When first learning a language, you often have to stick to very simple, straightforward vocabulary. Adding vocabulary is best done by learning words with very specific meanings. One word for happy, one word for earth, one for noodle, one for talk. But then there will come a day when you want to add nuance to meaning, because you want to increase your potential for truly expressing yourself and having adult conversations.
Hopefully, by then, the earlier vocabulary will finally be more natural and solidified in your repertoire. Then you can more easily assimilate lessons that expound on options for expressing very similar ideas. This was the basic scenario when I wanted to tell my tutor about something last week. I didn’t want to just use the basic Chinese 說 (shuo1) for “to speak, to say” again . I wanted to say I had discussed something!
So it was that we practiced several ways of saying I would “talk to (a friend) about anything.” And it was fun! Kind of like a language learning version of the grammar game MadLibs.
Here are the sentences:
(wo3 men.) (ke3 yi3) (tao3 lun4) [(ren4 he2) (shi4 qing2)]
(we) (can, okay) (to discuss) [(any, whatever) (matter affair) = anything]
We can discuss anything.
(ni3) (ke3 yi3) (gen1) (wo3) (tao3 lun4) (ren4 he2 shi4 qing2)
(you) (can) (with) (me) (discuss) (anything)
You can discuss anything with me.
(ni3) (ke3 yi3) (gen1) (wo3) (liao2) (ren4 he2 shi4 qing2)
(you) (can) (with) (me) (to chat) (anything)
You can chat about anything with me.
(ni3) (ke3 yi3) (gen1) (wo3) (shuo1) (ren4 he2 shi4 qing2)
(you) (can) (with) (me) (to speak, to say) (anything)
You can speak with me about anything.
(ni3) (ke3 yi3) (gao4 su4) (wo3) (ren4 he2 shi4 qing2)
(you) (can) (to tell) (me) (anything)
You can tell me anything.
(wo3) (hui4) (ting1) (ni3) (gao4 su4) (wo3) (ren4 he2 shi4 qing2)
(I) (will) (to listen) (you) (to tell) (me) (anything)
I will listen to anything you tell me.
(ni3) (yao4) (liao2) (shen2 me.) (a1)
(you) (to want) (to chat) (what) (sound word indicating friendliness)
What do you want to chat about?
So you can see that
(ni3) (yao4) (tao3 lun4) (shen2 me.) (ya1)
(you) (to want) (to discuss) (what) (sound word)
What do you want to discuss?
imply different levels of seriousness and commitment, even though they both involve the same action of speaking together.
Next week, I will tell you what I was actually discussing and with whom!
Here is an audio of the sentences, as read by my Chinese tutor:
Notes on interesting things in the lesson:
❶ It is useful to know that although in English we use the word “things” for both objects and more abstract things such as personal affairs, in Chinese they don’t. For objects, 東西 (dong1 xi1) is used. When speaking of business or social matters, or personal concerns, 事情 (shi4 qing) is used.
❷ It is common to hear “to chat” expressed as 聊天 (liao2 tian1). My tutor explains that the 天 (tian1) in this case is emphasizing the open nature of chatting, as “the sky is the limit.” Sometimes, the friendliness of chatting is emphasized also by doubling the verb, as in 聊聊天. However, in the sentences today, the concept of unlimited topics is made clear by using the phrase 任何事情 (ren4 he2 shi4 qing2). The nuance is slightly different, though. With 聊天 (liao2 tian1) there is the implication of nothing on the agenda and no pressing need. The conversation is expected to flow here and there. When 聊任何事情 (liao2 ren4 he2 shi4 qing2) is used, the implication is that at least one of the people involved may have something on their mind that could be figured out.