Like any language, Chinese has its myriad subtleties that affect the whole meaning of what you might be saying. Let me give a simple example. The question, ‘can you speak Chinese?’, might be said in at least two ways:

Ni hui shuo hanyu ma?


Ni hui bu hui shuo hanyu?


Now, if you would like to give the question some emphasis, you may add jiujing (究竟)。With this small addition, much changes.

The first sentence becomes:

Ni jiujing hui bu hui shuo hanyu?


That is, it would be really wonderful if you could speak Chinese.

By contrast, the second sentence becomes:

Ni jiujing hui shuo hanyu ma?


That is, are you seriously trying to speak Chinese? If so, you are abysmal.

(Incidentally, I have had the second question asked on occasion by one rather unhelpful person some time ago. To be sure, my sp0ken Chinese is rather bad, but in that case you hope for encouragement rather than insult.).

Now for the triumphs. Two small but (for me) significant steps. The first is that I have begun using sogou, which enables me to type Chinese on a computer in any situation.

The second: I have begun reading my first real piece of Chinese literature. It is an essay by Li Dazhao, one of the main founders of the communist party in China and one of first who introduced Marxism to the country. The essay is called ‘You jingji shang jieshi zhongguo jindai sixiang biandong de yuanyin’ (由经济上解释中国近代思想变动的原因), or, loosely, ‘Explaining the Cause of Modern China’s Ideological Change on the Basis of the Economy’. You can find the essay at