Lesson 7 Focus on Chinese sentence patterns first or Chinese vocabulary first?

Posted by Grace Feng on December 22, 2011

The reason I don’t start my lesson series by just teaching Chinese characters from the beginning is because I want to help you speed up your learning progress by learning Chinese sentence patterns first. You’ll learn some basic words as well along the sentence structures, but you should focus on the structure first.  If you think you can’t read or speak Chinese before you’ve known enough characters and words, you’re wrong. You’re slowing down yourself! Even if you managed to remember all 3500 characters in half a year, it still doesn’t mean you can read or speak. If you don’t know how to combine them together to form meaningful words, use them in the right places, or put them in the right order, they’re still useless to you.

To be able to use a language to converse, your mind has to tell you what sentence pattern to use first, then comes the individual word. Comparing to memorizing a sea of Chinese characters and words first, knowing generally used sentence patterns first are much easier. Sentence pattern itself is a repetitive structure, normally you only need to memorize a few words for one sentence pattern. The few words you memorized will be reused frequently in your future conversations.

Such as one of the sentence patterns we discussed in How to ask questions in Chinese? (2):

… … shì shén me

… … 是什么?

What is … …?

As long as you remember the pattern and the reusable words in the sentence pattern – “是什么”, you just need to look up the first part of the sentence from any online translator to fill in. Then the sentence you wanna say in Chinese is right there.

For example, you wanna say:” What is Janna’s father’s name?”

First you recall the sentence pattern you should use is “Janna’s father’s name是什么?” Then input “Janna’s father’s name” into an online translator. Google Translate does the job. Choose translating from “English” to “Chinese(simplified)”. On the other end it pumps out the result “珍娜的父亲的名字”, which is quite accurate. You can click the audio button to listen to the sentence. But be aware the robot is adding wrong emphasis here or there in the sentence so only use it as a reference. You can listen to the difference between my reading and the robot’s reading from Google Translate:

Zhēn nà de fù qīn de míng zì shì shén me


Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

compare to robot’s reading

Now you got the sentence you need to say in Chinese. If you know that adjective and possessive pronoun in Chinese is almost always the form of “noun + 的” (we’ll come to this soon in the following lessons), then it is easy to understand “珍娜的 (Zhēn nà de)” means “Janna’s”, “父亲的 (fù qīn de)” means “father’s” and “名字 (míng zì)” means “name”.

Another important reason for focusing on sentence patterns first is that you might become overwhelmed soon after focusing only on character learning for a while.

The reason is that it is a widely accepted fact that Chinese writing system is really hard. If you start heading out on the most bumpy direction without the capability to practice your new vocabulary in effective communications, most of you will give up half way.

However, sentence pattern is quite simple and easy to learn. Know how to use and recognize sentence pattern first will help you visualize and memorize new words in effective communication or reading. This in turn will reinforce your memory enormously.

Last but not least, once you’ve gone through the sentence pattern phase, you’ll be able to read simple articles in Chinese with the help of online translator, or translator devices effectively. Your vocabulary building will kick off quickly from your effective reading.

In my blog, I’ll help you build your vocabulary even faster via form and sound association. If you’re a real warrior, you’ll be surprised on how fast you can move on in Chinese language.

Now, let’s take a break … and it’s time to say:

Merry Christmas!!



See you after Christmas!



Related posts:

Lesson 8 How to use adjectives in Chinese (1)
Lesson 16 The usage of Chinese character “就”
Lesson 25 How to open your conversation with “Based on ...”, “According to ...” kind of patterns in ...


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10 Responses to “Lesson 7 Focus on Chinese sentence patterns first or Chinese vocabulary first?”

  1. nothing

    Alex Moen:

    12-28-2011 4:19 am

    Good advice. When I first started learning languages I made the mistake of trying to learn words or grammar rules first. It’s actually much more useful to learn sentences and questions that you frequently use, and then spread out from there. You get a better handle on grammar rules and sentence structure, you will get varying responses to learn from, and it becomes easier to learn and recognize sentences with similar compositions.


  2. nothing

    Karma Cranker:

    02-04-2012 8:19 pm

    Hey There. I found your blog the use of msn. That is a really neatly written article. I will make sure to bookmark it and return to read extra of your helpful information. Thanks for the post. I’ll certainly comeback.


  3. nothing


    02-16-2015 5:19 pm

    Hi Grace,

    Your lessons are really helping me. Thank you so much. Plus, I’ve a doubt in a sentence used in this lesson-
    In Zhēn nà de fù qīn de míng zì shì shén me, is it okay to use ba ba de instead of fù qīn de ? Please help me.



    • nothing

      Grace Feng:

      02-16-2015 6:46 pm

      Hi Nan, it’s absolutely OK to use “ba ba de” (爸爸的) to replace “fù qīn de” (父亲的)in this sentence。

      “Daddy’s” and “father’s” are swappable in most cases, same as in English.



  4. nothing


    09-18-2015 9:01 am

    I appreciate this. Guess it answers my previous question in Lesson 6. Thanks a lot Grace.


    • nothing

      Grace Feng:

      09-19-2015 5:15 pm

      You’re welcome Mary, good to know that you find the answer so quickly. :-)



  5. nothing


    10-20-2015 11:57 am

    Absolutely agree with you!

    Your ideas are brilliant, i assume you must speak more than 3 languages :)

    Anyway thank you Miss Grace!


    • nothing

      Grace Feng:

      10-23-2015 12:38 am

      You’re welcome, Tai. It’s a pity I only speak two languages.Wish you can. :-)



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