Wanted: A Course in Pidgin Mandarin

One thing this trip to Beijing has brought out is just how useful it would be to speak even a little Mandarin here, even if one can’t reasonably converse or understand spoken Mandarin. Maybe a week’s worth of basic vocabulary and phrases:

  • Yes
  • No
  • I don’t speak Chinese.
  • Cell phone
  • Too Expensive
  • No meat
  • Duck
  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Rice
  • Noodles
  • Water
  • Tea
  • Coffee
  • Diet Coke
  • How much?
  • Skim Milk
  • Hello
  • Goodbye
  • Thank you
  • Not now
  • Maybe later
  • I don’t know
  • I understand
  • Turn right
  • Turn left
  • You’re going the wrong way
  • Down the sidewalk!
  • Oh my God I’m going to die and I still haven’t seen the giant pandas!
  • etc.

That plus basic numbers, Pinyin pronunciation, some simple rules of etiquette (you ride in the front seat of the cab in Beijing), and perhaps a few common and useful Chinese characters would make navigating this city a lot easier. Also, I wouldn’t object to a refresher course in chopsticks, the utensils, not the piano solo.

However I specifically do not want a syllabus that focuses on complete sentences and proper grammar. Berlitz is great, but it assumes you’re just getting started on a course of study that will take years. This may makes sense for European countries, where you have to reach a level of fluency the Europeans have with English before you have any hope of conversing natively, but for a much less Anglophone environment like China, something faster and dirtier would be very helpful. Does anyone actually offer a course that lets you get away with atrocious, horrible grammar as long as you’re understandable?and that doesn’t take years to complete?

4 Responses to “Wanted: A Course in Pidgin Mandarin”

  1. wally washington Says:

    Actually, I think the Berlitz course is just what you want. A lot of different
    things are published under the Berlitz name. Normally I would strongly
    recommend the longer Berlitz courses, such as Think and Talk, for
    beginning a language that has that course, such as German. And
    I would recommend against the 1 CD / 1 cassette courses, which are
    available for a lot more languages.

    But for your requirements, I imagine the travel pack is just what you are asking for.
    It will likely start out with a list of words and phrases similar to your list.
    Googling “Berlitz Mandarin” took me right to the course: a 1 Cd or 1 tape
    course and a not too long book. The general words you are looking for
    will probably be right at the beginning. And the foods words will be in their
    own section.

    Note that while I am familiar with language courses in general, I am not
    familiar with Chinese. And the comments on Amazon are not too favorable.
    But again, I really think this course is probably just what you are looking for.

    And also note that while the course will let you utter a few phrases that can
    be understood, you are still likely not to be able to understand what is said,
    especially when it is phrased somewhat differently than in the book.

  2. Elliotte Rusty Harold Says:

    In my experience books, tapes, and CDs are close to useless for learning to speak a language, even in pidgin form. You can;t even hear the correct pronunciation, much less vocalize it. In a tonal language like Chinese, that’s likely to be even more true. I was actually hoping for a course taught by a native speaker who could correct mistakes.

  3. Michael Studman Says:

    While it’s probably not as compressed as you’d like, have a look at chinesepod.com. They have over 800 podcasts and counting (a large number for absolute beginners), vocabulary for each lesson and a good website that helps you learn as you listen to each podcast. The downside is that although the podcasts are free the other services are not. Their paid subscriptions range from the basic services as I just described up to daily phone calls with tutors who are native speakers and customised study plans. They have a 7 day free trial of the basic service.

  4. Fred Swartz Says:

    If you need something now, just ask at the hotel for
    this short list — you can probably find someone there
    to help. Or hire one of the many people who would
    be glad to sell their tour guide services for a hour
    to help you with the list and some pronunciations.

    And as Michael says, chinesepod.com is great.

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