Occupation, Study and Languages

2.7 Occupation, Study and Languages

This lesson is set in the RoC. We’ll learn to understand questions and answers where you work, where and what you have studies and what languages you can speak. Ms. Mao, a graduate student, has just met Mr. King and Mr. Cook.

Listen as she finds out what Mr. King does.

Nín zài náli gōngzuò?您在哪里工作 Where do you work?
Wǒ zài Méiguo Guówùyuàn gōngzuò.我在美国国务院工作 I work with the State Department.

Here’s the word for State Department.

Guówùyuàn国务院 State Department

In English, saying the word at the State Department means you work at its headquarters in Washington. Were you employed by the state department somewhere else, you say I work for the State Department. In Chinese, you would answer with the prepositional verb zài in either case.

Listen and review.

Now listen as Ms. Mao finds out what Mr. Cook does.

Nín zài náli gōngzuò?您在哪里工作 Where do you work?
Wǒ shi xuéshēng.我是学生 I’m a student.

Here’s the word for a student.

xuéshēng学生 student

Instead of being asked directly where you work, you are more likely to be asked what you came to do.

Here’s the word for to do.

zuò to do
niàn shū念书 to study

Literally, the expression niàn shū means to study books.

Listen to the following exchange between Ms. Mao and Mr. Cook.

Nǐ lái zuò shénme?你老做什么 What did you come here to do?
Wǒ lái niàn shū.我来念书 I came here to study.

When the verb lái to come is followed by another verb, the second verb expresses the purpose of the coming.

Listen and review.

To ask a person about his own occupation, you use the question nín zài náli gōngzuò? In asking about a third person’s occupation however, you can use a blunter question.

Listen to this live exchange and review.

Let’s go back to Ms. Mao’s conversation with Mr. Cook.

When you’re talking about studying a particular subject, the verb niàn to study is followed by the name of that subject.

ò, wǒ yě shi xuéshēng.哦,我也是学生 Oh, I’m a student too.
Qǐngwèn, nǐ niàn shénme?请问,你念什么 May I ask, what are you studying?
Wǒ niàn lìshǐ.我念历史 I’m studying history.

Here’s the word for history.

lìshǐ历史 history

Listen and review.

If you wanna talk about studying a language, you usually use a different verb for to study.

xué to study a language

The word xué means study in the sense of learning or acquiring a skill. You’ll recognize it from the word for student xuéshēng. The word niàn on the other hand, is used for taking courses and formal book learning.

Here’s the word for Chinese (language).

Zhōngwén中文 Chinese language
Kē Xiānsheng, nǐ niàn shénme?柯先生,你念什么 What are you studying, Mr. Cook?
Wǒ zài zhèli xué Zhōngwén.我在这里学中文 I’m studying Chinese here.

The term Zhōngwén can mean either the spoken or the written language. The use of the verb zài in Mr. Cook’s answer implies that he is learning spoken Chinese which involves acquiring an active skill. If you were concentrating on just being about to read written Chinese, you would probably have answered with niàn.

Listen and review.

Here’s the word for English.

Yīngwén英文 English

Here’s how you could find out if something knows any English.

Qǐngwèn, nǐ xuéguo Yīngwén ma?请问,你学过英文吗 May I ask, have you ever studied English?
Xuéguo.学过 Yes.

In the question, the marker guo is translated by the English word ever. In the statement however, guo can’t be translated. The literal translation of the full answer wǒ xuéguo would be simply I have studied it. Just as if the sentence were wo xuéle with a maker le other than guo.

Listen and review.

Here’s a similar question with a polite answer.

Qǐngwèn, nǐ huì shuō Yīngwén ma?请问,你会说英文吗 May I ask, can you speak English?
Wǒ huì shuō yìdiǎn.我会说一点 I can speak a little.
shuō to speak/to say
huì can (know how to)
yìdiǎn一点 a little

Listen and review.

The term Zhōngwén may refer to the written or the spoken language. Another common word for Chinese refers only to the spoken language. Literally, it means China speech.

Listen to Chinese (speech).

Zhōngguo huà中国话 China speech

Ms. Mao continues with her questions.

Nǐ tàitai yě huì shuō Zhōngguo huà ma?你太太也会说中国话吗 Can your wife speak Chinese too?
Bù huì, tā bù huì shuō.不会,她不会说 No, she can’t.

Notice that the short answer uses the auxiliary verb huì can and not the main verb shuō speak.

Listen and review.

Now let’s say that Ms. Mao is talking to Mr. King again. Their discussing his knowledge of Chinese.

Nǐde Zhōngguo huà hěn hǎo.你的中国话很好 Your Chinese is very good.
Náli, náli. Wǒ jiù huì shuō yìdiǎn.那里,那里。我就会说一点 Not at all, not at all. I can speak onǐy a little.
náli那里 not at all
jiù for only

Listen and review.

The Chinese don’t say thank you to acknowledge a complement. Instead, they use some phrase like náli not at all to indicate that the complement isn’t really deserved.

Now listen as the conversation continues.

Nǐ shi zài náli xuéde?你是在哪里学的 Where did you study it?
Wǒ shi zài Huáshèngdùn xuéde.我是在华盛顿学的 I studied it in Washington.
Huáshèngdùn华盛顿 Washington

Listen and review.

Ms. Mao is a graduate of Taiwan university. Here’s the word for university.

Dàxué大学 university/college
Nǐ shi zài dàxué xuéde Yīngwén ma?你是在大学学的英文吗 Did you study English at college?
Shìde, wǒ shi zài Táiwǎn Dàxué xuéde Yīngwén.是的,我是在台湾大学学的英文 Yes, I studied English at Taiwan University.

Notice that what was studied comes outside of the shi de construction.

Listen and review.

Now let’s review what we’ve covered about occupation, language and study. Listen to the following live dialogue, which takes place shortly after Mr. Cook’s arrival in Taipei.

Pronunciation Practice