Easy Colloquial Chinese Words

Blueberry Blossoms

Blueberry Blossoms

Classical Chinese, or 文言文 (wényán wén), is a written language. Its dry wording and terse format bear little resemblance to ordinary daily speech. It wasn’t until after scholars like Hu Shi actively promoted the written vernacular Chinese, or 白话文 (báihuà wén), in the early 20th Century that modern standard Chinese took root and became widely adopted by the Chinese people. Colloquial speech incorporates the essential padding that smooths out the flow of verbal communication. With computer keyboards, touch screens, speech to text conversion functions and Gigabytes of storage memory at hand, we can choose to be just as verbose in our written communication.

If you simply string together a bunch of Chinese words in a grammatically correct sentence, you should be able to get your idea across all right. However, your speech may still sound foreign or stiff, i.e. 生硬 (shēngyìng rigid, harsh). Today we will look at one way to help you speak a little more like a native Chinese. It involves saying certain words twice.

How would you describe the little bell-shaped flowers of the blueberry plant shown in the above picture? You could say:

蓝莓花小, 可爱.
Lán méi huā xiǎo, kěài.
The blueberry flowers are small; they are cute.

But this sounds more agreeable:
蓝莓花小小的, 很可爱.
Lán méi huā xiǎo xiǎo de, hěn kěài.
The blueberry flowers are rather small; they are cute.

Similarly, you could say:
他的个儿高.
Tā de gèr gāo.
He is tall.

But this sounds more conversational:
他的个儿高高的.
Tā de gèr gāo gāo de.
He is rather tall.

Following are a few more examples of how the repetition of certain words helps to relax one’s tone or to bring about an added effect.

红豆汤甜甜的, 很好吃
Hóngdòu tāng tián tián de, hěn hǎochí.
Red bean soup is kind of sweet and rather tasty.

她望着弯弯的月亮.
Tā wàng zhe wān wān de yuèliang.
She looked at the crescent (curved) moon.

田里的小麦绿油油.
Tián li de xiǎomài lǜ yóu yóu.
The wheat plants in the field are glossy green.

她静静地坐在那儿.
Tā jìng jìng de zuò zài nàr.
She sits there quietly.

她愤愤地走了.
Tā fèn fèn de zǒu le.
She left in anger.

他狠狠地瞪了我一眼.
Tā hěn hěn de dèng le wǒ yī yǎn.
He scowled at me with vehemence.

你急急忙忙要上哪儿?
Nǐ jí jí máng máng yào shàng nǎr?
Where are you going in such a hurry?

我去问问他.
Wǒ qù wèn wèn tā.
I’ll go ask him.

我来考考你.
Wǒ lái kǎo kǎo nǐ.
Let me give you a quiz.

我去查查看.
Wǒ qù chá chá kàn.
Let me go check on that.

我到外面散散步.
Wǒ dào wàimian sàn sàn bù.
I’m going out for a short walk.

While talking to other people in Chinese, you may pick up other words that are used in this manner. The above sentences feature repeated adjectives, adverbs and verbs. To review the correct placement of the various parts of speech in a sentence, please see Chapters 8 through 19 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes“.

The Red Cliff in Chinese

Some of you may have watched the movie titled “Red Cliff”. This film depicts a famous battle that took place in ancient China at 赤壁 (Chìbì Red Cliff). 赤壁之战 (Chìbì zhī zhàn Battle at the Red Cliff) has been much talked about among the Chinese through the ages because it demonstrates the possibility of victory of the ill-equipped few over the poweful many. Whether Zhuge Liang actually came up with the idea of using staw-stuffed decoys to “borrow” the enemies’ arrows, and whether he was actually able to summon the winds to fan the fire in the direction of the enemies, luck and ingenuity in strategy likely played a role in bringing about the success of his campaign.

(chì) is the formal word for the red color, and (bì) is a wall, or something that looks like a wall, such as a cliff.

