Learn Chinese to Be a Better Cleantech Advocate (Part 2)

In Part 1, I reviewed the reasons why a cleantech advocate, entrepreneur, or investor should want to learn Chinese. Best-case scenario, worst-case scenario, and everything in between, Chinese culture is not going anywhere and it will play a big role in the future of cleantech. I also explained why I recommend focusing on Mandarin dialects (these are the most common for historical reasons). Now it’s time to get to the heart of the matter. By spending a few hours learning a few basic skills, you’ll have a good foundation on which to build your vocabulary.

Basic Mandarin Chinese Concepts to Get Started

The first thing you should learn is tones. Tones can seem intimidating at first, but keep in mind that you are already using tones in English. We raise the tone at the end of sentences to indicate that it is a question. We emphasize the words in a sentence, and this can strongly affect the meaning. For example, here is a sentence with the same words, but several different meanings:

  • I didn’t do that! (You didn’t, but someone did)
  • I does not have do this ! (You want to make it clear that you didn’t)
  • I have not done this! (You did something, but not this)

See? You are already using tones. You just need to learn to use them a little differently than you already do, so it’s not something a committed cleantech advocate should struggle with too hard.

Mandarin words have five tones (well, four tones and no tones) which affect the meaning of the spoken word or syllable. When Chinese words are written using letters familiar to Westerners, the tone appears as a mark on the letters, showing how the tone changes over the course of the syllable. The small line can be flat (and high), rising, dipping, or falling. If there is no tone mark, the tone is “neutral”.

I could write you a guide about it like they did here, but it’s really much easier to learn from videos. Here’s a great one I found for my kids:

It helps move your hand with the pitch when you’re a new learner, much like someone conducting music. Sounds silly, but helps you visualize things at first.

If you watched that last video, you probably saw how our alphabet could be used to spell Mandarin words. This system is called “pinyin,which literally translates to “spell sounds.” In some cases, like “my”, it’s pretty self-explanatory. In other cases, like “shi” (pronounced like “sure”), it doesn’t make much sense at first. Why would the letter I make an “errr” sound? So, before continuing to learn, you must learn how this alphabet actually works. Once again, YouTube comes to our rescue:

It’s probably a good idea to watch the video above a few times to catch the sounds the letters are supposed to make. You can also use an interactive board of all possible sounds in Chinese to practice the different sounds and try to copy what native speakers do. There’s also a video of someone running through them all here that you can follow for practice.

One last basic skill you need to learn at the start is STPVO, or Subject, Time, Place, Verb, Object. This is how you build a proper sentence in Chinese. You don’t say something like “I went to the park yesterday”. in Chinese. Instead, you do like Yoda and say “I went to the park yesterday”. Here is another YouTube video that explains this better:

Good and bad news

Before moving on to word search, I have some good news. Chinese has no verb conjugation. If you’ve ever studied Spanish, French, and other Latin languages, you’ve probably encountered the challenge of having to change the beginning or ending of words depending on when a verb occurred, who authored it. of the action and other factors. Once you learn the rules, you learn that there are many “irregular” verbs with different rules to memorize.

Chinese doesn’t require you to do any of this. Yay!

The bad news? I haven’t given you everything you need to know about Chinese grammar, pinyin pronunciation, and tones here. There’s more grammar to learn, regional Mandarin variations, and some wacky rules for tone pairs, among other things. However, you don’t really need to worry about any of that just yet. Just know the basics to move on and start learning words and phrases. You will come across the little things later and grasp them naturally, or someone will tell you how to do better as you continue your language journey. For now, just move on to vocabulary building.

Drill a few hundred vocabulary words

This is when language apps like Duolingo really come in handy. With a basic understanding of pronunciation, tone, and grammar, you have a foundation to pile words and phrases on. And you will need a lot!

When I learned, I used flash cards. If you’re the paper-and-pencil type, this is a great option, but it’s easy to lose interest and go wrong with flashcards (“I knew what that was! I swear!”). Apps do everything flash cards do, but they hold you accountable and only let you move on once you get the hang of it. They also periodically bring back an old word so it can enter your long-term memory. Plus, they use gamification (which makes it feel like a game, not a brutal memorization job).

Here is a link to get started with Duolingo. I recommend you give it a try, as it seems to be the easiest to use consistently. However, there are different learning styles. If Duolingo isn’t for you, there are a number of alternative apps, like Memrise, Lingualift, and Rosetta Stone. Find what works for you and continue the journey!

Another tool I would recommend using is Google Translate. You’ll probably be curious about the words and phrases that the apps don’t teach you, and this is a great way to figure them out. You can also copy and paste Chinese text into it to get not only a translation but also the Pinyin for the words.

A few terms for the cleantech advocate to learn

Here are some cleantech-related words you can learn to be a better cleantech advocate!

  • Electric car: 電動車 (Diàndòng chē)
  • NIO (a common Chinese brand of electric cars): 蔚来 (Wèi lái)
  • Foxconn/Foxtron (electronics manufacturer in Taiwan and China that is getting into electric vehicles): 鴻海 (Hónghǎi)
  • Tesla: 特斯拉 (Tè sī lā)
  • Elon Musk: 伊隆馬斯克 (Yī lóng mǎ sīkè)
  • New energy vehicle (alternative fuel vehicle): 新能源汽車 (Xīn néngyuán qìchē)
  • Electric car charging station: 電動車充電站 (Diàndòng chē chōngdiàn zhàn)
  • Solar energy: 太陽能 (Tàiyángnéng)
  • Drums: 電池 (diànchí)
  • Lithium-ion battery: 鋰離子電池 (Lǐ lízǐ diànchí)

In part 3, I will discuss what you should do after learning a few hundred words. You’ll need to take this learning and start using it in the real world, but you don’t need to travel to China or Chinatown to do so! As a cleantech advocate, you probably already love tech, so it won’t be too difficult.

Featured Image: A screenshot from Google Translate showing some popular cleantech terms.

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