Friday, December 3, 2010

Learning Mandarin

With a busy November of work, novel, girl and being a tourist, it's been a while since I had some free time to devote to self-improvement.

Fortunately, my borderline-OCD need to keep this blog's momentum going, even in slow weeks, has provided extra incentive to learn more bits and pieces of foreign languages from countries I'll be visiting in the very near future - like Taiwan which, insanely, I'll be landing in this time next week.

Mandarin numbers

Like Japanese, which I've already had a crack at learning, Mandarin is so unusual and different from what I'm used to that it's tempting to just not bother. But then how can I impress girls in Taiwan? With my winning personality? When has that ever worked?

Luckily, the Japanese made things a little easier by stealing much of their written language from the Chinese, so the numbers are written the same in both languages. They're not pronounced anything alike though - where would be the challenge in that?

Here's the mental mental image my deranged mind came up with to help me learn Mandarin numbers off by heart. You may scoff at these weird-looking things, but I still have total recall of 0 to 10 in Japanese, Greek and Hebrew without having to look them up, so there's no denying they work for me at least (except the number 10 in Greek, which I couldn't come up with an image for and still eludes me).

0 to 10 in Mandarin

零 0 ling
一 1 yi
二 2 èr
三 3 sān (these four together make 'Lingyear San' - a dodgy Asian knock-off of popular Disney character Buzz Lightyear, with san being man)

四 4 si
五 5 ('si!' and 'woo!' - a Mexican and American in the audience express their delight in their native tongues)

六 6 liù
七 7
八 8 ('Loki: bah' - by contrast, the Norse trickster is unimpressed)

九 9 jiǔ
十 10 shi ('Jew: shh' - a Semitic man is trying to watch the film, and frustrated by all the interruptions)

Once you know these guys, 11 to 99 are easy - just say the number with ten and then the digit (shi yi to jiǔ shi jiǔ). Piece of fruit!

As long as the Taiwanese all communicate in numbers like I assume, and don't use actual nouns and stuff, 没问题!


  1. I tried doing this a while ago when I read Derren Brown's book and was surprised at how well I could remember random things he told me to remember. However, now I have no recollection of any of it, apart from there was a monkey in a waitcoast in one (it was poking something but I can't remember what) and the other one (a long number) had 747 somewhere in it.

    See for 1-4, you've remembered it as 'lingyear san' - how do you remember though that 'lingyear san' is four numbers and not three? That could easily split into ling, year and san and that would probably confuse me a lot.

  2. I can remember those ones, somehow (probably just cause it's the early numbers), but I do choose rubbish, unhelpful ones sometimes.

    Like today when I tried to learn the phrase 'I cannot speak Mandarin Chinese' by scribbling a picture of a hand and a Ghostbusters proton pack, and couldn't remember what 'hand' meant.