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Lesson Transcript

Amber: Hey, everybody, welcome back to Gengo Chinese, Lesson 4. I’m Amber.
Victor: 大家好。 (Dàjiā hǎo.) I’m Victor.
Amber: And Lesson 4 is called The Art of Small Talk, for good reasons.
Victor: Small talk in Chinese.
Amber: Yes!
Victor: Now, the last lesson you may recall that we all got to know each other a little better.
Amber: That’s right! So, today, we have your pop quiz, and we will see if you were listening. Victor, 你是中国人吗? (Nǐ shì Zhōngguórén ma?)
Victor: Yes, I am Chinese. And Amber, 你是加拿大人吗? (Nǐ shì jiānádà rén ma?
Amber: Yes, I am Canadian. So we learned how to talk about where we’re from and we also learned the word for “where” in Chinese. And actually, that’s like a bonus, two words in one.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: There are two words for “where” in Chinese.
Victor: It’s 哪儿 (nǎr) and 哪里 (nǎli).
Amber: Yes and you can use whichever one you feel comfortable with, or whichever one everyone is saying around you is probably the best. And we also learned that to make a yes/no question out of a statement in Chinese, it’s very easy. All you have to do is add the little verbal question mark, which is…
Victor: 吗 (ma)
Amber: Yes. Very easy to make a question.
Victor: Very powerful to make a question.
Amber: Yes.
Victor: OK, so this is really a long plane ride, Amber. I think we’re still on the plane?
Amber: Yes, and our “get to know you” chat in Chinese is continuing on...
Victor: Yeah. We rejoin our passengers, Lili and Mike.
Amber: Right! And what better thing, I think, could we teach you than the most famous conversation in the world, no matter what language, don’t you think Victor?
Victor: What was that?
Amber: The weather! Of course!
Victor: Oh, okay, the weather!
Amber: It crosses all cultural divides.
Victor: Right! I guess you can never underestimate the power of a conversation about the weather.
Amber: That’s right!. We start with a small talk and we can teach you rocket science later.
Victor: And plus, we’ll learn a couple more little small talk tips in this dialogue.
Amber: Right. So, in this lesson, you’ll learn how to make small talk about weather and also professions.
Victor: And this conversation takes place on the plane.
Amber: And of course, it’s between our two newly acquainted strangers, so let’s listen to the conversation.

Lesson conversation

Lili: 加州很好。天气真好。 (Jiāzhōu hěn hǎo. Tiānqì zhēn hǎo.)
Mike: 北京也很好。 (Běijīng yě hěn hǎo.)
Lili: 但是北京空气不好。 (Dànshì Běijīng kōngqì bù hǎo.)
Mike: 对了,你是做什么工作的? (Duì le, nǐ shì zuò shénme gōngzuò de?)
Lili: 我是会计。 (Wǒ shì kuàijì.)
Mike: 什么?慢一点儿,好吗? (Shénme? Màn yìdiǎnr, hǎo ma?)
Lili: 我是会计。 (Wǒ shì kuàijì.)
Mike: 对不起,我听不懂。 (Duìbùqǐ, wǒ tīngbùdǒng.)
Lili: 我是"Accountant"。 (Wǒ shì accountant.)
Mike: 你会说英语吗? (Nǐ huì shuō yīngyǔ ma?)
Lili: 我会说一点儿。 (Wǒ huì shuō yìdiǎnr.)
Victor: 重复一次, 慢速. (Chóngfù yīcì, màn sù.)
Amber: One more time, a little slower.
Lili: 加州很好。天气真好。 (Jiāzhōu hěn hǎo. Tiānqì zhēn hǎo.)
Mike: 北京也很好。 (Běijīng yě hěn hǎo.)
Lili: 但是北京空气不好。 (Dànshì Běijīng kōngqì bù hǎo.)
Mike: 对了,你是做什么工作的? (Duì le, nǐ shì zuò shénme gōngzuò de?)
Lili: 我是会计。 (Wǒ shì kuàijì.)
Mike: 什么?慢一点儿,好吗? (Shénme? Màn yìdiǎnr, hǎo ma?)
Lili: 我是会计。 (Wǒ shì kuàijì.)
Mike: 对不起,我听不懂。 (Duìbùqǐ, wǒ tīngbùdǒng.)
Lili: 我是"Accountant"。 (Wǒ shì accountant.)
