6 Lesson 1 Dialogue 2: Where are you from?


(Teacher Wang meets Jenny and 王贵 in the dining hall. She starts the conversation.)

Simplified Chinese Traditional Chinese



Chinese Pinyin English
吗/嗎 ma particle, used at the end of a sentence to form a general question
shì verb, am/is/are
老师/老師 lǎo shī n., teacher
adv., no, not
学生/學生 xuésheng n., student
adv., too, also
rén n., person or people,
adv., then/so…
question word, which
哪儿/哪兒 nǎ ér question word, where
北京 běi jīng place name, Beijing, capital city of China
国/國 guó n., country
美国/美國 měi guó n., USA
中国/中國 zhōng guó n., China
说/說 shuō v., to speak, to say
中文 zhōng wén n., the Chinese language
英文 yīng wén n. English
xiǎng v., desire to, would like to
学/學 xué v., to learn, to study
jiāo v., to teach

Grammar Notes:

  1. Question particle (ma):
    It is often added to the end of a sentence to form a simple yes/no question. Compare:
    你是学生。 nǐ shì xuésheng. You are a student.
    你是学生吗? Nǐ shì xuésheng ma? Are you a student?
  2. The adverb (, no, not):
    As an adverb, it is normally put before a verb or an adjective to negate them. For example, 不姓李 or 不好。Note that (bù) is pronounced in front of a syllable carrying a fourth tone. So 不是 is pronounced bú shì, and 不姓 is pronounced as bú xìng . This phenomenon is called Tone Sandhi. This video summarizes how to pronounce 不 in different situations.
  3. The verb (shì):
    The verb is similar to “am/is/are” in English, linking two noun phrases, with the second one characterizing or identifying the first. For example:
    我是学生。 Wǒ shì xuésheng. I am a student.
    王先生是老师。 Wáng xiānsheng shì lǎoshī. Mr Wang is a teacher.
    can also be used to give an affirmative answer to questions of the form “Is X Y?”. For example:
    你是学生吗? Nǐ shì xuēsheng ma? Are you a student?
    是。 Shì. Yes.
  4. The adverb (yě):
    is used before verbs, meaning “too” or “also” (Note: in a negative sentence,   means “either” or “neither”). The sentence structure is “Subject +  + Verb. For example,
    我也姓李。(My last name is also Li.)
    他也不是老师。(He is also not a teacher.)
    Note: Unlike the English word “too” and “also,” the Chinese word “也” cannot be put before the subject or at the very end of a sentence
  5. Questions with (nǎ):
    is a question word, meaning “which”. 哪国人 literally “which country people” is used to ask about a person’s nationality. For example, 你是哪国人?(What is your nationality?)
  6. The question word 哪儿
    哪儿 means “where”. The sentence “你是哪儿人”, literally meaning “you are where person”, is often used to ask where a person is from. For example, 他是哪儿人?(Where is he from?)
  7. The adverb (nà) :
    This adverb is often used before a sentence to begin a judgement or result from previous context, similar to the English “So,—”. 那你是哪国人? means “So, what’s your nationality?”
  8. The verb (xiǎng):
    This verb is often followed by another verb, indicating “desire or would like to do something”. For example,
    我想学中文。(I desire to learn Chinese.)
    我想教你。(I would like to teach you.)

Culture Notes:

  1. There are basically four ways to ask for origins:
    (1) When asking for a foreigner’s nationality, Chinese people normally say 你是哪个国家的 or 你是哪国人. The response is 我是__国人. For example, if you are American, you can reply with 我是美国人.
    (2) When Chinese native speakers ask each other about specific place of birth or hometown, they usually use 你是哪儿人. For example, if my Chinese friend asks me 你是哪儿人, my response would be 我是北京人.
    (3) Chinese people also use 你从哪里来 (nǐ cóng nǎ lǐ lái, lit. “you from where come”, meaning “where are you from”) to inquire about origins. Possible responses would be “我从 place 来”. For example, if you want to say “I am from New York”, the Chinese statement would be “我从纽约(niǔ yuē, New York)” or simply “我是纽约人。
    (4) In formal situations, people ask 你来自哪里 (nǐ lái zì nǎ lǐ, lit. “you come from where”, meaning “where do you come from”). The response is “我来自 place”. For example, 我来自中国 means “I come from China.”
  2. The names of countries are often but not always formed by using a syllable that resembles the country’s name in its own language followed by (guó, meaning “country”). For example,

    英国 yīng guó England
    德国 dé guó Germany
    法国 fǎ guó France
    美国 měi guó United States of America
    泰国 tài guó Thailand

    Other country names resemble the sound of the country’s name in its own language without adding :

    意大利 yì dà lì Italy
    澳大利亚 ào dà lì yà Australia
    加拿大 jiā ná dà Canada
    墨西哥 mò xī gē Mexico

    Some common place names you should know are:

    北京 běi jīng Beijing
    上海 shàng hǎi Shanghai
    香港 xiāng gǎng Hong Kong
    伦敦 lún dūn London
    华盛顿 huá shèng dùn Washington
    纽约 niǔ yuē New York
    巴黎 bā lí Paris
    柏林 bó lín Berlin
    旧金山 jiù jīn shān San Francisco

  3. The terms for languages are usually formed by replacing the character in the country name with the character   when referring to the written language, and with the character (yǔ) when referring to the spoken language. For example, 中文 is formed by replacing “国” in the word “中国” with “文”. It is the same with 英文 (yīng wén, English),法文 (fǎ wén, French),德文 (dé wén, German),日文 (rì wén, Japanese),韩文 (hán wén, Korean)。


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Elementary Chinese I Copyright © 2022 by Wenying Zhou is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book