他请人把墙壁修理好了.
Tā qǐng rén bǎ qiángbì xiūlǐ hǎo le.
He had the wall fixed by someone.

(zhàn) means war, warfare, battle or to fight. Warfare or a war are also referred to as 战争 (zhànzhēng). 战士 (zhàshì) is a soldier or a warrior. 作战 (zuòzhàn) is to do battle.

战士们在前线勇敢地作战.
Zhàshì men zài qiánxiàn yǒnggǎn de zuòzhàn.
The soldiers fight bravely at the front line.

The location of the battle can be referred to as 战场 (zhànchǎng battlefield), 战地 (zhàndì battleground), or 战区 (zhànqū war zone).

战略 (zhànlüè) is a strategy.

战败 (zhànbài) is to be defeated, and 战胜 (zhànshèng) is to triumph or to overcome. 战利品 (zhànlìpǐn) are the spoils of war.

战斗 (zhàndòu) also means to do battle. However, 战抖 (zhàndǒu) means to tremble or to shiver. You might associate shuddering with the fear of wars. So, 冷战 (lěngzhàn) has two meanings. It may refer to a cold war, or a bout of shivering.

挑战 (tiǎozhàn) means a challenge or to challenge.

我愿意接受这个新的挑战.
Wǒ yuànyì jiēshòu zhègè xīn de tiǎozhàn.
I’m willing to accept this new challenge.

(xú) means slowly or gently. (Notice the double-person word radical on the left side?) This character also serves as a common Chinse surname.

昨天我去见了徐先生.
Zuótiān wǒ qù jiàn le Xú xiānsheng.
Yesterday I went to see Mr. Xu.

In the 11th Century, 苏轼 (Sū Shì), a statesman of the Song Dynasty who was famous for his outstanding essays, poetry, paintings and calligraphy, came to visit the Red Cliff along with a friend. He documented this excursion in a composition titled 赤壁赋 (Chìbì Fù Poetic Essay on Chibi). As the small boat carrying him and the other tourists floated by the Red Cliff, 苏轼 (Sū Shì) took in the scenery. The calm ambiance was captured in this line:

清风徐来, 水波不兴.
Qīngfēng xú lái, shuǐ bō bùxīng.
A cool and refreshing breeze gently wafts over, rousing no waves.

(bō) are waves. 水波 (shuǐ bō) are water waves, while 电波 (diànbō) are electric waves.

不兴 (bùxīng) as used here is the negation of (xīng), which means to rise, to start, or to be popular.

The author, who was also known as 苏东坡 (Sū Dōng pō), then went on to comment on the battle at the Red Cliff and the vicissitude of life. When his friend sighed and felt sorry about the transient nature of life, the author comforted him with the observation that people are actually part of nature and when we enjoy and appreciate nature, at those moments nature truly belongs to us. The friend brightened up.

One of the advantages of studying classical Chinese is being able to appreciate great literature like 赤壁赋 (Chìbì Fù) in its original form. For those of you who believe they will need another lifetime in order to embark on such an endeavor, do not despair. Much of the wellk-nown Chinese literary pieces have been translated into modern Chinese. It’s just a matter of Googling for them.

Learn Chinese word radical – Double-person

If you cut (xíng to walk) vertically through the middle, the left side is (chì), representing a step forward with the left foot; and the right side is (chù), representing a step forward with the right foot.

Does the character for street, (jiē), make more sense to you now?

We’ve talked about the “person” word radical (rén). It is also known as the single-person radical, or 单人旁 (dānrénpáng). The (chì) radical, is also referred to as the double-person radical, 双人旁 (shuāngrénpáng), as it looks like a single-person radical stacked on top of another one. (páng side or other) refers to a lateral radical of a Chinese character.

Understandably, the (chì) is often found in words associated with walking or pathways.

