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!

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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