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How things "work"


Suggested Difficulty (Elementary etc): Intermediate?
Video or Audio: Video always is great but audio is no slouch
Lesson Idea: Hi @Constance_Fang and Team,

Hey guys,

So one of the things which slows down and terminates the flow of speech for me is the little mental research project I have to do when I want to communicate that something is not “working.” I am aware of almost no circumstances in Chinese where a thing “works” or does not “work” (correct me if I am wrong.) I have spoken to educated and fluent speakers of Mandarin on this and have been told the mark of a foreigner or a Chinese person who has lost their ability to speak mandarin correctly is someone who says a device “不工作.” In my experience you have to find the context or noun specific verb that goes with the narrow meaning you want. A car does not “not work,” rather it has to "不開“ or some other verb which couples with the specific thing that is wrong with it. Another example; I have an electric kettle. It isn’t “working.” Now in English that could mean a dozen things. It could mean it doesn’t turn on. It could mean it heats the water halfway but no more. It could mean it heats the water but makes a disturbing sound while doing so. The declaration that something is not “working” often is followed by the listener asking “what exactly isn’t working,” with a little explanation to follow, but in each circumstances the catch-all often suffices. Obviously this creates a very specific and daunting challenge to the English brain when speaking Chinese which is used to the ever-present option of using the catch-all “work.” Do you guys have a Qing Wen on this? If not it might be useful to have a Qing Wen with a dozen or so sentences for common appliances or machines: “the pencil is not working” (the mechanical pencil does not dispense lead) “the pen isn’t working” (the pen is out of ink) “the computer is not working” (it is frozen, or pick a series of problems.) The key is to present a core mass of verbs which can be applied to many different circumstances. If that cannot be done then I know I would love to have a giant list of sentences with “not working” circumstances communicated with correct noun-verb combos.



Thanks @forrestmcsweeney. I’ve passed it along and we’ll see if it’s a good idea for a video Qing Wen.


The chinese language has its own logic which is different from the logic of our western languages. English and french have more or less the same logic. But english and chinese definetely not. So to think in english and then translate in chinese may cause a lot of mistakes and misunderstanding. There is not a one to one concordance between english words and chinese words.

The more flagrant example is the word Yes. This word obviously exists in most languages

yes oui ja si sim tha ναί да evet iva हां

but in chinese there is not such a word. In my french-chinese dictionary they gives the translation 是 but in most cases it doesn’t work. (A dictionary must give a translation to that word otherwise the user may feel frustrated.:disappointed:)

你是不是法国人?是 OK it works but
你有没有钱?是 is abstruse ???.
你去过中国吗?是 ???
你懂不懂?是 ???

In your example 工作 has to do with job and the semantic field of this word is more restrictive than to work in english, in my previous sentence the word work may be translated as 合适 appropriate.

The following example is interesting :
My computer does not work !
In this sentence the fact that the computer is not 运转 working is translated by a resultative verb 不灵 and了 anymore indicates a change of state it worked before but now it does not work anymore.