Browsed by
Category: Learning Chinese

Tips for dining out in China

Tips for dining out in China

Attention Foodies!

China is truly one of the world’s great food cultures, which means a huge range of cuisines for diners to choose from. Spicy, sweet, sour, fragrant, Western, Asian, traditional, fusion – the streets and malls of China are littered with restaurants filled with mouth-watering dishes just begging to be tried. You could live there your whole life and still wouldn’t be able to sample everything on offer… but that would be a poor excuse for not trying!


Choices, Choices

Once you have chosen your restaurant, the first obstacle you may run into is the menu – some menus will have pictures of the food, some won’t. Some will have helpful English translations (or sometimes not so helpful – what do you think ‘Buddha Jumps Over The Wall’ contains?) and some won’t. You will also notice the sheer range of dishes on offer – Chinese diners expect choice, and some menus can run to 20 or more pages! It can be overwhelming, even for seasoned expats.


yumcha, dim sum in bamboo steamer, chinese cuisine
yumcha, dim sum in bamboo steamer, chinese cuisine

A Helping Hand

So what can you do if you don’t read Chinese characters? For a lot of tourists or new arrivals this is a problem, and may mean they don’t get to sample some of the best China has to offer. Need help? Here are some very common food related Chinese characters to look for, along with their pinyin pronunciations and English translations:

肉(ròu): meat.

鱼(yú): fish.

汤(tāng): soup

饭(fàn): rice, fried rice.

面(miàn): noodles

We also have a lesson just designed for you.

xiānsheng, nǐ yào chī shénme?

A: 先生,你要吃什么?

Sir, what do you want to eat?

e… wǒ yào zhè gè, zhè gè, zhè gè.


Eh…I want this, this, and this.

a? hǎo de.


Ah? All right.

zhè shì nín de cài.


These are your dishes.

a? dōu shì tāng.


Ah? They’re all soup!



Once you have decided what you want, you need to order it. Actually ordering food in China can be a difficult process for the uninitiated, and there are some cultural differences to be aware of. For example, in the West, diners usually call the waiters discreetly with a gesture, or wait for them to pass the table. Try this in China and you will sit at an empty table, with an empty stomach! In China, you must overcome your inhibitions and shout the 服务员 (fú wù yuán) whenever you need service – in a busy restaurant you may need to bellow it across the heads of other diners, but don’t worry – no one will mind. Dining out in China is a very lively, bustling experience, noisy and exciting, what the Chinese call 热闹 (rè nào) – so don’t be shy, jump right in and enjoy!


One of the most effective tools we’ve found recently is called HelloChinese (no relation to HelloTalk). It’s an app for learning Chinese through self guided videos, audio clips, and more. HelloChinese has an entire section dedicated to food and dining. After mastering this, you’ll be ordering Chinese food like a local!



The app is designed in a fun and highly effective way:

  • Game-based Chinese learning
  • Immersion lessons help you to have real-life, practical conversations quickly
  • Innovative self-adaptive learning games that incorporate Chinese cultural education
  • Speech recognition corrects your pronunciation
  • Handwriting specially designed to learn Chinese characters at a faster rate


Check out to download their free app on iOS or Android.


Why the “Hardest” Language is Actually the Easiest

Why the “Hardest” Language is Actually the Easiest

Whenever I tell people that I’m learning two languages they seem to think it is something incredible. The comments I get when I tell them the languages are Mandarin Chinese and Arabic are even more complimentary. People seem to think that these languages are the most difficult languages in the world and if I were to somehow try to learn both at the same time, I must be some type of genius. Let’s stop right there. I am by no means a genius. Most the people I surround myself with I feel are much smarter than I am. So why is it that I can take on these two languages? My attitude.


Positivity is a large part of what I build my image around. I try to look at the positives of any circumstance. I carry this same approach to learn a language: if you think a language is exceptionally hard, it will be. If you approach the language by noticing all of the ways that it is easy, you can have a better attitude about how you can go about learning it.I’m going use this approach to explain how the language I originally thought was the hardest language in the world is actually one of the easiest: Mandarin Chinese.


