheers, Alan, Australia
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Old Jan 12th, 2012, 09:11 PM
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Sorry - I'll also look for "Essential Chinese for Travelers". Thanks.
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Old Jan 12th, 2012, 09:19 PM
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I found the free pamphlet "Essential Chinese for Travelers" as a download here: http://www.chinesetranslationpro.com/

Thanks.
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Old Jan 12th, 2012, 09:41 PM
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Actually, the book I meant is this:

http://www.amazon.com/Essential-Chin...6433165&sr=8-1

Is the download the same?
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Old Jan 12th, 2012, 09:44 PM
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Oh, and if you get the tones wrong you may very well be swearing. Certainly you won't make any sense. But I think the Chinese will cut you slack on the basics like thank you and rice and beer...
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Old Jan 12th, 2012, 10:02 PM
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As thursdaysd says, you will probably encounter many people who will go out of their way to help just because you tried to learn to say "thank you."

I had forgotten about "I Can Read That" by Sussman - very helpful, especially to learn the characters for man/men and woman/women! (Actually, I think I really only learned "man" - and as a woman, I found it very helpful to know where NOT to go!)

> It is also difficult not to stand out as a tourist when I'm 6' tall and obviously caucasian.

Be prepared to be a subject of interest! If you get off the beaten track, you might find that some people (older folks, in particular) may appear quite comfortable coming within inches of you to stare and observe.
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Old Jan 13th, 2012, 07:03 AM
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As noted above, the Chinese characters are the same throughout China but the pronunciation is so different that TV in Hong Kong has subtitles. Also average Chinese can not read Pinyin if you show it to them and at least my pronunciation from reading pinyin is not understood. However, people we met were very nice and pointing and gestures work well enough.
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Old Jan 13th, 2012, 09:04 AM
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If you have a smartphone there are many applications for English to Chinese translators that have the tonal sounds included.

Aloha!
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Old Jan 16th, 2012, 04:36 PM
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If only for a trip I would say don't bother. It is not easy to learn and you cannot learn it without a face to face teacher. You may thing you are saying something right then nobody will actually understand you. and again assuming that you can memorize a few key sentences, will you be able to understand the answers? Never ask a question in mandarin if you cannot handle the answer.
Most places where you will probably travel there will be some english spoken. The signs will be in pinyin (regular letters) so you will be fine. I think that a tourist only needs to learn three expressions; hello (ni hao), thank you (xiexie) and I don't want any (bu yao), this last one to get rid of annoying salespeople.
I have lived in China for the last 3 years and have been studying mandarin but frankly, in a place like Beijing or Shanghai, you will find english everywhere. I know many people who have lived here for years and cannot say more than hello and order a beer.
I have to disagree with the comment above regarding mandarin being useless in places like Shanghai. Mandarin is the national language. school is taught in mandarin everywhere and everybody speaks mandarin except older people. Also most people in Shanghai are not from Shanghai in any case. It is also incorrect that people cannot read pinyin. The problem is that a word in pinyin can correspond to 20+ characters, so it is not easy to figure out when reading it.
The only language challenge you might face is taking a taxi. Just make sure you have you hotel name and address written in characters and a travel book with name of attractions in chinese characters that you can point to when taking a taxi (although you can go everywhere by subway).
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Old Jan 16th, 2012, 04:49 PM
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"It is also incorrect that people cannot read pinyin." - no one I tried it on could read it. Your explanation of why may well be correct, but it doesn't alter the fact that a pinyin-only phrasebook is useless and you must have the characters.
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Old Jan 17th, 2012, 07:06 AM
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Like I said above smartphones and their translator apps are just what you need. Easiest and simplest way besides hiring a translator to translate in the 21 st century. Some applications are self contained and don't even need to be connected to the internet so you wouldn't need a paid plan or sim card. It won't do everything but will surely help you learn or say the simple travel terms you will need, check it out.

Aloha!
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Old Jan 17th, 2012, 07:19 PM
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Thanks All. I'm followibng pu the various books and ideas given.

I don't have a smartphone. I will be posting a separate question about the best place to buy one of those: Australia, Hong Kong or Shanghai.

Cheers, Alan, Australia
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Old Jan 17th, 2012, 07:20 PM
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"followibng pu"

I wish fodors had an edit facility

"following up" of course.
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Old Jan 20th, 2012, 07:42 AM
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Shanghai will be the most expensive option.
Sorry maybe I was not clear. People can read pinyin but they do not know what it means. Even for me who focusses on pinyin, when reading it it is virtually impossible to know the meaning as there is no tone.
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Old Jan 20th, 2012, 09:26 AM
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I think we have an English language issue. "Read" generally includes comprehension.
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Old Jan 23rd, 2012, 06:38 PM
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Thanks all.
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