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Hello! How Are You?

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Hello! How Are You?

Congratulations on choosing to start learning Chinese. This first lesson will start by introducing the four pitches, or "tones", used in Chinese and teach you how to:

  • Say hello to someone
  • Ask someone how they are
  • Respond with how you are
Flash Cards - Vocabulary
Flash Cards - Vocabulary
Complete Lesson (PDF)
Printable PDF version of this lesson
Chinese Phrase Search Puzzle
Have a bit of fun looking for the new phrases you learned in this lesson.
Online Practice

Hello!  How Are You?

Learning Chinese isn’t difficult; however, you do need to spend time learning words to build a vocabulary. Don’t be misled by those who say that immersion is the natural way to learn a language. Immersion is one part of a learning program and can be a very powerful learning tool. Immersion will enable you to practice your vocabulary, learn to build complex sentences and interact in real situations. But the starting point of learning to speak Chinese is to build your vocabulary, and the old fashioned method of flash cards is still the best proven way to memorize a vocabulary easily. We provide printable flash cards to support this approach. Read through the lesson, learn the details of each of the ten words in this lesson, then practice with the flash cards offline. You’ll find that the first ten words are easily committed to memory in as little as a couple of days – or you can pace yourself with ten words per week (one lesson per week). Once you get into a routine of studying with the flash cards you can set goals for yourself. So lets take the first step and go through the first ten words in your first lesson. Pay close attention to how the words are constructed and look for your own tricks to memorize them (we give some of our hints on how to memorize some of the words).

To print your own flashcards click on the Lesson 1 Flashcards link and print two sided onto business card template paper (note: print one page at a time so you can print front and back). Then simply snap the cards along the perforations and you instantly have a complete set of cards for this lesson. We provide exactly ten words per lesson, as stock business card templates have ten cards to a page.

我 ( wŏ ): I, me
Radical: 戈 (spear)
Component: 手 (hand) and 戈 (spear)
我, the word for me or I, contains the radical pictograph for a spear. Memorizing Chinese characters is easier when you recognize the radicals as they not only give you a hint to the meaning of the character, but they also make the composition of the character more meaningful rather than some strange bit of scribbling.
Memorization Hint: Perhaps you can remember this character by thinking that by having a spear in your hand you’re standing for who you are with conviction.

你 ( nĭ ): you
Radical: 亻 (person)
Component: 亻 (upright person) and 尔 (you – old version)
The upright person radical on the left side of this character signifies that the word relates to a person. The right portion of the character is an old version of the character for 'you'.

他 ( tā ): he, she, it
Radical: 亻 (person)
Component: 亻 (person) and 也 (also)
他 is composed of the 亻 (person) radical along with the 也 (yě) character. 也 was placed after nouns in classical Chinese to indicate 'identity'. You’ll find out later that 也 now means 'also'.

好 ( hǎo ): good
Radical: 女 (female)
Component: 女 (female) and 子 (child)
The Chinese character 好 (hǎo) consists of a 女 (female/daughter figure) and a 子 (child/son figure). You’ll see both 女 and 子 symbols in many more characters in the future, so by becoming familiar with their representations now you’ll have hints towards the meaning of many new words. Both of these characters are associated with good – thus words containing these characters usually mean something good.
Memorization Hint: 女 in this context means daughter and 子 in this context means son. It's considered a blessing to have 2 kids, a boy and a girl, for everything. This would make a 'good' thing. Imagine two children, a boy and a girl, playing outside under the sun – "Life is Good" for these two children.

很 ( hěn ): very
Radical: 彳 (step)
Phonetic: 艮 (gèn)
Component: 彳(step) and 艮 (stopping)
很 (hěn) contains the radical 彳 (step) along with the phonetic 艮 (gèn). The 艮 phonetic is also the radical for stopping. The 彳 radical literally means 'step with left foot' and is associated with walking.
Memorization Hint: A walking person who stops to look back on their trip has traveled a very long distance. Since they have traveled a great distance we can draw the meaning of 'very' from this character.

