Sing Yiddish Song Tumbalalaika in Chinese


I came across an old Yiddish folk song “Tumbalalaika” and found the lyrics rather amusing. Are you the type who will quiz your future mate to scrutinize his or her intelligence or integrity? Or, will you, like most of us, simply fall head over heels for the one with whom you think you will live happily ever after? Compared to this tough question, perhaps learning Chinese isn’t so hard after all.

Here is my translation of a couple of the stanzas of the song. If you would like to read or sing along, please click on this link: Sing Tumbalalaika in Chinese.

少女,少女, 我请问你:
Shàonǚ, shàonǚ, wǒ qǐngwèn nǐ.
Maiden, maiden, may I ask you.

什么会成长, 但不用雨水?
Shénme huì chéngzhǎng, dàn bùyòng yǔshuǐ?
What can grow, but it needs no rain?

什么会燃烧, 永远不停息?
Shénme huì ránshāo, yǒngyuǎn bù tíngxī?
What burns forever and never will end?

什么会思念, 但不流泪?
Shénme huì sīniàn, dàn bù liú lèi?
Which thing can yearn, but sheds not a tear?

Tumbala, Tumbala, Tumbalalaika.

Tumbala, Tumbala, Tumbalalaika.

Tumbalalaika, 彈我們的琵琶.
Tumbalalaika, tán wǒmén de pípa.
Tumbalalaika, strum balalaika.

Tumbalalaika, 願我們快樂!
Tumbalalaika, yuàn wǒmén kuàilè!
Tumbalalaika, may we be happy!

少年, 少年, 这没问题.
Shàonián, shàonián, zhè méiwèntí.
Young man, young man, no problem at all.

岩石会成长, 但不用雨水.
Yánshí huì chéngzhǎng, dàn bùyòng yǔshuǐ.
A rock can grow, but it needs no rain.

爱情会燃烧, 永远不停息.
Àiqíng huì ránshāo, yǒngyuǎn bù tíngxī.
Love burns forever and never will end.

真心会思念, 但不流泪.
Zhēnxīn huì sīniàn, dàn bù liú lèi.
True heart can yearn, but sheds not a tear.

Tumbala, Tumbala, Tumbalalaika.

Tumbala, Tumbala, Tumbalalaika.

Tumbalalaika, 彈我們的琵琶.
Tumbalalaika, tán wǒmén de pípa.
Tumbalalaika, strum balalaika.

Tumbalalaika, 願我們快樂!
Tumbalalaika, yuàn wǒmén kuàilè!
Tumbalalaika, may we be happy!

In the above, the Chinese verses mostly parallel the English verses and should be easy to understand. Please note, however, that the 琵琶 (pípa pipa) and the balalaika are two different musical instruments. The balalaika has three strings. It was featured in the film “Dr. Zhivago”. On the other hand, pipa is a Chinese musical instrument that has four strings. I used this word as it rhymes with balalaika. I could as well have used 吉他 (jítā guitar) instead.

Another thing worth pointing out is that the Chinese expression for “will never” is phrased as “always will not”, namely 永远不 (yǒngyuǎn bù) or 永不 (yǒng bù) for short.

Please see “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes” for more songs and rhymes to sing or read in Chinese.

Gǎnēn jié kuàilè!
Happy Thanksgiving!

Directly and indirectly in Chinese

Diameter 直径 (zhíjìng)

Diameter 直径 (zhíjìng)

The opposite of (wān curved or bent) is (zhí), which means straight, directly, straightforward, upright or just.

直接 (zhíjiē) means direct, directly or immediately.

Nǐ kěyǐ zhíjiē hé tā liánluò.
You can contact him directly.

直达 (zhídá) means nonstop. Therefore, 直达车 (zhídá chē) is a bus that will go directly to the destination without making stops on the way.

We have previously (4/9/14) learned that 半径 (bànjìng) is the radius of a circular shape. The diameter is called 直径 (zhíjìng).

直流电 (zhíliúdiàn) is direct current. Alternating current is called 交流电 (jiāoliúdiàn).

