Chinese-English Phrasebook

Old Jan 29th, 2012, 04:15 AM
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Once you get a smartphone, Pleco, a smartphone app, has a pretty comprehensive dictionary that I've found to be one of the best. Written Mandarin and Cantonese are almost the same, so if you need something in HK you can show a person the traditional characters vs simplified in the Mainland. Try chinesepod.com and download a few basic podcasts or purchase a one month subscription - these are a great help. You don't need Cantonese in Hong Kong 99% of the time, so I'd focus more on Mandarin.

Lonely planet publishes a pocket Mandarin phrase book that is pretty good, and one with about 11 Chinese dialects (dongbei, tibetan, hakka, etc) that you wouldn't need, so I'd recommend the LP mandarin book.
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Old Jan 29th, 2012, 03:41 PM
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I haven't used it myself but the Pleco program has some very interesting features in addition to its dictionary. You can supposedly point your iPhone or iPad camera at printed characters and it will translate them to English. It also allows one to "write" characters on the iPhone/iPad screen and it will translate those as well.
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Old Jan 29th, 2012, 05:05 PM
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You need:

a) The written Chinese characters for whatever it is that you want - food, a restaurant, your hotel, an historical site. Thus, you should have with you at all times a phrase book that is written both in English and in Chinese characters. You can point to the Chinese equivalent to the English phrase. Literacy in China is very high, believe it's somewhere in the 90 percentile, so, even if a person can't understand your spoken Chinese, they will be able to read the Chinese characters.

b) You yourself should learn a few Chinese characters, especially those for "man" and "woman" to be able to find your way to the correct restroom. Learning the numbers from 1 to 10 would also help.

3) Here's your first Chinese Mandarin (the "official language") lesson -

For the syllable "ma", there are four tones in Mandarin -

ma (first tone) = mother

ma (2nd tone) = feeling numb or hemp

ma (3rd tone) = horse

ma (4th tone) = to scold

Don't bother with Cantonese, which has generally 6 tones (there are many dialectic variations of Cantonese, some of which can go up to 9 tones)

Shanghainese belongs to the Wu group of languages and is very different from Mandarin and Cantonese, so don't bother with learning Shanghainese either.

If China were Europe, all these "dialects" would be classified as separate languages, so you wouldn't be learning just German, you'll have to learn Norwegian and Italian at the same time. The saving grace is that the written language is the same no matter where you travel in China. Often you'll see two Chinese people, one would be writing with an index finger on the palm of the other hand. That's because, even among the Chinese, they have to frequently revert to the written language to get across to each other.

The most complex tonal languages are those spoken in Yunnan by the Miao (Hmong, Mong) people. There could be 12 or more tones in the Miao languages. Are you going to Yunnan?

It's been awhile since I've looked at guide books for China, but seem to remember that the Lonely Planet one had some phrases in the back of the book. Also the Frommer's Guide for China had maps with the major sites identified in both English and Chinese characters. I think the Frommer's guide is very useful in this respect, although it's a bigger book than just a slim phrase book.

Sorry to take so long to get to my point: stick with the written Chinese characters with their English equivalents. That'll work best for you.
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Old Jan 29th, 2012, 05:08 PM
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Oh, one last thing, if you want to learn to speak a few phrases in Mandarin, pay attention to the vowels.

I once had a young man who kept talking about "eating horse $hit (chifun)" when he meant "eating rice" or "dining" ("chifan").
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Old Jan 29th, 2012, 06:45 PM
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Forgot one moe thing:

There's an excellent picture book for travellers called "Point It" - no words, just pictures of what you want.
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Old Jan 30th, 2012, 06:38 PM
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Thanks. I just ordered "Point It" from the bookdepository.co.uk/ for AU$7.25. For me it works out cheaper than Amazon because of free delivery.
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Old Jan 30th, 2012, 07:21 PM
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Has anyone used the book "Me No Speak Chinese"? Just wondering how that compares to "Point It". Looks to be similar.
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Old Jan 30th, 2012, 11:06 PM
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I had "Me No Speak Chinese" with me. As I recall, I only used it once - and then not very successfully, as I was trying to find a cable car. But it helped me feel more confident that I could manage - and for me, that was not insignificant! I didn't see "Point It" and so can't compare them.
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Old Feb 2nd, 2012, 12:42 AM
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I just noticed that Fodor's has a phrase book that you can download from here: http://www.fodors.com/language/chinese/greetings/
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Old Feb 2nd, 2012, 12:36 PM
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Unfortunately, there are no Chinese characters in the Fodor's phrase book, making it almost useless if you're in China.