Mike: 你会说英语吗? (Nǐ huì shuō yīngyǔ ma?)
Lili: 我会说一点儿。 (Wǒ huì shuō yìdiǎnr.)
Victor: 重复一次, 加英文翻译. (Chóngfù yīcì, jiā yīngwén fānyì.)
Amber: One more time, with the English.
Lili: 加州很好。天气真好。 (Jiāzhōu hěn hǎo. Tiānqì zhēn hǎo.)
Amber: California is really nice. The weather is really great.
Mike: 北京也很好。 (Běijīng yě hěn hǎo.)
Amber: Beijing is nice too.
Lili: 但是北京空气不好。 (Dànshì Běijīng kōngqì bù hǎo.)
Amber: But the air is bad.
Mike: 对了,你是做什么工作的? (Duì le, nǐ shì zuò shénme gōngzuò de?)
Amber: So, what do you do for work?
Lili: 我是会计。 (Wǒ shì kuàijì.)
Amber: I'm an accountant.
Mike: 什么?慢一点儿,好吗? (Shénme? Màn yìdiǎnr, hǎo ma?)
Amber: What? A little slower?
Lili: 我是会计。 (Wǒ shì kuàijì.)
Amber: I am an accountant.
Mike: 对不起,我听不懂。 (Duìbùqǐ, wǒ tīngbùdǒng.)
Peter: I'm sorry, I can't understand.
Lili: 我是"Accountant"。 (Wǒ shì accountant.)
Amber: I'm an accountant.
Mike: 你会说英语吗? (Nǐ huì shuō yīngyǔ ma?)
Amber: Can you speak English?
Lili: 我会说一点儿。 (Wǒ huì shuō yìdiǎnr.)
Amber: I can speak a little.
Victor: Well, I think this dialogue is very realistic!
Amber: Yeah, I think that you’ll probably have this conversation about 2000 times in Chinese before you're done, at least.
Victor: Yeah! Especially the part about, ‘Can you speak English?’
Amber: Yeah… and I think that one cool thing is that a lot, most Chinese people will be very patient and they would even enjoy a conversation with you in Chinese. So, I mean you can try. You don’t have to be worried.
Victor: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think most people, Chinese people love to talk with foreigners. You know, foreigners who speak Chinese are really a novelty to us.
Amber: Mm-hmm, and I think it’s nice they put up with our Chinese because after, you usually find out that their English is about a million times better than your Chinese, but they’re just being patient. Okay, so let’s take a look at the vocabulary for this lesson.
Victor: 天气 (tiānqì) [natural native speed]
Amber: weather
Victor: 天气 (tiānqì) [slowly - broken down by syllable]
Victor: 天气 (tiānqì) [natural native speed]
Victor: 北京 (Běijīng) [natural native speed]
Amber: Beijing
Victor: 北京 (Běijīng) [slowly - broken down by syllable]
Victor: 北京 (Běijīng) [natural native speed]
Victor: 但是 (dànshì) [natural native speed]
Amber: but
Victor: 但是 (dànshì) [slowly - broken down by syllable]
Victor: 但是 (dànshì) [natural native speed]
Victor: 空气 (kōngqì) [natural native speed]
Amber: air
Victor: 空气 (kōngqì) [slowly - broken down by syllable]
Victor: 空气 (kōngqì) [natural native speed]
Victor: 做 (zuò) [natural native speed]
Amber: to do
Victor: 做 (zuò) [slowly - broken down by syllable]
Victor: 做 (zuò) [natural native speed]
Victor: 工作 (gōngzuò) [natural native speed]
Amber: work
Victor: 工作 (gōngzuò) [slowly - broken down by syllable]
Victor: 工作 (gōngzuò) [natural native speed]
Victor: 会计 (kuàijì) [natural native speed]
Amber: accountant
Victor: 会计 (kuàijì) [slowly - broken down by syllable]
Victor: 会计 (kuàijì) [natural native speed]
Victor: 什么 (shénme) [natural native speed]
Amber: what
Victor: 什么 (shénme) [slowly - broken down by syllable]
Victor: 什么 (shénme) [natural native speed]
Amber: Okay, let's have a closer look at the usage for some of these words and phrases from this lesson, Victor. What do you say?
Victor: Yeah. The first word or phrase we’re looking at here is 但是 (dànshì), 4th tone and 4th tone.
Amber: Right, which is the word for “but.”