(tú) means walking on foot, as in 徒步旅行 (túbùlǚxíng hiking). This word also has quite a few other meanings. It can represent a fellow, as in 徒弟 (túdì apprentice or disciple) and 歹徒 (dǎitú scoundrel, bad guy). It can mean a prison sentence, or 徒刑 (túxíng). In formal Chinese, it is also used as an adverb that means “merely” or “only” in a negative sense. For example, 徒劳无功 (túláowúgōng) means making an effort in vain.

(lǜ) means restraint or law and order. 法律 (fǎlǜ) is a law or a statute. 规律 (guīlǜ) can mean regulations or regularity.

我们必须遵守法律.
Wǒmén bìxū zūnshǒu fǎlǜ.
We must abide by the law.

(jìng) is a small path, a track or a way. 途径 (tújìng) is a way or a channel. When used figuratively, it refers to the means for doing something. 半径 (bànjìng) is the radius of a circular shape. What is the diameter called in Chinese?

径自 (jìngzì) means to take the liberty to do something, without permission or without consulting anyone.

他径自走进了市长的办公室.
Tā jìngzì zǒu jìn shìzhǎng bàngōngshì.
He walked into the mayor’s office uninvited.

徘徊 (páihuái) is to saunter back and forth. 彷徨 (pánghuáng) to waver and not know what to do.

他心里苦闷, 在街上徘徊了许久.
Tā xīnli kǔmèn, zài jiē shàng páihuái le xǔjiǔ.
He felt dejected, and moseyed up and down the street for a good while.

(zhēng) is to go on an expedition or going to a battle. In the Simplified Chinese system, this word also means to levy taxes, i.e. 征税 (zhēngshuì), to draft men for military service, i.e., 征兵 (zhēng bīng), or to solicit job applicants. In addition, it also refers to an evidence or a sign.

Are you looking for a job? If so, pay attention when you hear something like this:

那家百货公司正在征求店员.
Nèijiā bǎihuò gōngsī zhèngzài zhēngqiú diànyuán.
That department store is looking for salesclerks.

白鸽象征和平.
Bái gē xiàngzhēng hépíng.
Doves symbolize peace.

(yì) means labour or service. 服役 (fúyì) is to be on active military service.

(dài) also has multiple meanings. 等待 (děngdài) means to wait for someone or something. 对待 (duìdài) means to treat or deal with a person or to approach a matter. 接待 (jiēdài) is to receive or admit a guest.

(hěn) is an adverb that means very or quite.

我很不高兴你这样对待她.
Wǒ hěn bù gāoxìng nǐ zhèyàng duìdài tā.
I’m very unhappy with the way you treat her.

(dé) means to get, to obtain, or to gain. So, 得分 (défēn)
means to score in a ball game or in popularity.

(yǎn) means to spread out or smear over.
The phrase 敷衍了事 (fūyanliǎoshì) means doing something perfunctorily.

千万不要敷衍了事.
Qiānwàn bùyào fūyanliǎoshì.
Absolutely don’t just muddle through this task.

FYI, you would have had a few more commonly used Chinese words to study this week had they not lost their double-person radical in the Simplified Chinese System.

Sing Chinese Song of Tai-Hu Boat

Now that you know how to say (xíng), let’s sing a well-known Chinese song in which this word is prominently featured.

太湖船 (Tàihú Chuán Boat on Lake Tai) is a song about a large lake located near Shanghai, China. Some information about the lake is provided by Wikipedia.

The following link will take you to a video featuring this song.

When singing or listening to the short and sweet verses of this song, picture yourself sitting leisurely in a small boat gliding along on Lake Tai. When singing or listening to the short and sweet verses of this song, picture yourself sitting leisurely in a small boat gliding along on Lake Tai. I searched through Henry Li’s Chinese painting videos on YouTube and came upon one at this link that is related to a boat. About 12 minutes and 8 seconds into the demonstration, the fishing boat is finally introduced. In my opinion, it is this tiny speck that breathes life onto the landscape painting.

