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The untold spy story of WWI

In 1910 a proposed Alliance between Germany and France (See New York Times Article ) worried Britain so they sent someone to 'sniff around'.

The story is a personal journey of discovery set in the vibrant energy that is Zanzibar. Susan finds herself in the palace of the great Sultan of Zanzibar as private tutor to his children. She immerses herself in the heady experiences of that rich island. From making friends with her personal servant, Subira, to falling in love with Asim, a senior member of the Sultan's court. Susan delights in the discovery of Zanzibar and the discovery of herself. The only shadow being that she was recruited by British Military Intelligence as a spy. That compromises her love for Asim and will eventually cut the silken thread that is her journey into the exotic.

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Your FIRST STEP in learning to speak Chinese is to learn Pin Yin 拼音 (see below)

The 2nd Step is to know about the 4 Tones

The 3rd Step is to find a good course - for online learning we recommend and use ChinesePod 

The 4th and most important Step is to find a good one-to-one teacher - the ONLY way to learn a new language is to immerse  yourself in it. You can study it as much as you like, but you need to use it from day one. ALL the courses, online or software, will be next to useless by themselves. You HAVE to pair it with a real, live teacher. 

As a westerner learning Chinese I wasted a lot of time learning how to learn Chinese. So I hope this website helps you to learn how to learn Chinese. In particular I did not use a teacher from the very beginning. I now realize that was a big mistake, it is worth every cent.

So, whether you find one at iTalki or ChinesePod or locally it does not matter, but you do need a good teacher to guide you from the very beginning. I would recommend ChinesePod to compliment your lessons, then find a friend on iTalki to practise and have converstations with. You can often do this for free if somone in China wants to learn your language.

BEWARE!! - The fact that someone can speak a language does not mean they can teach it. For that you need specialists, like ChinesePod. 


Oh ... and it is preferable the teacher is from the North of China, around Beijing and that they have spoken Pu Tong Hua (Mandarin) from childhood otherwise you will end up with a 'southern accent'

People in the south have a different pronunciation which is not standard Pu Tong Hua

There are two main languages in China (and lots and lots of local dialects). People from Hong Kong and that general southern area often speak Guandong Hua (Cantonese) which is a different language to Pu Tong Hua. 

It is best to learn Standard Pu Tong Hua as most people will understand you.

If you end up living in a part of China where they speak Guandong Hua or a local dialect, you will soon pick it up if you know Pu Tong Hua




Pinyin uses the English Alphabet for writing rather than Chinese script

Chinese children do not have to learn Pinyin to learn how to speak, though they do learn it later at school. They learn to speak Chinese the same way we learned to speak English, as part of growing up.

However, for us 'westerners' , Pinyin is the 'key' we need to unlock Chinese.

There are no short-cuts you simply have to learn PinYin like you learned your own Alphabet


Pinyin is relatively new. It was introduced to China by Mao in the 1950's along with Simplified Chinese writing.

It is debatable whether this was as step forward or a step backward

Pinyin is essentially just a way of sounding out a word using the English alphabet

The other system is BoPoMoFo

The big drawback with Pinyin is that it drags your eyes away from the Chinese character if English is your first language. BoPoMoFo uses elements of Chinese Writing to give you the sounds.

However, for the moment, if you want to learn Chinese, then it is best to learn Pinyin because nearly all teaching methods use it and it is the basis of education in mainland China. 


PinYin uses the English Alphabet to show you how to say a Chinese word

Eg: 好 hǎo means "good" (and is pronounced 'how')

The little smile over the 'a' tells you which TONE to use

Which TONE to use with a word is the other VITAL thing you need to know if you want to speak Chinese


Pronunciation of a Chinese word is in two parts

Say the first part clearly then the second part clearly, then put them together. The TONE comes from the second part and shapes the word.


The placement of the tongue is VITAL

The best way to learn is to watch a teacher on video

For most of the sounds it will be natural to you, but for some it will not be natural and you will have to train your tongue



Watch this Video for an Explanation of PinYin
(Yes, it repeats, but it is an excellent explanation)

And this one



Do you like China?

Notice the Phonetic pronunciation I give in brackets is not the same as Pinyin, you really do have to learn Pinyin if you want to learn to speak Chinese

A:  你喜欢中国吗?

nǐ xǐ huan Zhōng guó ma? (Phonetically - knee she won joong g'wore mar?)

Do you like China?

B:  喜欢。 

xǐ huan. (she won)

Yes, I like it.

