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Chinese Delighted by Expat’s Curious Method of Learning Putonghua

Posted: 10/15/2014 1:55 pm

foreigner tries to learn putonghua robert expat chinese learningChinese people love watching foreigners learning Chinese, but one particular foreigner has shot to fame in Shenzhen because of his unique learning methods. He has even been lauded by Chinese netizens as nothing short of “genius”.

Robert, who originally hails from the UK, has been trying to learn Putonghua for five to six years without much luck. He decided to take another crack at it recently by changing tactics, which is what has drawn so much attention.

READ: CCTV’s Praise Of Japanese Creativity Ignites Firestorm

Instead of using words to write definitions for each Chinese character, Robert draws a picture to better relate to each word, a technique inspired by English memory coach Tony Buzan.

Michelle, Robert’s wife, was inspired to post some of Robert’s personal study notes online, which have gone on to draw acclaim for their creativity and humor. See for yourself below:

foreigner tries to learn putonghua robert expat chinese learningFor the Chinese characters 对面 (duìmiàn) which means “across from you/it”, two faces are seen in a drawing confronting each other.

foreigner tries to learn putonghua robert expat chinese learning请假 (qǐngjià) means “to ask for leave”, and in this picture a man thinking about a boat in the sun is asking a question to a man with a hat sitting behind a desk.

foreigner tries to learn putonghua robert expat chinese learning对不起 (duìbuqǐ) is the Chinese word for “apologize”, and is used to say “I’m sorry” or “I beg your pardon”.

foreigner tries to learn putonghua robert expat chinese learning历史 ([lìshǐ) means "history" in Chinese. In the above visual explanation, Robert draws a successive line of people that progressively get smaller until the end of the line is symbolized by what looks to be an amoeba.

foreigner tries to learn putonghua robert expat chinese learning同意 (tóngyì) means "to agree".

foreigner tries to learn putonghua robert expat chinese learning出去 (chūqu) means "to go out".

foreigner tries to learn putonghua robert expat chinese learningAnd in a similar looking drawing, Robert makes an explanation for 回来 (huílai) which means "to return".

For the word 麻烦 (máfan), meaning "an irritation brought on by trouble or worry", Robert drew two small children, saying "If your family has two children then you'll know, they are very troublesome!" For the word AA制 (A A zhì) meaning "each person pays their own way", Robert drew a windmill because "people in Holland are really stingy".

Here's some reaction to Robert's famous drawings:

Hahaha, so easy to understand!

Cartoon genius.

Isn’t it enough to add a few English notes afterwards?

So what’s good about this Englishman? Is he handsome? Rich?

Robert obviously isn’t the first to devise unique ways to learn a new language. Chinese themselves have employed a number of witty tricks to help with learning English.

READ: Guangzhou Photographer Reveals the Lonely Face of Foreigners in China

As many an English teachers will know, sometimes a student in China will use pinyin to substitute for English words. When you say “Hi” to them, they are actually saying 嗨  with the pinyin hāi, while saying “Yeah!” in English is emulated in Chinese with 耶 with the pinyin .

With that in mind, some ingenious Chinese phrases have been created as pinyin “cheat words” that have related meanings. For example:

  • English word: ambulance
    Chinese pinyin cheat word: ǎnbùnéngsǐ
    Chinese characters of cheat word: 俺不能死
    Cheat word meaning: ”I can’t die”
  • English word: ambition
    Chinese pinyin cheat word: ǎnbìshèng
    Chinese characters of cheat word: 俺必胜
    Cheat word meaning: “I must win”
  • English word: pregnant
    Chinese pinyin cheat word: pūgěnánde
    Chinese characters of cheat word: 扑个男的
    Cheat word meaning: “Devote yourself to a man”


Photos: Southern Capital Report, Yangtse Evening Report


Chinese People Share Embarrassing Stories of Foreigners Who Understand Chinese

Posted: 07/9/2014 3:35 pm

laowai chinese anecdotes fluent languageExpats may enjoy each day in China as an “adventure” waiting to happen, but have you considered that Chinese have stories of their own about their “adventures” with foreigners?

Guangzhou Daily shares with us a number of personal stories in which Chinese people encounter an expat who, to their often embarrassing surprise, understands Putonghua. While the number of foreigners that have adapted to living in China has increased, it seems the number of Chinese that continue to underestimate them remains extremely high.

We can’t vouch for the authenticity of any of the stories below, especially when a supposed personal anecdote is told in the third person, but all of them sound truthful enough. They are short, life-like, and share the same theme.