山青水明幽静静.
Shān qīng shuǐ míng yōu jìng jìng.
In the tranquility by the green mountains and the clear water,

湖心飘来风一阵呀.
Hú xīn piāo lái fēng yīzhèn ya.
a breeze wafts over from the center of the lake.

行呀行呀, 进呀进.
Xíng ya xíng ya, jìn ya jìn.
Going, going; moving on.

黄昏时候人行少.
Huánghūn shíhòu rén xíng shǎo.
In the twilight few people are around.

半空月影水面摇呀.
Bàn kòng yuè yǐng shuǐmiàn yáo ya.
The image of the half-risen moon shimmers on the surface of the water.

行呀行呀, 进呀进.
Xíng ya xíng ya, jìn ya jìn.
Going, going; moving on.

(shān) is a mountain of a hill. (qīng) can mean green or blue. It represents young crops and young people.

(shuǐ) is water or bodies of water. (míng) features both a sun and a moon. It represents brightness and clarity.

(jìng) means quiet, still or calm. 安靜 (ānjìng) means quiet and peaceful. 幽靜 (yōujìng) means quiet and secluded. 平静 (píngjìng) means calm and quiet. These words can also serve as nouns.

On the second line, some people sing 湖上 (hú shàng on the lake) instead of 湖心 (hú xīn center of the lake).

We’ve encountered 飘来 (piāo lái wafting towards you) in the Laura Lee song we sang a couple weeks ago.

Normally you would say 一阵风 (yīzhèn fēng) for a waft of wind or a gust of wind. Sometimes the order is reversed to create a special effect.

黄昏 (huánghūn) is dusk or twilight.

In the third tone, (shǎo) means few or little.

半空 (bàn kòng) means half way in the sky, or mid-air.

(yǐng) is a shadow or a reflection. 月影 (yuè yǐng) is the image of the moon.

Now here is a Chinese saying that involves a boat moving not so smoothly but against the currents:

学如逆水行舟, 不进则退.
Xué rú nìshnì shuǐ xíngzhōu, bùjìnzétuì.
Studying is like rowing a boat upstream – If you don’t forge ahead, you will drop back.

Indeed, learning Chinese could feel like a Sisyphean task. You will need to keep up the effort so as not to regress.

March in Chinese

水仙花 (shuǐxiàn huā) Daffodils

水仙花 (shuǐxiàn huā) Daffodils


If you know that (yuè) stands for “month”, and you can count to 12 in Chinese, then you know how to say the names of the twelve months in Chinese. March is the third month of a year. Therefore, it is called 三月 (sānyuè). Last year about this time we learned a song called 三月里的小雨 (Sānyuè Li De Xiǎoyǔ Light Rain in March). If you would like to review that lesson, here is a quick link.

In English, to march means to walk forward or to advance with determination. The corresponding Chinese word is (xíng), which happens to have a number of other meanings as well.

行军 (xíngjūn) refers to the marching of troops.

行人 (xíngrén) are pedestrians. 人行道 (rénxíngdào) is a walkway for people, i.e. a sidewalk or pavement. A one-way road is called 单行线 (dānxíngxiàn).

自行车 (zìxíngchē) and 脚踏车 (jiǎotàchē) both refer to a bicycle.

旅行 (lǚxíng) is a journey or travel. You can also use this word as a verb. 旅行社 (lǚxíng shè) is a travel agency. You might contact them to arrange a plane ticket or to inquire about joining a 旅行团 (lǚxíng tuán tourist group).

我们打算参加旅行团到日本去玩.
Wǒmén dǎsuàn cānjiā lǚxíng tuán dào rìběn qù wán.
We plan to join a travel group to tour Japan.

送行 (sòngxíng) is to see someone off. 行程 (xíngchéng) is an itinerary or the distance of travel.