直肠 (zhícháng) is the straight section of the large intestine, or rectum. On the other hand, 直肠子 (zhíchángzi) refers to a person who is straightforward and outspoken, or 直爽 (zhíshuǎng).

Tā gèxìng zhíshuǎng.
He is straightforward in personality.

You could also describe such a person by using a four-character Chinese idiom:

Tā xīnzhíkǒukuài.
He is frank and outspoken.

直截了当 (zhíjiéliǎodàng) means straightforward, blunt or pointblank.

Tā zhíjiéliǎodàng shuō tā bù ài tā.
He said pointblank that he did not love her.

As “he” and “she” sound exactly the same in Chinese, it will not be possible to tell whether a man is dumping a woman or a woman is dumping a man if you are not familiar with the situation and just heard someone utter the above sentence.

一直 (yīzhí) means continuously, always or all along.

Tā yīzhí bùtíng de kū.
She kept crying non-stop.

直到 (zhídào) means up until.

我永远爱你, 直到海枯石烂.
Wǒ yǒngyuǎn ài nǐ, zhídào hǎikūshílàn
I will love you forever, until the seas run dry and the rocks are totally eroded.

直觉 (zhíjué) is one’s intuition or gut feeling.

Wǒ de zhíjué shì tā méiyǒu chéngyì.
My gut feeling is that he is not sincere.

正直 (zhèngzhí) means honest, upright and fair.

理直气壮 (lǐzhíqìzhuàng) means acting bold and assured because one has justice on one’s side.

间接 (jiànjiē) means indirect or indirectly.

间隔 (jiàngé) is the interval between two events or the space separating two objects.

房间 (fángjiān) are rooms that are separated from each other by walls.

间断 (jiànduàn) means interrupted or disconnected.

我和他通信多年, 没有间断.
Wǒ hé tā tōngxìn duōnián, méiyǒu jiànduàn.
I corresponded with him for years without interruption.

中间 (zhōngjiān) means in the middle or being between two things or persons. Therefore, a middleman is called 中间人 (zhōngjiānrén), and a spy is called 间谍 (jiàndié).

“Directly” and “directly” are adverbs. You might want to review Chapter 17 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes” for the correct placement of an adverb in a sentence.

More about the Chinese character – Square

 3 squared equals 9.

3 squared equals 9.

Now we will discuss some of the extended meanings of (fāng).

First, a little math. 平方 (píngfāng) represents “squared”. Therefore 平方公尺 (píngfāng gōngchǐ) means square meters. In three-dimensional space we have 立方 (lìfāng), standing for a cubed quantity.

Sān de píngfāng shì jiǔ.
3 squared is 9.

In the above sentence, you could substitute 是 (shì is) with 等于 (děngyú equals).

An equation is called 方程式 (fāngchéngshì). This could be a mathematical equation or a chemical equation.

In so far as (fāng) means a direction or a side, it also represents an aspect of a matter or a party in a transaction.

方面 (fāngmiàn) means an aspect or a side of an issue.

Zhèi fāngmiàn wǒ bù hěn qīngchǔ.
I don’t know much about this aspect of the matter.

对方 (duìfāng) means the other party (the party opposite you).

Duìfāng tóngyì le ma?
Did the other party agree?

Shuāngfāng dōu tóngyì le.
Both parties agreed.

In a sales transaction, the purchasing party is referred to as 买方 (mǎifāng), while the seller is referred to as 卖方 (màifāng).

官方 (guānfāng) means official or pertaining to the government. 警方 (jǐngfāng) refers to the police.

(fāng) is also the abbreviation of 方法 (fāngfǎ), which means method or means.

Zhègè fāngfǎ bùcuò.
This method is not bad.

处方 (chǔfāng) is a prescription. Specifically, a medical prescription is called
药方 (yàofāng).

A 方案 (fāngàn) is a plan or a scheme.

比方说 (bǐfangshuō) means “as an example” or “for instance”.

(fāng), being square and not crooked, implies honesty and uprightness. This may be why it is used as a Chinese surname.

大方 (dàfang) means generous or gracious.

Tā de nǚpéngyou měilì yòu dàfang.
His girl friend is beautiful and gracious.