Besides which, I don't know who makes up these phrase books, but some of the Chinese phrases are almost archaic, some are very formal so that no one really will be using those phrases -

Must have been made up by He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named-Who-Didn't-Like-Chinese-Guides
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Old Feb 8th, 2012, 07:41 PM
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> Besides which, I don't know who makes up these phrase books, but some of the Chinese phrases are almost archaic, some are very formal so that no one really will be using those phrases - Must have been made up by He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named-Who-Didn't-Like-Chinese-Guides

It must be 18 months since I last visited this site but the reasons not to contribute any longer, and particularly the childish ad hominem postings, are still here I see. I think I'll leave it longer still before returning again.

"He-Who-Shall" was actually responsible for the appearance of a large number of Chinese characters in the first edition of the Frommer's China volume recommended by the same poster, and indeed provided the originals for the majority of them himself, as well as writing the text of the language section, and persuading the publisher that every single pinyin term must be tone-marked. So the remark quoted is particularly fatuous even by the standards set in the past.

In passing, there is no "fun" in pinyin. There is "fen".

And since I'm here, for the OP's benefit, there's much to agree with in earlier postings:

Unless there's a particular interest in languages or repeated visits to China are expected then making more than a stab at the simplest of courtesies will require more effort than it's worth. Mandarin is the language to choose for mainland China, as it's the lingua franca, understood everywhere even including much of Hong Kong these days (although Cantonese is the standard there). Discussion of other Chinese languages and those of China's ethnic minorities is a red herring.

In Mandarin the grammar is pleasingly simple, but mastery of tonal languages does not come naturally to most Westerners. For simple courtesies and some basic exchanges context will make your meaning clear (perhaps after some puzzlement) but for anything else a failure to master the tones will simply make you incomprehensible.

If you wish to attempt more complex exchanges the best way is simply to show the characters for what you want, using either a phrase book or a portable digital device. The Pleco software, for iPhone, Android, and possibly some other platforms offers you a two-way dictionary function that recognises both English and Hanyu pinyin (Romanised Chinese), and offers written character recognition--so you can hand the phone to someone and invite them to write down what they are trying to say.

But don't worry: there are thousands of people travelling round China all the time without two words of Mandarin to rub together. There's English/pinyin everywhere on signs, even in the most obscure places, in announcements on public transport in major cities, and you can get plentiful help from English speakers at your hotel reception. A bit of pointing and some mime will also get you a long way. Common sense is more important than a phrase book, but if choosing one of these one that has plenty of nice large characters to show to people, and one that groups its terms intelligently would be the one to get: e.g. menu items grouped together, and separated into meats, vegetables, etc. (most Chinese dish names are made up of the names of their ingredients and a cooking verb--but then picture menus and ones badly translated using Google are ubiquitous now).

Attempts at simple courtesies are always appreciated, however mangled they come out. But 'please', 'thank you', 'hello', and 'goodbye' will do. All of these can be found translated for you at nciku.com, complete with audio recordings of their pronunciation. If you want to just try a little study, or learn a bit more about how Chinese works, begin by listening to the free elementary lessons at popupchinese.com.

Two characters you might occasionally find useful to know are those for male and female as used on lavatory doors: 男 and 女 respectively.

I was also a co-author and consultant on the earlier editions of DK Eyewitness China, so I hope you find it useful. I didn't write the language section, and its lack of tone-marking on the pinyin is regrettable, and the characters are printed rather small, but nevertheless it does contain probably rather more than what you might in reality expect to attempt.
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Old Feb 8th, 2012, 09:07 PM
  #32  
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temppeternh - IMHO, this board has sorely missed your expertise.
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Old Feb 8th, 2012, 09:14 PM
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kja - seconded
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Old Feb 9th, 2012, 12:17 PM
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Thank you temppeternh. I have bought the current DK Eyewitness guide, downloaded "Essential Chinese" from http://www.chinesetranslationpro.com/ (which is folded almost origami style to become a booklet) and bought a collection of pictures called "Point It". I've also been experimenting with nciku.com.

I've re-read your post a couple of times and will do again; thanks especially, on behalf of my wife, for 男 and 女 - is there also a character for a Western toilet?

PS. Not to do with Chinese, but with this forum. How did you embed the hyperlink in nciku.com?

Cheers, Alan
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Old Feb 10th, 2012, 12:54 AM
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They will not write toilet on signs but will have the 男 and 女 characters on the doors or an international pictogram.
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Old Feb 10th, 2012, 05:09 AM
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Suggest you find someone in your neighborhood who is a chinese person. Maybe a student at the college, even high school. That person can help you so much more than any book. You do not have sufficient time to learn much mandarin as it is not a visual language for you. It is not like learning Italian. Pinyin can help but you will need to hear the sounds. Also a digital recorder will help you record the lesson with your teacher so replay. Play it again and again, learn how to speak even the most simple of communications-where is the toilet? how much money (the most important), i want more beer...please and thank you.
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