行李 (xínglǐ) means luggage or baggage. This is not to be confused with 行礼 (xínglǐ to salute), in which (xíng) means “to do”. Following are a few other examples of using the word in this sense.

实行 (shíxíng) means to carry out or to execute a plan or a policy. 行为 (xíngwéi) means behavior or conduct.

进行 (jìnxíng) means to march on or to be in progress. It also means to get on a task.

警方正在进行调查.
Jǐngfāng zhèngzài jìnxíng diàochá.
The police are conducting an investigation.

Many people say “ (xíng)!” instead of “ (hǎo)!” for “All right.” Or “Okay.” Correspondingly, if they say ” 不行 (bùxíng)”, that means they are refusing your request (no go).

行不通 (xíngbùtōng) means going nowhere.

这样做是行不通的.
Zhèyàng zuò shì xíngbùtōng de.
This won’t do. (This won’t work.)

(xíng) also means being competent or capable.

他在音乐方面很行.
Tā zài yīnyuè fāngmiàn hěn xíng.
He is good at music.

When pronounced as (háng), this word means a row, or the seniority among siblings. It also means a trade or line of business. Please review the discussion posted on 12/7/11.

内行 (nèiháng) means being adept at a task or knowledgeable about a subject matter.

If your friends are chagrined that their offspring refuses to study to become a doctor or a lawyer, but instead chooses literature or art, you could comfort them with this Chinese saying:

三百六十行, 行行出状元.
Sān bǎi liù shí háng, háng háng chū zhuàngyuan.
One could achieve greatness in any one of the 360 (i.e. very many) trades.

状元 (zhuàngyuan) is one who earned the top grade in the highest imperial examination in old China. This term refers to the very best in any field. Who knows? Your friends’ son or daughter just might make it big as a writer or an artist.

Sing Aura Lee in Chinese

桃花 (táohuā) Peach Blossoms

桃花 (táohuā) Peach Blossoms


Spring is just around the corner. I hope this blog post finds you with a twinkle in your eyes, a smile on your face and a spring in your steps, ready to conquer the world and take on the challenge of studying Chinese.

Unbeknown to you, I made a New Year resolution for you, namely to learn to sing a song or two in Chinese by the end of this year. There are many simple songs you can choose from the “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes” book, and we have talked about quite a number of other songs in my past blog posts. If you are able to record your performance, we hope you will share it with us by providing the link to your video or audio file.

Here is a traditional song that might help put you in the mood for the season. The lyrics for “Aura Lee” were written by W. W. Fosdick and the music was composed by George R. Poulton. You can download an audio file for the melody from the Microsoft OneDrive site at this link.

The first stanza of the original lyrics goes like this:

When the blackbird in the Spring
‘On the willow tree.
Sat and rocked, I heard him sing,
Singing Aura Lee.
Aura Lee, Aura Lee,
Maid with golden hair.
Sunshine came along with thee,
And swallows in the air.

As you know, Elvis Presley changed the verses of this song and turned “Love Me Tender” into a hit.

Following is my Chinese translation.

春风飘来, 桃花迎,
Chūnfēng piāo lái, táohuā yíng.
Peach blossoms cheer the breezy spring.

湖面起涟漪.
Hú miàn qǐ liányī
Ripples dance in glee.

枝头小鸟诉衷情,
Zhī tóu xiǎoniǎo sù zhōngqíng,
The bird on the treetop heartily sings

歌颂欧儿丽.
gēsòng Ōu Ér Lì.
in praise of Aura Lee.

欧儿丽, 欧儿丽,
Ōu Ér Lì, Ōu Ér Lì.
Aura Lee, Aura Lee.

金发多秀美!
Jīn fǎ duō xiùměi!
How fine your golden hair!

阳光照耀在大地,
Yángguāng zhàoyào zài dàdì,
Sunshine glistens in the fields,

燕儿漫天飞.
yànr màntiān fēi.
and swallows fill the air.