Many times we get confused as we learn a new language because the rules that we apply to our native language don’t match up with our new language. Since we are more used to our native tongue, this foreign language can see “confusing”, “frustrating”, or “hard” just because of these differences. When I approach these situations, I like to assume that the foreign language is the correct way and that I’ve always learned the wrong way. This has allowed me to keep a level head as I go about approaching different challenges along the way.


There is a whole lot of “pinyin” that will be included in this article. Pinyin is a phonetic medium of how to speak Chinese characters using English letters. If you’ve already started learning Chinese, you likely have already started to see these. It also marks the tones (which we can cover later) that you may have heard of as well. Most of it can be sounded out pretty standard with English. A few to note are “z” and “c”. These are pronounced like the “-ds” and “-ts” at the end of “words” and “cats” respectively. Also, x-, sh-, j-, zh-, q-, and ch- all sound similar to each other except one is pronounced in the front and the other is in the back of the mouth.


I’m going to start you off with my favorite part of Chinese that makes it SOOOOO much easier than most European languages: the grammar. You don’t have to conjugate verbs! There are no genders with regards to different objects. The grammar is so simple to use. Here are some examples of how to say different things in English and Chinese:

English: Chinese Pinyin:
I am American

You are American

He is American

She is American

You (pl.) are American

We are American

They are American








wǒ shì měi guó rén

nǐ shì měi guó rén

tā shì měi guó rén

tā shì měi guó rén

nǐ men shì měi guó rén

wǒ men shì měi guó rén

tā men shì měi guó rén


If you noticed, the only word that changed was the noun. The verb was always the same. When you learn the verb for noun, you know it for all nouns. This also works with tenses. You don’t have to change tenses for words as well.

English Chinese Pinyin
This morning I ate breakfast

Right now I am eating lunch

Later I will eat dinner




zhè zǎo shang wǒ chī le zǎo cān

xiàn zài wǒ chī wǔ cān

rán hòu wǒ chī wǎn cān


My favorite part though is that you can easily form a question with very little vocabulary. All you have to do is add a question word at the end of a sentence. The easiest translation for it would be to say “yes?” at the end of a sentence in hopes of confirmation. If instead of telling something they are American, I would ask them, “You are American, yes?” Obviously this isn’t how we usually ask somebody in English, but it also shows why you may notice some people form questions to you in this manner.

English Chinese Pinyin
You are American

Are you American? (You are American yes?)



nǐ shì měi guó rén

nǐ shì měi guó rén ma?


So let’s talk about what people think makes this language difficult. People mention that they don’t like that it is a tonal language because they aren’t musically gifted of sorts. We actually use tones in English, we just don’t realize it. “I’m Ron Burgundy?” (from the American film, “Anchorman”)  is a perfect example of where a tone can drastically change the meaning of a sentence. In Chinese you have 5 tones: Flat, Rising, Dipping, Falling, and Neutral tone. The best example of how different these are is by using the word “ma”


Mother, hemp, horse, scold, question


mā má mǎ mà ma


All five of these words mean something very different. Making sure you use the right tone can be the difference between saying something or just utter nonsense. The good thing is that as you are beginning and tones are hard to differentiate, context can typically give you a good idea. If I was telling you about my breakfast and I said, “I ate with my ‘ma’ ” but you were unsure of which tone I used, I’m guessing you could easily single out which word I meant to use.


By now you’re probably realizing that the characters are pretty confusing. The reason pinyin was created was to help be a middle ground specifically because there is not any indication of how to say a word based on the character. Honestly, when I come across a new word there is no easy method to figure it out besides looking it up. Chinese characters are graphical representations of the words. Basically, I like to think of them as cave drawings. The easiest one is for the words “person” and “big”. If you look below, the first character is a very simplified stick PERSON. The second is as if the person was trying to explain how BIG of a fish they caught. These are the “simplified” characters as the “traditional” characters were much more complex and people would spend hours practicing how to write them (only Taiwan still uses the traditional characters as their native language).