(fāng) can also be used as an adverb. 方才 (fāngcái) means just now and is synonymous with 刚才 (gāngcái).

Wǒ fāngcái kàndào tā.
I saw him just a moment ago.

(fāng) and (cái), when standing alone as an adverb, take on the meaning of “not until”. (fāng) is the formal version. Use (cái) in everyday speech.

Wǒ xiànzài cái zhīdào tā zhēnde ài wǒ.
Now I realize that he truly loves me.
(Hope it’s not too late.)

As an adjective 方便 (fāngbiàn) means convenient. As a verb, it means going to the lavatory.

Following are a few more commonly used words that take on the (fāng) radical.

仿 (fǎng) means to imitate, as in 模仿 (mófǎng), or to be like, as in 仿佛 (fǎngfú), which is a formal way of saying 好像 (hǎoxiàng).

(shī) is to hand out or to apply or carry out. In the sense of handing out, it is synonymous with the word (gěi to give).

(fāng), with the “grass” radical on top, means fragrant. It is a favorite character for girls’ names.

Money talks?

Louisa May Alcott, the author of “Little Women” once said, “Money is the root of all evil, and yet it is such a useful root that we cannot get on without it any more than we can without potatoes.” This sentiment is reflected in the following modern Chinese saying:

Āiqíng bùnéng dāng miànbāo.
Love cannot serve as bread.

(qián) is money. (yǒu) means “to have”. 有钱 (yǒuqián) means “to be rich”.

Tā yǒuqián.
He is rich.)

Yǒuqián rén zhù dà fángzi.
Rich people live in large houses.

Yǒuqián néng shǐ guǐ tuī mò.
If you’re rich, you could make the devil turn your millstones. (Money talks.)

Following is a way to ask for confirmation of a statement.

VI. c) Statement + “Yes or no?” or “Correct or not?” = Question

Tā yǒu hěn duō qián, shìbùshì?
He has a lot of money; yes or no?

你是美国人, 对不对?
Nĭ shì Měiguórén, duì bùduì?
You are an American, right or not?

Some people drop the last word from the above question format. For example:

你是中国人, 对不?
Nĭ shì Zhōngguórén, duì bù?
You are a Chinese, correct?

If someone is not rich, then you would say:

Tā méiyǒu qián.

没有 (méiyǒu not to have) is the negation of (yǒu). These two words also serve as auxiliary verbs to help form the past or perfect tense of other verbs. 没有 is oftened abbreviated as (méi).

Generally, to form the negation of an adjective or other verbs, you would add the word (bù no, not). For example:

他不高興. (Tā bù gāoxìng.) He is not pleased.
他不是. (Tā bùshì.) He is not.
他不喜欢. (Tā bù xǐhuān.) He does not like.
他不去. (Tā bù qù.) He won’t go.

Now, what does the following sentence mean?
他没有去. (Tā méiyǒu qù.)

It means: “He did not go.” Here, 没有 (méiyǒu have not) is used as an auxiliary verb to indicate that the action did not take place, or has not taken place.

Try and apply (bù no, not) and (méi have not) to the following action words, and make sure you fully understand the difference between these two terms.

(zǒu go, walk), 回家 (huíjiā go home), (zuò do), 打球 (dǎqiú hit/play ball), (gǎi change).

We are now ready to talk about another method you could use for forming a question.

VI. d) Add negation to a verb or an adjective to change a statement into a question.

The Chinese convey the uncertainty expressed through the use of “whether or not” by pairing the verb or adjective with its negation. For example,

Tā yǒu méiyǒu qián?
Is he rich?

Nĭ shì bù shì Měiguórénì?
Are you an American?

Tā gāoxìng bù gāoxìng?
Is he pleased?

You may add the interrogative particle (ne) at the end of this type of questions. Also, in such a question format, the first occurrence of a polysyllable word will often be represented by just the first character in the word. For example:

Tā gāo bù gāoxìng?
Is he pleased?

Tā zhī bù zhīdào ne?
Does he know?

If an auxiliary verb is used, then the negation is applied to the auxiliary verb rather than the main verb. For example:

Tā huìbùhuì shēngqì?
Will he get angry?

