Matt Andrews
Software engineer making apps – that aren’t apps – and more at the FT. 会说汉语.

The importance of tones in Mandarin Chinese

When I was last in China I visited the small city (by Chinese standards – with a population of just 5.7 million) of Hefei in Anhui province. The person I was with was not a particularly proficient user of either chopsticks or Mandarin so as we ate breakfast I asked the waitress “Can you get us knives and forks?“. She walked over toward the kitchen, then came back and poured us two cups of tea.

Actually what I had said was 来刀叉可以吗?Which literally translates to bring knife fork, is it possible? But it turns out 来到茶可以吗?(Bring & pour tea, is it possible?) sounds almost identical.

刀叉 dāo chā – knife and fork.
倒茶 dào chá – pour tea.


上次去中国我去了安徽合肥(一个小城市:人口只有5.7亿)。 因为我的旅友不但不会说普通话而且不会用筷子,所以我们有一次吃早饭时我对服务员说,”来刀叉可以吗?”。她往厨房走,然后她回来的时候给我们饭桌倒了两杯茶…