Understanding Discounts in China


In a local clothing store in Beijing, I was puzzled by this sign on many if the clothing rails. In English, this means 50% off. But I couldn’t understand why.

> 折, zhé, discount

It wasn’t so much the character 折 that confused me as how 5 could imply 50% off. I could understand 5% off but 50% seemed odd.

When used in this context, 5折 means 0.5 times the price, and hence the 50%. So in the photo above, an item of clothing costing 100RMB would now cost 50RMB, a good deal.

So here’s a test for you. If the original price for an item of clothing is 100RMB, what is the price after the discount advertised in the photo below?


If you answered 65RMB you would be correct. But you could just as easily have answered 35RMB which would be wrong, and leave you disappointed at the till.

When we advertise discounts in the UK we often talk about money off. So you often see signs for 20% off or 50% off. Here, the percentage value indicates the money saved. However in China 6.5折 indicates the final price after the discount has been applied. So, the price you pay is 65% of the original or, in this case, 65RMB. So the lower the displayed discount the better the deal.

So there you have it; Chinese discounts explained. Now you have no excuse for not picking out the best deals.

How is your Chinese?


“How is your Chinese?” Truth be told, I don’t know how to answer this question. In part it depends on who is asking. If you are an English speaking colleague for example, my Chinese is awesome. I may as well say I’m fluent. If you are a native speaker, I have to come out and admit that my Chinese is hopeless.

I have been learning Chinese on and off for longer than I can remember. I listened to my first Chinese podcast ([ChinesePod](http://chinesepod.com)) probably somewhere in the region of six years ago. Six years is a long time to be learning anything and still not have a feel for how you are doing. The truth is, when I stop and think about it, I’m surprised at how much progress I have actually made.

Sat here, in a café in Beijing (admittedly [one that serves a steak baguette](https://foursquare.com/v/alba/4b6a7b14f964a52073d62be3)), I can’t help but feel more than a little pleased with my progress. Buying a travel-card, topping it up, finding my way, ordering coffee, asking why there were so few people in the coffee shop, and finding out how many cups of coffee they’d expect to serve in a day, are just a few of the things I’ve accomplished, all without a word of English. A year ago, that would never have happened. So what has changed?

Last year I took a risk and cancelled my ChinesePod subscription. I had no podcasts to listen to, no practice sessions and generally felt as if I’d hit a dead end. For several months I debated a new approach in the hope that this would give my studies a much needed pick-me-up. In the end though, the pick-me-up came from an unexpected source: I simply started speaking more.

I don’t know what triggered it. It could have been the desire to keep my Mandarin going while in-between lessons, increasing opportunities to practise, or just that my [resident translator](http://alicialiu.co.uk/) decided enough was enough. Whatever it was, it has been the most significant boost to my Chinese for a long time.

I used to open my mouth and utter a few polite words, certainly nothing like a coherent sentence and would be met with full on praise for the fact that I could speak Chinese. Now, I stumble through something close to a sentence and am met with a response as if I was a native speaker. Gone are the niceties and the simplification. I’m just expected to understand. This has led to many a blank look and many a misunderstanding. I regularly have to admit defeat and ask for a translation. My language may not have improved, but I have certainly grown in confidence and it feels awesome.

I may just have found a way to break through the language learning plateau and start making progress again. It feels great to be back at the bottom of the ladder and starting to climb. If you have found yourself struggling to move forward, I’d highly recommend putting yourself out there and seeing how far you get with speaking, you’ll surprise yourself. When you do, please let us know how you get on.

Chinese Character Challenge: January Update

It has been a couple of weeks since I accepted the Chinese Character Challenge laid down by Olle on Hacking Chinese and I’m overdue on a public update on progress. Before I get in to the details of my progress to date, I should explain the challenge I’ve set myself.

I’m going to try (once again) to learn the first 1,500 characters using Remembering Simplified Hanzi by James W. Heisig. I’m starting at the beginning of the book with a clean Skritter account. By starting from scratch I’ll be covering old ground and so initially I expect progress to be quick but it won’t be long before I start hitting new characters. I’m hoping to crack some of my problem characters along the way. I’ve previously faltered as I’ve found various excuses to stop learning Chinese characters, but see this challenge as an opportunity to crack the first book.