A:  你喜欢什么?

nǐ xǐ huan shén me? (knee she won shen mer)

What do you like?

B:  中国菜。

Zhōng guó cài. (joong g'wore ch'eye)

Chinese food.

Key Vocabulary

喜欢 xǐhuan (she won)
to like

中国 Zhōngguó (joong g'wore)

什么 shénme (shen mer)

中国菜 Zhōngguó cài (joong g'wore ch'eye)
Chinese food


As you can see, the pronunciation of Pinyin letters and syllables are similar to English but not the same

So it is important that you learn your new alphabet.

Like your own alphabet the sound of each letter is crucial, you MUST learn the sound for each letter and syllable if you want to master good pronunciation - and the only way you will do that is with a good teacher as you cannot hear yourself so you do not know if your pronunciation is correct or not.

In particular, you will not know how to fix it if it is not correct.

At first it seems a bit awkward and you will often stop to think about how to pronounce a letter or syllable

But, trust me, after a while it become second nature, just like pronouncing letters and syllables in English

However, if you do not use a good teacher from the very beginning you will undoubtedly have incorrect pronunciation.

It is much harder to correct poor pronunciation than to learn it correctly in the first place



FIRST PART – Sheng Mu - which is similar to a consonant in English. Do not shape the sound. It is a single hard sound. The words inside the brackets are an English approximation.

b(bore) p(paw) m(more) f(for) d(dirge) t(turn) l(learn) n(nurse) g(girl) k(kur - as in curd) h(her)

j(jee) q(qee) x(she)

zhi (jer) ch (cher) [start with the top of your tongue behind your top teeth then almost spit out the word] sh [start with your tongue flat and almost spit out the word 'shir' - as in 'shirt'] r (Ruhr - as in Ruhr valley Germany]

z(zee) [start with the tip of your tongue behind your top teeth then flick your tongue down as you almost spit out the sound 'zee'] c(chur - as in church - start with the tip of your tongue behind your top teeth then flick your tongue down as you almost spit out the sound] s (sur - as in surly [again,start with the tip of your tongue behind your top teeth then flick your tongue down as you almost spit out the sound]

Another way to help make the correct sound:

z = diamonds - ds (flicking tongue)

c = its - ts (flicking tongue)

s = books - sssss (tongue neutral)

y(yee - as in yeast) w(woo - as in wound)

If you think you can master those sounds from reading this or from listening to them then you are nuts. You need a native Chinese speaker to listen to you. The teacher will be able to hear if you have the correct pronunciation or not and be able to help you correct it if you do not (which is more than likely)

Don't make the mistake of thinking you can master it yourself and end up learning the wrong sounds then have to go back and correct them later.


SECOND PART - Yun Mu - which is similar to a vowel in English. This is what gives a word its shape, its 'tone'. It is softer and can be shaped:

a(car) o(or) e(her) i(see) ai(eye) ou(ho) ie(yeah) ue(you'áir) ei(say) u(you)

ao(cow) ui(way) un(tune) uo(or)

an(under) ang(hung) en(hen) eng(tongue) in(in) ing(ing) ong(gong)


Again, this is where you need a good teacher who is a native Chinese speaker 

You can practise the pronunciation as much as you like BUT unless you have the feedback of a teacher you will never know if you are doing is correctly or not.

While you are mastering the Sheng Mu and Yun Mu you can start with short sentences of 3 or 4 words.

Read them in Chinese aloud to your teacher

This will help you get used to pronouncing Chinese (you can do it in your head as much as you like, but until you open your mouth and start to speak it will stay in your head)

Your teacher will help correct any pronunciation errors

IF you do that from the very beginning you will not develop any bad habits

As a music teacher I know that it is far harder to unlearn something than to learn it properly in the first place

Also, from the very beginning it is useful to start saying very simple sentences out loud. Read them in Chinese. That way you will also be learning to read Chinese.

The purpose of this exercise is to help to sound the words. You will find it quite difficult at first as your mouth is not used to forming the words.

I do not worry too much about pronunciation when I do this exercise without a teacher. However, I DO try to be as accurate as possible,

It is simply to get used to forming the words out loud.

You can then say them to your teacher when you have a lesson and the teacher will help you with the correct pronunciation. 



Sing Along with the VIDEO and Learn the PinYin Alphabet

Don't worry about the Introduction in Chinese - just listen to the kids - it is how children learn correct pronunciation in China

At first it will make little sense to you, but after a while you will start to hear the sounds - you should play it at least once a day - your aim is to sing along with the kids