They are also accompanied with pictures of movie stars, which we’ll reproduce here:

laowai chinese anecdotes fluent languageOne day I was at the supermarket buying something when I saw a black person. I turned to my friend next to me and said, “Hey look, that black laowai is really black.” The black person then looked back at me and said, “[I'm not black, it's just that] you’re so white.”

laowai chinese anecdotes fluent languageDuring university, my classmates and I had all gone out to arrange our class schedule when a brother from Africa who was very black appeared in front of us. One of my classmates said, “So fucking black!” We didn’t think that the laowai would turn his head around and say “So fucking yellow!” We just about fell over at that point~!

laowai chinese anecdotes fluent languageTwo women and a foreign man were taking an elevator together. One of the women noticed the chest hair of the laowai was very long, and said to the other woman, “Look, the laowai’s chest hair is very sexy.” Who would have thought that the laowai would suddenly answer: “Thank you!”.

laowai chinese anecdotes fluent languageMe and my girlfriend went to a roller skating rink. My girlfriend repeatedly fell down so I said, “Piggy, do you see that beautiful foreign girl over there? She is much taller than you, but she skates so much better.” That foreign woman skated over and said, “Thank you for your compliment, handsome.” Faint! I hurriedly used my English to answer back, “Not at all.”

laowai chinese anecdotes fluent languageOnce, my dad went to the Great Wall. As he climbed the wall, he saw a tall, white person sitting on a step. My dad told the people all around him, “Look, this laowai doesn’t have the strength to climb the Wall.” Then the white person replied, “I’m taking a short break, is that okay?”

laowai chinese anecdotes fluent languageThere was this time I was eating sand pot noodles at a neighborhood outdoor stall. I was dripping with so much sweat that it was like I was drunk or crazy. It so happened the dormitories for Southern University were next door. Then, a young woman of Chinese nationality walked out holding the hand of a black child of about five years old. This small black child kept looking at my drooling face as they kept walking, and then suddenly said in a perfect Nanjing dialect, “I want to eat sand pot noodles!” I just about spit out my noodles.

laowai chinese anecdotes fluent languageI was once taking the Guangzhou Metro when I saw a family of foreigners. The mother was leading the daugher who was very pretty, just like a doll. Then, an old gentlemen beside her used standard English to ask, “Where are you from?” The little girl impatiently replied with a nonchalant answer in Chinese: the USA.

laowai chinese anecdotes fluent languageI wanted to bring my classmate on a trip to Beijing one weekend but she was too lazy to come along, so I had to go alone. On the train there, I sat next to a very good-looking foreign man. So I called up my classmate to vent at her. I told her, “You’re going to regret this for the rest of your life! I’m telling you, there’s a foreign man sitting next to me with a side profile that looks like Brad Pitt. All the more eye candy for me!” After I put the phone down, I noticed that the man was noticably happy at me; his heart was brimming with joy as his face radiated with happiness. The foreign man then told me (in Chinese), “Miss, your side profile is also very beautiful!” …Opposite us were a couple that almost fell over from laughing. It was all I could do to refrain from jumping off the train.

laowai chinese anecdotes fluent languageI’m from Jinan. Once, my father and his colleagues went on a business trip to the USA where they went shopping at a supermarket. As they discussed among themselves in the Jinan dialect, they were approached by an American who used a proper Jinan dialect to say to them, “You are from Jinan!” The colleagues all exploded in sweat. After speaking a while, it turns out that this laowai had stay behind with the rear US guard after the war. The colleagues asked him, “So, how is your English?” The laowai slapped his leg and said, “English is so fucking hard to learn!!”


Photos: Guangzhou Daily


Parents Protest Opening of New Confucius Institute in Toronto

Posted: 06/16/2014 7:18 pm

confucius institute protestThe fate of a newly-opened Confucius Institute in Toronto, Canada is in doubt after a committee of school trustees advocated breaking ties with the Chinese government, reports the Globe and Mail.

The Toronto District School Board passed a motion on June 11 to investigate allegations of censorship performed by the Chinese government after local parents expressed concern over Mandarin language classes offered by the institution to elementary school students.

Concerned with the influence the Chinese government has over his 13 year-old daughter, Toronto resident and FLG member Michael Lewis started a website called to alert parents to the issues surrounding the Confucius Institute. An online petition has already gained 600 signatures.

As school boards around Canada deal with budget cuts and declining enrollment, Confucius Institutes offer a way to attract international students from China through the state agency known as Hanban.

Allegations against the Confucius Institute include censorship and disseminating propaganda. A job advertisement on the website for the University of Hunan says that “candidates will be assessed to ensure they meet political ideology requirements.” McMaster University has already cut its ties with Confucius Institutes over their hiring policies.

The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) issued a statement last December that urged universities and colleges to sever relationships with Confucius Institutes in Canada, saying they are “subsidized and supervised by the authoritarian government of China.”

Said James Turk, CAUT executive director: “They restrict the free discussion of topics Chinese authorities deem controversial and should have no place on our campuses.”

The board will vote on the committee’s recommendation on June 18.

The following are images taken from

saynotoci confucius institute protestsaynotoci confucius institute protest

Photo: saynotoci

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