Nĭ yào bù yào dǎqiú?
Would you like to play ball?

Tā yǒu méiyǒu qù?
Did he go?

Yǒu méiyǒu xiàyǔ?
Did it rain?

Questions in the perfect tense can also be phrased as follows. In this case, do not add any interrogative particle at the end.

Tā qù le mé?
Has he gone?

Xiàyǔ le méi?
Has it begun to rain?

Soup, anyone?

Soups are an important part of Chinese meals. Whereas in western countries soup is usually served at the beginning of the meal, at a formal Chinese dinner the large soup bowl is normally presented as the last course. Sometimes, more than one soup would be served. In some Chinese provinces, people take so much pride in their soups that, when they invite a friend over for dinner, intead of saying:

Lái wǒ jiā chīfàn.
Come to my home to have a meal.

they would say:

Lái wǒ jiā hē tāng.
Come to my home to drink soup.

(fàn) is cooked rice. (mǐ) is raw, uncooked rice.
(chī) means to eat. (cháng) means to taste. 尝尝 (chángchang) is a colloquial way of saying “to taste a bit of”.
吃饭 (chīfàn) literally translates to “eat rice”, but this term genearlly means to have a meal.
(hē) means to drink. 喝水 (hē shuǐ) means to drink water.
(tāng) is a soup. Do you like 馄饨汤 (húntun tāng wonton soup)? (gēng) or 羹汤 (gēng tāng) is a thick soup, like a clam chowder or a bisque. (nóng) stands for thick, dense or creamy (when referring to a bisque).
(guō) is a pot or a pan used for cooking. So, 饭锅 (fàn guō) is a rice cooker, and 汤锅 (tāng guō) is a pot for cooking soup .
掀起 (xiān qǐ) is a verb that means to lift up.
(gài) is a cover or a lid. 锅盖 (guō gài) is the lid of a pot or pan. (gài) also serves as a verb that means to cover an object.
(ràng) means to let or to permit.
(xiāng) means good-tasting or good-smelling.
餐厅 (cāntīng) is a restaurant. 餐厅的 (cāntīng de) means “that which pertains to a restaurant”.
好像 (hǎoxiàng) means “seems like” or “be like”. 一样 (yīyàng) means the same, or equally alike. These two terms are often paired together when likening one thing to another.

Now, read the following sentences. Do you recognize our Sentence Patterns I and IV? If you would like to sing these lines to the tune of the lively “Lift your Veil” song, then repeat the last two lines.

Xiān qǐ nǐ de guōgài lái.
Lift up the lid of your wok.

Ràng wǒ chángchang nǐ de tāng.
Let me have a taste of your soup.

Nǐ de gēng tāng nóng yòu xiāng ya,
Your soup is so creamy and tasty.

Hǎoxiàng nà cāntīng de yīyàng hǎo.
It’s as good as that from a restaurant.
(Your soup is like that from a restaurant, both being equally good.)

When you watched the video for the 泥娃娃 (Ní Wáwa Clay Doll) song referred to in my last post, did you not wish that pinyin were displyed along with the Chinese lyrics? The good news is that, with a little work, you can make your own lyrics sheet to use when singing along with that song. So, here is your homework assignment for this week: Create a lyrics sheet for the 泥娃娃 (Ní Wáwa Clay Doll) song by putting all the relevant Chinese characters into a Windows Notepad file. Follow the above format for placing the lines of Chinese characters and the corresponding pinyin. Type in your own English translation as well. As I mentioned before, you will need to use the Save As function to save the text file in the UTF-8 format. With the printout laid before you, it will be easier for you to practice writing the Chinese characters and sentences by hand.

For the above exercise, you can find all the needed characters in my previous posts, except for (zhe). This character has multiple meanings and uses. What concerns us now is its function to help indicate the progressive tense. For example, 喝著 (hē zhe) means “to be drinking”, and 爱著 (ài zhe) means “to be loving”. Therefore, 我永远爱著她. (Wǒ yǒngyuǎn ài zhe tā) translates to: “I’ll be loving her always”.

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