Victor: Yeah. It’s just one of the words for “but” in Chinese, uh…
Amber: That’s true, there’s another “but” word too, isn’t there?
Victor: Yeah, it’s 可是 (kěshì).
Amber: And 可是 (kěshì) is 3rd tone, 4th tone.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: Yeah, so “but” in Chinese is pretty much used like the English “but,” just like we heard in the sentence in the dialogue.
Victor: Yep. In the dialogue, it said, 但是北京空气不好。 (Dànshì Běijing kōngqì bù hǎo.)
Amber: Right. So, 但是 (dànshì) comes at the beginning. “But Beijing’s air is not good.”
Victor: Right.
Amber: Now this brings us to another thing, is two other great new vocab words in the lesson.
Victor: Yeah. First, we heard about a great 天气 (tiānqì) in California.
Amber: Right, which I'm sure everyone can guess what we’re talking about. The 天气 (tiānqì) in California is great!
Victor: Yeah, the great weather! 天气很好 (Tiānqì hěn hǎo).
Amber: Right. So the word for “weather” is…
Victor: 天气 (tiānqì)
Amber: 1st tone, 4th tone.
Victor: Yes.
Amber: So, California got the great weather, we learned, but what did Beijing get?
Victor: 空气不好 (kōngqì bù hǎo)
Amber: Right! 空气 (kōngqì) means “air” as in the air you breathe.
Victor: Right.
Amber: So, yeah, I guess most people would agree that air quality in Beijing is a little bit 不好 (bù hǎo), but, well, I don’t know, it depends on the day.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: What if the Olympics came?
Victor: It’s slightly getting better.
Amber: It magically cleared up.
Victor: Gradually, you know.
Amber: It’s getting better. It’s getting better. But there are like the sandstorms, the pollution. I mean Beijing got dealt a lot in the air quality department, not to mention factories. Okay, so, next we hear, in the dialogue, a segue, which is a really good phrase to learn, which was…
Victor: 对了 (duìle)
Amber: Right! Now, remember we heard this 对 (duì) before.
Victor: Yeah, it means “correct.”
Amber: Right. So, the 了 (le) here is a little bit different than 对 (duì) on its own, because 对 (duì) on its own maybe, you might be saying that you’re saying the person is correct.
Victor: Right.
Amber: But when you’re 对了 (duìle), it just makes it more of an expression.
Victor: Right.
Amber: And the 了 (le) that we hear at the end, it doesn’t really have any meaning. It’s just basically a particle, part of the expression.
Victor: Right.
Amber: More gives us a bit of a feeling. Okay, so what comes next? Where is Mike going with this?
Victor: Well, he wants to get to know her better, so he asks a natural question, “What do you do for work?”
Amber: Very good small talk question.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: So, let’s first hear what is the word for “work.”
Victor: 工作 (gōngzuò), 1st tone and 4th tone.
Amber: 工作 (gōngzuò)
Victor: 工作 (gōngzuò)
Amber: So this phrase, you can try to memorize and it’s something you can use over and over with the people that you meet, asking them what they do for work.
Victor: Okay, to ask what kind of work do you do, you just say 你是做什么工作的? (Nǐ shì zuò shénme gōngzuò de?)
Amber: Right.
Victor: The first comes “you” of course, 你 (nǐ), 3rd tone, and then we hear the verb “to be” 是 (shì), which the 4th tone, and, also, a part of the sentence pattern. Then the word for “do” 做 (zuò), which is 4th tone.
Amber: Okay. So, so far, let’s stop here. We’re up to…
Victor: 你是做 (Nǐ shì zuò)
Amber: Right, which in English is “You…” basically “to be” or “are doing.”
Victor: Right. Yeah.
Amber: So, “You are doing…” 做 (zuò) is the verb for “to do” and then what comes next?
Victor: 什么 (shénme)
Amber: Ah, now, 什么 (shénme) is the word for “what.”
Victor: Yes. It’s a 2nd tone and neutral tone, 什么 (shénme).
Amber: So now we have, “You are doing what?”
Victor: “You’re doing what?”
Amber: And last, of course, our word for “work.”
Victor: Naturally comes the word 工作 (gōngzuò).
Amber: Right. And the little part of the sentence pattern at the end is a particle 的 (de), to finish things off.
Victor: Right.
Amber: So, this is a great phrase to memorize and use often. Let’s hear it again…
Victor: 你是做什么工作的? (Nǐ shì zuò shénme gōngzuò de?)
