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:
Tā de gèr gāo.
He is tall.

But this sounds more conversational:
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.

Tā wàng zhe wān wān de yuèliang.
She looked at the crescent (curved) moon.

Tián li de xiǎomài lǜ yóu yóu.
The wheat plants in the field are glossy green.

Tā jìng jìng de zuò zài nàr.
She sits there quietly.

Tā fèn fèn de zǒu le.
She left in anger.

Tā hěn hěn de dèng le wǒ yī yǎn.
He scowled at me with vehemence.

Nǐ jí jí máng máng yào shàng nǎr?
Where are you going in such a hurry?

Wǒ qù wèn wèn tā.
I’ll go ask him.

Wǒ lái kǎo kǎo nǐ.
Let me give you a quiz.

Notice the use of (lái) in the above sentence. Think of Mighty Mouse’s singing, “Here I come to save a man!”

Wǒ qù chá chá kàn.
Let me go check on that.

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“.

Sing “The Moon Represents My Heart”

“The Moon Represents My Heart” is the title of a very popular Chinese song. This slow-paced song contains a good sample of various parts of speech and a number of different types of sentences. I think you will enjoy listening and singing this song as well as learning the Chinese verses in a most beautiful way. In fact, we have already covered the nouns, adjectives and adverbs used in this song. All you have to do today is to learn a few additional verbs.

You already know that 代表 (dàibiǎo) means to represent. When used as a noun, this word means a representative.

The words, (wèn to ask) and (dá), both feature the mouth radical, (kǒu). If you picture these two words as two person’s faces, which one appears to be more self-assured? A new term is formed when you put these two words together: 问答 (wèndá), which means questions and answers, or Q&A.

问题 (wèntí) can be interpreted as a question. In this sense, it means the same as 疑问 (yíwèn question or doubt). 问题 (wèntí) also refers to a problem or an issue.

Tā wèn wǒ yī gè wèntí.
She asks me a question.

Zhè shì yī gè dà wèntí.
This is a major issue.

Méi wèntí.
No problem.

询问 (xúnwèn) means to inquire or to obtain information about something. On the other hand, 质问 (zhìwèn) means to or to interrogate or grill someone.

问好 (wènhǎo) is to inquire about someone’s well-being, or to send regards to someone. 问候 (wènhòu) is also to extend greetings to someone (e.g. by asking what the weather is like over there).

(yí) and 移动 (yídòng) mean to move or shift. 移民 (yímín) means immigration, to emigrate, to immigrate, or an immigrant. It’s pure coincidence that the Chinese word sounds similar to the initial part of the English word.

(biàn) and 改变 (gǎibiàn) mean to change or transform. 变心 (biànxīn) is a change of heart with respect to being faithful to a lover.

打动 (dǎdòng) is to move or touch one’s heart.

(jiāo) means to teach or to instruct. When used as a noun, it is pronounced in the 4th tone, as in 教师 (jiàoshī instructor). (jiào) also used colloquially to mean “to make someone do something”. For example,

Jiào wǒ sīniàn dào rújīn.
Makes me think of it until today.

Jiào wǒ rúhé bù xiǎng tā.
How could you make me not miss her?
(This is actually the title of a well-known Chinese song.)

(qù) means to go, to leave, or to remove. As an adverb, this word indicates a motion away from you. It is the opposite of (lái come), which indicates a motion toward you. Therefore, 拿去 (ná qù) means to take (it) away, whereas拿来 (ná lái) means to bring (it) over here.

去年 (qùnián) is the year that has just passed, i.e. last year. You may also come across such an expression as 去冬 (qù dōng), which is an abbreviation for 去年冬天 (qùnián dōngtiān last winter). However, do not apply this scheme to other time periods. In fact, last month is 上个月 (shànggèyuè), and last week is上星期 (shàngxīngqī).

(xiǎng) means to think, to consider or to want to do something, or to miss somebody. It is customary to use a verb in the phrase pattern: verb + 一 (yī) + verb. Often the 一 (yī) is omitted.You could interpret the second occurrence of the verb as a noun. For example, 想一想, (xiǎng yī xiǎng) could be interpreted as “give it a thought”.

你去想一想, 这问题么办?
Nǐ qù xiǎng yī xiǎng, zhè wèntí zěnmebàn?
Go think about it; how to resolve this issue?

Ràng wǒ xiǎng xiǎng.
Let me think (it over).

(kàn) has various meanings, among them: see, look, examine, visit, consider, appear to be, keep watch on, and care for.

你去看一看, 他睡了没有?
Nǐ qù kàn yī kàn, tā shuì le méiyǒu?
Go take a look and see if he has gone to sleep.

You may wonder why the heart is likened to the moon in “The Moon Represents My Heart”. The heart connotes a hot, vibrant mass of energy, whereas the moon is that cool and detached object peering down at us from high above. Well, in this song, you are trying to respond to the question: “How much do you love me?” Instead of giving a direct answer, you ask your sweetheart to go think and see for himself or herself – Your true and unwavering love shines bright and clear in your heart just like the moon that constantly gleams in the sky. This is my own interpretation. If you have other thoughts, feel free to share them with us.

In Chinese poetry, the moon is often referred to as 明月 (míng yuè clear and shiny moon). The character (míng) has a sun on the left side and a moon on the right side. So it’s not surprising that it represents brightness and illumination. You may think of 明天 as the time when the sky becomes bright again, ie. tomorrow. In the broader sense, (míng) also represents enlightenment or clarity. For example,

Xiànzài wǒ míngbai le.
Now I understand.

Now, enjoy Teresa Teng’s lovely voice, but also pay attention to her clear and distinct enunciation. The video at this link has Chinese and English subtitles as well as the pronunciation aid.

The lyrics displayed on the video are in traditional Chinese characters. Click here to see the verses in simplified Chinese characters.

Will a western student of Chinese be able to handle this song with ease? Of course. Here’s proof.

As an exercise, check your Chinese dictionary for a few other characters that contain the radical (rì the sun). At this link there is a nice list of most of the Chinese radicals. Maybe you can show off what you have learned by filling some of the blanks at that site with a sentence or two of your own.

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