吗 ( ma ): question particle
Radical: 口 (mouth)
Phonetic: 马 (ma)
Component: 口 (mouth) and 马 (horse)
The character 吗 contains the radical 口 (mouth) along with the phonetic 马 (ma). 马 is the radical for horse. 吗 has a neutral tone and when it’s added to the end of a sentence it transforms the sentence into a yes or no question. If a question cannot be answered with a "yes" or "no" you cannot use 吗 to make the question.
Memorization Hint: Think of a mouth asking a horse a question – unless he's Mr. Ed this is a bit ridiculous, but memorable.

也 ( yě ): also, too
Radical: 乙 (second)
Component: 也 (also)
也 is used when you want to show that something or someone is "in addition to", or "also". Its placement is similar to that of English. So, if you want to say "I also" or "He also" in Chinese, just say 我也 or 他也.
Memorization Hint: Remember we learned that 也, a component for 他, used to mean "identity". This character looks sort of like a wash basin where you wash your face (identity) to begin the day. You do this on Monday, and also Tuesday, and also Wednesday...

不 ( bù ): no, not, negative prefix
Radical: 一 (one)
Phonetic: 卜 (bu)
Component: 不 (no/not)
不 is generally pronounced in the fourth tone (bù), however when it is followed by another word in the fourth tone it is pronounced in the second tone (bú).
Memorization Hint: You can picture the symbol 一 (number 1) representing a barrier to the symbol below it, which looks somewhat like a bird flying upwards – thus the meaning of no/not. To remember this word imagine a bird that is told to "fly and be free", and then the word "Not!" added. The bird will never forget this, hopefully you won’t either.

错 ( cuò ): mistake, error, wrong
Radical: 钅(gold)
Phonetic: 昔 (cuo)
Component: 钅(gold) and 昔 (ancient)
You can pair 不 with 错 to say “not bad” when someone asks how you are.
Memorization Hint: There are a lot of parts to this character! It would be easy to get it "wrong".

累 ( lèi ): tired
Radical: 糸 (silk)
Component: 糸 (silk) and 田 (field)
If someone asks how you are, and you're tired, this word will come in handy. It's simple, just say "I'm very tired" (我很累).
Memorization Hint: If you're working to collect silk from worms all day, surely you'll be tired by evening.


The Pinyin Writing System - The meaning of a word in Chinese changes according to the tone of the word. The Chinese language uses four tones which are designated; 1st tone (high and level), 2nd tone (starts at a medium pitch and rises), 3rd tone (starts at a medium pitch, dips down, then rises to high), and 4th tone (starts high and drops sharply down). The representation of Chinese words using the Roman alphabet is called Pinyin. While many sounds in Pinyin are similar to English, there are many that are quite different. Please be sure to listen to the audio example in the Vocabulary section and you’ll understand how it works in no time.

Pinyin includes a tone symbol above the letter carrying the tone (hěn), or it may have a number after the word which represents the tone used for that word (hen3). It is important to memorize each tone with its corresponding number as you’ll see this format quite often. It is also good to note that there is an additional tone known as a Neutral tone which is a tone that is flat and has no emphasis. Neutral tones, sometimes referred to as the 5th tone, are words with no tone symbols above them.

The first thing everyone learns when studying Chinese is me, you and he/she/it. These three words are easily remembered if you think of the girl’s name Wonita. 我 (wŏ) means me, 你 (nĭ) means you, and 他 (tā) means he, she, or it. Both我 and你 are in the third tone. 他 is always in the first tone and is pronounced the same way for either he, she or it. There are different written characters used to specify she or it, which will be introduced in Lesson 3. For now, we’ll use他 for all cases which is acceptable when the gender is unknown.