Progress by the numbers:

  • Days Studied: 11/29
  • Hours Studied: 2
  • Minutes per Day: 4
  • Retention: 95.6%

What instantly stands out to me is how little time I’m spending on character study, just 4 minutes a day since I started. Admittedly that jumps to 11 minutes a day in the last week but that’s still not as high as I expected.

The key emphasis of the challenge is not to skip over any character you get wrong. Get it wrong and you need to re-visit your method for remembering the character. In order to help me stick to this rule, I’ve taken to modifying my Skritter mnemonic for every character I’ve got wrong. If I haven’t written a mnemonic, I write one; if I have, I amend it to better jog my memory.

Progress feels slow. I’m used to flicking through characters on The Underground but having to get my book out and review every time I get one wrong means I’m less inclined to do so. However, taking the time to document a mnemonic for every character I get wrong also seems to be having an effect. I appear to have cracked a couple of the problem characters and I’m still tracking above the target retention rate of 95%.

Skritter Progress, 21st Jan 2013

I’ll check back in a couple of weeks (I’m out of town for a bit) and will let you know how I’m getting on.

Chinese Character Challenge: Accepted

Over on Hacking Chinese, Olle Linge has challenged us all to take part in the Chinese Character Challenge.

This isn’t a new years resolution so you are not required to commit to learning ‘n’ characters per day. This challenge is to improve the way you learn Chinese characters, encouraging you to use a more sensible strategy than just simple repetition.

The characters I remember well are the ones that tell me a story. I’m easily forgetting even the simplest of characters if I can’t associate them with a story. Repetition does not work for me.

I have accepted the challenge and will be sharing both my experiences (and hopefully progress) over the coming weeks. If you too want to accept the challenge, please read Olle’s article in full before signing up.

Read Olle’s original article: Chinese character challenge: Towards a more sensible way of learning to write Chinese

Happy Christmas one and all. 祝你们都圣诞节快乐。

Happy Christmas one and all. 祝你们都圣诞节快乐。

My Mandarin Drought

I’ve been struggling to replace ChinesePod as my source of all things Mandarin and a month after my account expired, I’m anxious to do something to end my Mandarin drought.

Truth be told, I’m struggling to know where to turn. I have been studying online from day one and as a result my listening is better than my spoken Mandarin, which in turn is remarkably better than my non existent reading/writing ability. This isn’t a problem in itself and I can honestly say I’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning this way. It does, however, put me in a difficult position when deciding what to do next. Many courses, tutors, etc. expect you to have mastered all three equally.

So, what are my options?

  1. Go back to ChinesePod
  2. Sign up for a formal Mandarin course
  3. Find a personal Mandarin tutor
  4. Use alternative online study tools
  5. Find one or more language exchange partners
  6. Move to China
  7. Other…

Of course, these options are not mutually exclusive and whatever method I choose, it is highly likely that I will end up using a combination of the above to keep things interesting.

In determining how I want to take my studies forward, I’ve been thinking back to some of the best Chinese learning experiences I’ve had. Asking for directions, thinking I understood the directions and ending up hopelessly lost, coffee with my previous Chinese tutor in Shanghai, discovering the characters for ping pong (乒乓), being able to talk (in English) about Chinese current events. So many of these involve interaction with people. Human interaction is key and I think I need more of it.

When I began studying there were four main drivers behind studying online:

  • it was interesting
  • I could study in private
  • I could study anywhere
  • I could progress at my own pace

Online study was perfect for my lifestyle. I have often found myself based on an industrial estate, miles from civilisation with a laptop and a patchy mobile connection as my link to the wider world. Being stuck in a hotel is a great opportunity for private study, but not so good for committing to attending regular courses. Things have changed (for now). On Monday morning, I could be told to jump on a train and head out of town, but it’s unlikely. I’m fairly confident that I’m going to be in town for the rest of the year, and that opens up study possibilities.

I’ll be taking a closer look at the following two resources, as recommended by Eli Bildner of Tea Leaf Nation (For Those Coping With Mandarin Withdrawal, Two Tools That Can Help):

But I’m keen to hear your suggestions for; courses in London, podcasts, private tutors, or even language exchange partners. Leave a comment, or get in touch on any of the major social networks.