Lastly, the vocabulary is pretty entertaining. Any new words that have been created typically reside in one of two categories: loan words or combination words. A loan word is basically taking a word from another language and turning it into a Chinese word. A good example of this is the word pizza in Chinese (比萨 “bǐ sà”). The combination words are the ones that I really love. Basically as a new word is needed it is a combination of other words to describe it. Here are a few examples, try to see if you can determine what the full word is based on the other words that make it up:

diàn yǐng

Electronic Shadow


shǒu yǔ

Hand Language (this is currently my favorite one)


Both load words and combination words are words that are new to the Chinese language. Obviously these were not phrases that existed hundreds of years ago when the language was just starting up. This does allow you to build on your vocabulary more than you first thought.


English Words From Above:


Sign Language


When you approach a problem with the right attitude it can really affect how simple that problem may seem. We can’t think that the “hardest” language in the world has the largest native population as well, can we?

This post is contributed by Alex. Alex is a Mechanical Engineer living in the Washington, DC area who became passionate about learning other languages and cultures. He enjoys making people laugh, embracing every day, and doing what intrigues him at the time. He currently is learning Mandarin Chinese and Arabic but counted 13 different languages he can say at least one word with. In the future, he hopes to polish up his Spanish and next pursue American Sign Language before moving on to a few European languages.
Alex’s blog, “What Did You Just Say?”, follows his journey through the struggles of learning a new language (Arabic) from day one. He hopes that other people will be encouraged by seeing the mistakes he makes to allow themselves to be more comfortable about pushing themselves to learn a new language and share the struggle. The blog breaks down some of the tips that Alex was able to learn and use as he was able to get to a conversational level of Mandarin Chinese in a short time.
The Duanwu Festival, Qu Yuan, And His Verses

The Duanwu Festival, Qu Yuan, And His Verses

For thousands of years, the tradition of the Duanwu Festival has been passed down from one generation to the next. But where did it come from and why do people eat Zongzi and race dragon boats?

The Duanwu Festival(端午节), also known as the Dragon Boat Festival or the Tuen Ng Festival, is a traditional holiday originating in China, occurring near the summer solstice. It is also known as Zhongxiao Festival(忠孝节), commemorating patriotism (), and filial piety, or a show of respect to one’s parents (). The festival now occurs on the 5th day of the 5th month of the traditional Chinese Calender, which is the source of the festival’s alternative name, the Double Fifth Festival.


The story best known in modern China holds that the festival commemorates the death of the poet and minister Qu Yuan(屈原) (c. 340–278 BC) of the ancient state of Chu during the Warring States period of the Zhou Dynasty. A cadet member of the Chu royal house, Qu served in high offices. However, when the king decided to ally with the increasingly powerful state of Qin, Qu was banished for opposing the alliance and even accused of treason. During his exile, Qu Yuan wrote a great deal of poetry. Twenty-eight years later, Qin captured Ying, the Chu capital. In despair, Qu Yuan committed suicide by drowning himself in the Miluo River.屈原

It is said that the local people, who admired him, raced out in their boats to save him or at least retrieve his body. This is said to have been the origin of dragon boat races (赛龙舟)赛龙舟

When his body could not be found, they dropped balls of sticky rice into the river so that the fish would eat them instead of Qu Yuan’s body. This is said to be the origin of zongzi (粽子).粽子

Qu Yuan is regarded as the first author of verse in China to have his name associated to his work, since prior to that time, poetic works were not attributed to any specific authors. He is considered to have initiated the so-called sao (骚) style of verse, which is named after his work Li Sao (离骚), in which he abandoned the classic four-character verses used in poems of Shi Jin (诗经) and adopted verses with varying lengths. This resulted in poems with more rhythm and latitude in expression. Qu Yuan is also regarded as one of the most prominent figures of Romanticism in Chinese classical literature, and his masterpieces influenced some of the greatest Romanticist poets in Tang Dynasty such as Li Bai (李白). During the Han Dynasty, Qu Yuan became established as a heroic example of how a scholar and official who was denied public recognition suitable to their worth should behave.

Here is the excerpt translated in English of Li Sa. In this excerpt, as the emperor of Chu and his henchmen were being disagreeable and slanderous, Qu Yuan felt lonely in a foul world. In the end, he stuck to his ideals and principles.