The following word list is for your reference. If you’ve been following this blog, you will find that you already know most of the words used in this song. Congratulations!

春风 (chūnfēng) is a breeze in the spring. It also refers to happiness. 飘来 (piāo lái) describes how the breeze wafts towards you.

(yíng) or 欢迎 (huānyíng) is to greet or to welcome.

Here, (miàn) is a surface, and 湖面 (Hú miàn) is the surface of a lake.

(qǐ) is to rise, to raise, to appear or cause to happen. 涟漪 (liányī) are ripples.

枝头小鸟 (Zhī tóu xiǎoniǎo) is a commonly used term referring to a bird or birds perching on the treetop.

(sù) is to tell or to tell of. 衷情 (zhōngqíng) are one’s inner feelings. If instead of 诉衷情, you prefer to sing 唱不停 (chàng bùtíng to sing incessantly), be my guest.

歌颂 (gēsòng) is to sing the praises of someone.
金发 (jīn fǎ) refers to blond hair.
秀美 (xiùměi) means elegantly beautiful.
阳光 (yángguāng) is sunshine.
照耀 (zhàoyào) is to shine or to illuminate.
大地 (dàdì) is the earth.
燕儿 (yànr), or 燕子 (yànzi), are swallows.
(màn) means all over the place.
(tiān) is the sky or a day.
(fēi) is to fly.

Learn Chinese word radical – Leather / Hide

The Chinese word for leather or hide is 皮革 (pígé).

(pí) means skin, leather or a thin layer of some material (such as a dumpling wrapper). It is also the abbreviation for 顽皮 (wánpí naughty).

When referring to human skin, say 皮肤 (pífū).

他的皮肤上长了湿疹.
Tā de pífū shàng zhǎng le shīzhěn.
There is eczema on his skin.

脸皮 (liǎnpí) refers to the face or the cheeks. So, 厚脸皮 (hòuliǎnpí) means thick-skinned or cheeky.

皮球 (píqiú) are rubber balls. Rubber is 橡皮 (xiàngpí). Rubber bands are called 橡皮筋 (xiàngpí jīn).

(gé) means leather, hide or to remove or expel.

革除 (géchú) is to get rid of or to abolish. One might talk about removing
不良分子 (bùliáng fènzǐ undesirable members) or getting rid of 不良习惯 (bùliáng xíguàn a bad habit)

改革 (gǎigé) is to reform. A land reform is called 土地改革 (tǔdìgǎigé). 革命 (gémìng) is more drastic – a revolution.

As expected, the (gé) radical appears in words related to leather goods.

(xié) are shoes. 皮鞋 (píxié) are leather shoes. (xuē) are boots.

(biān) is a whip. As a verb, it means to whip.

(bǎ) is the target in target shooting. It used to be made of leather.

(qiào) is a scabbard, such as for a sword.

(lè) is to strap or to rein in. We talked about 悬崖勒马 (xuányálèmǎ) previously while discussing the “mountain” radical.

(jī) is a bridle. As a verb, it means to control or to restrain. 傲慢不羁 (àomànbùjī) describes a person who is haughty and impudent.

我不欣赏他傲慢不羁的态度.
Wǒ bù xīnshǎng tā àomànbùjī de tàidu.
I don’t appreciate his arrogant manner.

(bà) is an overlord, a tyrant or a bully. 霸道 (bàdao) is the way of ruling by might. As an adjective, it means overbearing.

不要让孩子霸道.
Bùyào ràng háizǐ bàdao.
Don’t let the kid behave like a bully.

Now, the English word “hide” also means to conceal. This is not the case in Chinese. (cáng) is the word for hiding, concealing or storing away.

她把储蓄藏在床垫下面.
Tā bǎ chǔxù cáng zài chuángdiàn xiàmian.
She hides her savings under the mattress.

When pronounced as (zàng), this word refers to a depository or storage place. Tibet is called 西藏 (xīzàng).

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