Amber: Good. Good conversation starter!
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: Now, the problem is you have to understand the response, and the moment we’ve all been waiting for, Lili, the suspense! What is she? What is her work?
Victor: She is a 会计 (kuàijì)!
Amber: And what in the world is that?
Victor: It’s “accountant.”
Amber: Right.
Victor: She is good with the money.
Amber: Yes, and that’s a tough one. I mean, I don’t blame him for not knowing. I’m sure, at this point, he doesn’t know how to say even like pass me the bread on the plane. So, but he doesn’t give up.
Victor: Right.
Amber: We have to learn from Mike. What does he do?
Victor: He pulls a little line out of our bootcamp.
Amber: Right! Everyone remember the bootcamp reference lessons, Bootcamp 3 to be precise!
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: We learned a phrase that was…
Victor: 慢一点儿,好吗? (Màn yīdiǎn er, hǎo ma?)
Amber: Yes, “A little slower, could you?”
Victor: 慢一点儿,好吗? (Màn yīdiǎn er, hǎo ma?)
Amber: Right. So, he has no choice, but he has to wave the white flag of Chinese surrender, Victor.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: What does he say?
Victor: 我听不懂。 (Wǒ tīngbùdǒng.)
Amber: Ah!
Victor: 我听不懂。 (Wǒ tīngbùdǒng.)
Amber: Sometimes, it’s the last resort. So let’s break down this phrase. What does this mean, 我听不懂 (wǒ tīngbùdǒng)? Well, 我 (wǒ) we know means “I,” it’s 3rd tone.
Victor: 听 (tīng) is 1st tone and means “listen” or “hearing” or “understand” in this case.
Amber: Mm-hmm. And then we know something is wrong because after the 听 (tīng) comes the negative word 不 (bù) “not.”
Victor: Right, “not.”
Amber: And the last word?
Victor: 懂 (dǒng) is “to understand.”
Amber: Which is a 3rd tone.
Victor: 懂 (dǒng)
Amber: So put it together, 我听不懂。 (Wǒ tīngbùdǒng.)
Victor: 我听不懂。 (Wǒ tīngbùdǒng.)
Amber: It’s kind of like “I hear, but I don’t understand.”
Victor: Right.
Amber: Exactly. He’s hearing, you said it slow enough, it’s not a problem like the plane is noisy or anything.
Victor: Right, right.
Amber: But sort of like a malfunction at the junction, like there’s something not connecting.
Victor: So you can use 听不懂 (tīngbùdǒng) anytime someone says something that you don’t understand, and maybe the person will try to explain to you in a simpler way.
Amber: Yeah, it really works! Or, you might be even luckier, like Mike was, because…
Victor: Yeah. What does our lovely Lili do?
Amber: Well, she throws in a little bit of English.
Victor: So she does speak English.
Amber: So it’s Mike’s lucky day. So, just like we thought, she knows the word for 会计 (kuàijì) in English, though he doesn’t know it in Chinese.
Victor: Yeah. So she says 我是 accountant (Wǒ shì accountant).
Amber: And I love this famous mixing in of English and Chinese that you often hear Chinese people do. It’s kind of cute. Okay. So, naturally, she says, 我是 accountant (wǒ shì accountant), and what do we hear him respond? He’s pretty happy, I think.
Victor: Yeah, he says, 你会说英语吗? (Nǐ huì shuō yīngyǔ ma?)
Amber: Right, which means, “You can speak English?”
Victor: Yes.

Lesson focus

Amber: So now this little exchange gives us a moment where we can pause and learn something very great, Victor, which is how to talk about “ability” to do something in Chinese.
Victor: Yep. Mike was pretty excited to discover that Lili has thrown out an English word.
Amber: Right. So he responds...
Victor: 你会说英语吗?(Nǐ huì shuō yīngyǔ ma?)
Amber: Right. So, first of all, in this sentence, this is very important, we heard the word for “English.” What was that Victor?
Victor: 英语 (Yīngyǔ). 英 (Yīng) is 1st tone, 语 (yǔ) is a 3rd tone.
Amber: Good, and then the verb for “to speak.”
Victor: 说 (shuō) which is the 1st tone.
Amber: Right! And the clincher, the verb for the ability to do something or to be able is...
Victor: 会 (huì), 4th tone, 会 (huì).
