Lesson 15: Can you speak Chinese?

您会说语吗? Nǐn huì shuō hàn yǔ ma


As there are so many languages in the world, it is really very difficult for a person to master all of them. I have known a person who can speak nine different languages and I am already totally impressed. He speaks English, Chinese, Italian, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Korean and Japanese. How many languages can you speak besides English or Chinese?


You may have already guessed it that the lesson for today will be on languages. Yes, you are absolutely right. We are going to talk about languages in this lesson. As usual, before we proceed to the dialogue for today, let us go through some of the languages in Chinese. In Chinese, when you want to talk about languages, you only need to add the word 语Yǔ after the country’s name. This is similar to what we have done previously on nationality where you add only the word 人Rén after one’s country name.


Simplified Chinese Pinyin English
英语 Yīng yǔ English
汉语 Hàn yǔ Chinese
意大利语 Yìdàlì yǔ Italian
法语 Fǎ yǔ French
西班牙语 Xībānyá yǔ Spanish
德语 Dé yǔ German
葡萄牙语 Pútáoyá yǔ Portuguese
韩语 Hán yǔ Korean
日语 Rì yǔ Japanese
粤语 Yuè yǔ Cantonese
泰语 Tài yǔ Thai
越南语 Yuènán yǔ Vietnamese


In China, the Chinese language is known as 汉语 Hàn . But in other Chinese speaking countries like Singapore and Malaysia, it is known as 华语 Huáyǔ, in Taiwan it is called 国语 Guóyǔ and in Hong Kong, they called it 普通话 Pǔtōnghuà.

But all of them refer to the same thing, Chinese language or Mandarin Chinese.


The dialogue for today is between David and a taxi driver in China. David is in China for a holiday and he is taking a taxi to his hotel.


Driver:             Mr, where are you going?

David:             Da Hua Hotel

Driver:             Can you speak Chinese?

David:             I can speak a little Chinese.

Driver:             How long have you learned Chinese?

David:             2 years

Driver              Just 2 years and you can speak so well.

David:             Not really, my Chinese is not that good.

Driver:             We are at Da Hua Hotel.

David:             Thank you.

Driver:             You’re welcome.


司机:            先生,您要去哪儿?

大卫:            大华酒店
司机:            您会说汉语吗?
大卫:            会说一点儿。

司机:            您学汉语有多久了?
大卫:            2年

司机:       只学了2年,您就会说的那么好。
大卫:            哪里,我的汉语不太好。
司机:            大华饭店到了。
大卫:            谢谢。

司机:            不客气。


Sījī:                  Xiānshēng, nín yào qù nǎ’er?

Dà wèi:            Dà huá jiǔdiàn

Sījī:                  Nín huì shuō hànyǔ ma?

Dà wèi:            Huì shuō yīdiǎn’r.

Sījī:                  Nín xué hànyǔ yǒu duōjiǔle?

Dà wèi:            2 Nián

Sījī:                  Zhǐ xuéle 2 nián, nín jiù huì shuō dì nàme hǎo

Dà wèi:            Nǎlǐ, wǒ de hànyǔ bù tài hǎo.

Sījī:                  Dà huá fàndiàn dàole.

Dà wèi:            Xièxiè.

Sījī:                  Bù kèqì.

一点儿 is an indefinite measure word we use when we want to express the information of a small amount or quantity. It is used to modify a noun. When the context is very clear to the parties involved in the conversation, the noun that it modifies can be omitted. For example, in the dialogue, the driver asks David 您会说汉语吗?and David answers会说一点儿(汉语).汉语 can be omitted from the answer in this case. And when 一点儿 is not used at the beginning of a sentence, the word一 can be omitted. For example, you can say 喝(一)点儿水Hè yīdiǎn’r shuǐ (drink a little water),吃(一)点儿水果chī yīdiǎn’r shuǐguǒ (eat a little fruit).


哪里 when used as an interrogative pronoun, it has the meaning of where in English. You can also say 哪儿?However, 哪里….. here has a negative meaning. It is used when someone compliment or praise you and you are being modest about the compliment. In the Chinese culture, this is an appropriate response when being complimented. In Western culture, we normally just say thank you for the compliments. For example, when someone says 你的房子真美Nǐ de fángzi zhēnměi (your house is very beautiful), you can also say 是吗?我觉得还好 Shì ma? Wǒ juéde hái hǎo (Really, I feel it is just alright).


like 能,可以 are all optative verbs used before verbs to express one’s ability, capability, possibility and willingness. 会, 能,可以 means can or able to in English. The difference between会 and能 or可以 is that 会 expresses your skills that you have acquired through learning, whereas 能 or可以 expresses the skills that you possessed in general. For example, 大卫会写汉字Dà wèi huì xiě hànzì ( David can write Chinese characters); 你能来我家吗?Nǐ néng lái wǒjiā ma? (Can you come to my house?).


不太好 in English means not too good or so so. In the dialogue above, when David was complimented by the taxi driver that his Chinese is very good, he said 我的汉语不太好, David was actually being modest. In Chinese culture being modest is a virtue. Hence, even if your Chinese is actually very good, one will still say …不太好 to humble oneself.


We hope the lesson today is enjoyable and informative for you. Do come back for more interesting lessons.