 I wiped my tears and heaved long sighs, I lamented over the hazard of life’s journey.

In spite of the fact that I paid attention to self – cultivation and have been strict with myself.  In the morning I was insulted, and in the evening I was dismissed from office.

They abused me for wearing orchids, and cursed me for plucking orchids, which I have longed for.

I’ll not regret even if I die several times.

I blame the emperor of Chu for being so muddleheaded. He failed to understand other people’s sentiments all along.

Those women were jealous of my graceful figure, slandering that I was licentious.

Those vulgar people were by nature opportunistic. They violated rules and distorted policies. They defied moral standards and stuck to distortions.

They defied moral standards and stuck to distortions.Their principle was to curry favor with their superiors.

I feel depressed, worried and disappointed. Now I am lonely and poor.

I would rather die and depart. I hate to flatter people.

Eagles would not live with sparrows.This is the way since ancient times.

Squares and rounds cannot live in peace. I would rather make concessions and control my emotions.

I would endure their blame and abuse.

I only wish I could keep myself clean and die an honest death. This kind of act was praised by ancient sages.



Neala is a painting lover and a Certified Designer for huaban,

which is a community for different kinds or contents picture.

click on her huaban webpage for more interesting pictures:

How much do you really know about Chinese food?

How much do you really know about Chinese food?

When it comes to China, many people may think of the delicious Chinese foods.

Explaining the characteristics and history of these foods in English, however, is quite difficult.

To help educate English speakers, we’ve compiled a brief introduction about some popular Chinese traditional foods.

1.Proper street kebabs(正宗街边烤串)


In China, no matter which city you are, you can find this kind of street food. It is made from different meat, vegetables, and even fruit.

Many people love to eat it and called the act of doing so “撸串”.

2. Spicy crayfish(麻辣小龙虾)


The idiomatic parlance of this food is tongue-numbing spicy crayfish, owing to its characteristic numb and spicy taste.

In addition, 小龙虾 does not means 小的龙虾,crayfish not the little lobster.

3. Sugar-coated haws /Candied haw/tang hu lu(糖葫芦)


Making many people recall their childhood, 糖葫芦 is a traditional Chinese snack of candied fruit. It typically has a hardened sugar coating that comes from dipping the skewer in sugar syrup.

Traditionally, the fruit used has been Chinese hawthorn, but in recent times vendors have also used various other fruits, such as strawberries, pineapples, kiwifruit, or bananas.

4. Stinky tofu(臭豆腐)


臭豆腐 is a form of fermented tofu that has a strong odor, and it is a popular snack in east and southeast China. The preparation and tasting methods differ from place to place.

However, it has become a common sense that a good piece of stinky tofu should be fresh and juicy, crispy outside but tender inside, and smelling stinky but tasting delicious.

To stinky tofu lovers, they especially enjoy its distinct flavor and odor.

5. Shanghai hairy crab(上海大闸蟹)


This kind of crab is named hairy crab due to its hairy forceps.

6.Bullfrog poached in chili oil /Sichuan boiled bullfrog(水煮牛蛙)


水煮牛蛙 is typical Sichuan cuisine, which is a style of Chinese cuisine originating from Sichuan province. It has bold flavor, particularly the pungency and spiciness resulting from liberal use of garlic and chili peppers, as well as the unique flavor of the Sichuan pepper. Peanuts, sesame paste, and ginger are also prominent ingredients in Sichuan cuisine.

7. Boiled chicken chops served cold /cold chopped chicken(白斩鸡)


There is a saying, “It’s impossible to have no chicken for a feast”. 白斩鸡 is very popular among Guangdong, whose food is focused on quality and taste. When cooked properly, 白斩鸡 tastes fresh and crispy.

8.Duck blood soup with vermicelli(鸭血粉丝汤)


Brought to Shanghai by a few duck-loving Nanjing natives more than a decade ago, 鸭血粉丝汤 is what the local people of Shanghai consider the go-to choice for a quick but hearty lunch. In this soup, you’ll find duck blood and entrails, green vegetables, and glass noodles.

These are just a few of the many unique foods of China.

If you want to learn about China, starting with Chinese food is a great idea.