Amber: So, you put it all together and to say you can speak English...
Victor: 你会说英语吗?(Nǐ huì shuō yīngyǔ ma?)
Amber: Right. Of course, we have the 吗 (ma), which is our verbal question mark, tells us it’s a question. So literally, if you translate this, 你会说英语吗?(Nǐ huì shuō yīngyǔ ma?), it’s “You able to speak English?” basically.
Victor: Yeah. He sounds quite excited as he says this…
Amber: Yeah. I think the next 14.5 hours are for looking up, right?
Victor: He’s not alone anymore.
Amber: Yeah! So she answers, how does she answer? Yes or no? What did she say?
Victor: She says, 我会说一点儿。 (Wǒ huì shuō yìdiǎnr.)
Amber: Ah, very humble, very Chinese to be so humble.
Victor: 我会说一点儿。 (Wǒ huì shuō yìdiǎnr.) Yeah.
Amber: So, she said, “I can speak a little.” So, the key to this sentence is the 一点儿 (yìdiǎnr), which means “a little bit.”
Victor: A little bit. So remember, 慢一点儿 (màn yīdiǎn er)?
Amber: Yeah, we learned this before in that bootcamp sentence.
Victor: Yes, remember we learned in Bootcamp 3 that when you see word +一点儿 (yìdiǎnr), it means “a little.”
Amber: Right, So for this case, 会说一点儿 (huì shuō yīdiǎn er), it means...
Victor: “Able to speak a little.”
Amber: Exactly.
Victor: So, Lili tells Mike, 我会说一点儿。 (Wǒ huì shuō yìdiǎnr.)
Amber: Right! And that means she can speak a little. So now, everyone is going to 会说 (huì shuō) a little more Chinese after this lesson because we're going to teach you one other important grammar point.
Victor: Yes. It has something to do with using adjectives.
Amber: Yes, using descriptive words in Chinese. So here, in this dialogue, we heard them describing California, and they said...
Victor: 加州很好。 (Jiāzhōu hěn hǎo.)
Amber: So 加州 (Jiāzhōu) is the word for “California.”
Victor: It’s a short version.
Amber: Yeah.
Victor: We use the word 很 (hěn) here between 加州 (Jiāzhōu) and the descriptive adjective about 加州 (Jiāzhōu).
Amber: Right. So, the descriptive adjective, of course, here is 好 (hǎo), which we know means “good.” So we have 加州很好。 (Jiāzhōu hěn hǎo.) We have “California” and then this 很 (hěn) and then the adjective, “good.” So here, the 很 (hěn) can be loosely translated as “very.” It’s not exactly like “very” in English, but basically, you can think of it that way. That kind of makes it easier.
Victor: In Chinese, one-syllable adjectives are used in combination with 很 (hěn). You wouldn’t normally say 我好 (wǒ hǎo.), rather, you will have an adverb like 很 (hěn) before the adjective, say, 我很好 (wǒ hěn hǎo.)
Amber: Yeah. It just kind of makes it smoother. So usually, if the adjective is only one syllable long, you want to put this 很 (hěn) in. Okay, and now, as we see from the next sentence, actually, 很 (hěn) isn’t the only word that can come between a subject and its adjective.
Victor: Yes, we hear...
Amber: "The weather is really good" is the next sentence. So, we can say that 天气 (tiānqì) is 很好 (hěn hǎo), that’s fine. “The weather is very good.”
Victor: Yeah, but when the weather is really good in California, we say 天气真好 (tiānqì zhēn hǎo).
Amber: Right! So if we think something is even better than “very,” the next step up is 真 (zhēn).
Victor: 真好 (zhēn hǎo)
Amber: Which actually means like “really” in English.
Victor: Yeah, really good.
Amber: So this one-syllable adjectives, you generally want to have one of these sort of qualifier words in between.
Victor: Yeah.


Amber: Okay. So now, we can talk about the weather, we can talk about what we do for work, we can talk about what language we speak. I think it’s a pretty good lesson, Victor.
Victor: Yeah, definitely. So make sure to check out the supplementary lesson notes for some more professions and languages and how to say them in Chinese.
Amber: Yes and until then, we will leave our passengers to their chatter, and we will rejoin our journey next time for new language adventures!
Victor: Yeah. Until then, we’ll see you next time!
Amber: We’ll see you next time. 再见。(Zàijiàn.)
Victor: 再见。(Zàijiàn.)