Now let’s build your first sentence. If you want to greet someone with a hello you say 你好 (nĭ hǎo) to them. This literally means “you good”. It doesn’t translate very well literally; you’ll find this to be true with many phrases and sentences as you learn Chinese – so get used to it. After someone says 你好 (nĭ hǎo) to you, your response is to say hello back – 你好.

Now let’s convert the hello greeting into a question and ask someone how they are. You do this by adding the question particle吗 (ma) to the end of the greeting and say 你好吗? (nĭ hǎo ma?). This translates to “you good?” or, essentially “how are you?”.

Okay, someone has asked you 你好吗? and you want to respond by telling them that you’re good. You do this by telling them “I’m very good” or 我很好! (wŏ hěn hǎo). Or you can shorten it by saying 很好 (hěn hǎo) which means “very good”. Are you just feeling okay today? Then you can respond with “not bad” or 我不错 (wŏ bú cuò). Just like responding that you’re very good, you can use 很 to say you’re very tired: 我很累。

Do you remember what 你好 means (hint: look for the woman with a baby)? Or 你好吗? How about 我很好? If you said yes, then you’re close to having mastered Lesson 1.

This wraps up your first Chinese lesson. You should practice speaking the tones along with memorizing and using the new words from this lesson. Print the flash cards for Lesson 1, then go to Starbucks and kick back with a latte and practice your first set of words. If you review your flash cards daily you’ll find that you’ll come to learn the new words quite quickly.


Sentence Structure

  • Like English, Chinese is an SVO language. This means that when you construct a sentence, first say the Subject, then Verb, then the Object.
  • Use 也 (also) just like you would in English when you want to respond to someone: 我也很好 (I’m also very good) 我也不错 (I’m also not bad) 我也很累 (I’m also very tired)
Vocabulary Review:
  1. 我 wŏ I, me
  2. 你 nĭ you
  3. 他 tā he, she, it
  4. 好 hǎo good
  5. 很 hěn very
  6. 吗 ma question particle
  7. 也 yě also, too
  8. 不 bù no, not, negative prefix
  9. 错 cuò mistake, error, wrong
  10. 累 lèi tired
Linda has just arrived in China for a business trip/vacation with her husband Jim. Linda will be meeting with some Chinese suppliers in Guangzhou over the next few months and has been to China many times. Jim is Chinese American, but this is his first trip to China. They are met at the airport by Zhang Ying Ting, a Chinese woman who is the owner of one of the factories Linda is coming to see. Ms. Zhang inquires about how they are doing.
Ms. Zhang: 
 Nĭ hǎo!
 Nĭ hǎo!
 Nĭ hǎo!
Ms. Zhang: 
 Nĭ hǎo ma?
 How are you?
 我很累. 你好吗?
 Wŏ hěn lèi. Nĭ hǎo ma?
 I’m very tired. How are you?
Ms. Zhang: 
 我很好. 他好吗? (referring to Jim)
 Wŏ hěn hǎo. Tā hǎo ma? (referring to Jim)
 I’m fine. How is he? (referring to Jim)
 Tā yě bú cuò.
 He’s also not bad.
Ms. Zhang: 
 (to Jim) 你不累吗?
 Nǐ bú lèi ma?
 You’re not tired?
 Wǒ bú lèi!
 I’m not tired!
Ms. Zhang: 
 Hěn hǎo.
Fill in the Blank:

____很好. (I)
____ hěn hǎo.
I’m very good.

____好吗? (you)
____ hǎo ma?
How are you?

____很好. (he)
____ hěn hǎo.
He’s very good.

你好____? (question particle)
Nĭ hǎo ____?
How are you?

我____好. (very)
Wŏ ____ hǎo.
I’m very good.

____错. (not)
____ cuò
Not bad.

我很____. (tired)
Wŏ hěn ____.
I’m very tired.

我____很好. (also)
Wŏ ____ hěn hǎo
I’m also very good!

他不____. (bad)
Tā bú ____.
He’s not bad.

你____! (good)
Nĭ ____!

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