Building Sentences in Mandarin: Project Day 11

Since yesterday, I’ve decided to use Colloquial Chinese, which I have to hand. Like yesterday’s post, it has issues with not including the characters for regular chapters, but rather than spending more time looking for a book which does, I’m going to plow ahead with building sentences in Mandarin. The following is an article about how to do that.

Building Sentences in Mandarin Consists of Two Parts

Ignoring the two parts is the reason that most people stall when they are going to learn a language. It’s all very well getting a Teach Yourself or Colloquial beginners book and moving through their exercises and dialogues (A great idea,) but it’s the second part that most people don’t engage with. So, here are the two things you need to do when moving from vocabulary to sentences.

Building Sentences in Mandarin: The First Part

The first thing we need to do when we’re trying to start building sentences in Mandarin is to get some sentences. The fastest and most efficient way to do this is to plunder a beginners course like the two above, and actually engage with the material. Part of the reason I was irritated yesterday is because you need to write the characters out. You need to do this whilst reading them aloud, and when you are listening to the dialogues, you need to listen to both participants, then be the first person, then be the second. You have to answer as though you were those people. That’s the first step to building sentences in Mandarin: Really get to know and understand what you’re listening to. You can even pull the sentences apart grammatically. Where is the verb? Where is the subject? Where are the nouns?

Building Sentences in Mandarin: The Second Part

This is where the money is. In a previous update, I said that even if you can only say, “What is the __?” you can make many sentences? That’s what you need to do. Language is about building pathways and connections. For every sentence, you can use more vocabulary, and change the way you say it. In your common day to day life, how many greetings do you use for people that you know in different contexts? There are many ways to say, “Hello.” There are many uses for the same words. If you have a beginner book, you can probably say, “Where is the train station?”

You can also then be building sentences in Mandarin to ask where anything is, providing you know the word.
“Where is the cat?”
“Where is the fat, furry, brown cat?”
“Where is the brown cat? The brown cat was here at 9.30, but now it is not.”
You can do this for every line in a basic Teach Yourself dialogue. You might be listening to Mr Chang, and he’ll ask how the customer is. The customer will say “Fine.” But imagine you’re the customer and you’re not fine. You need [an item] immediately because it’s an emergency.
Once you start building sentences like this, you’re tying the source material into new possibility. For every hundred sentences you read, you can make a thousand.

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