Using Chinese idioms in writing

Rufous Hummingbird hovering around     Blueberry Blossoms

Here is an account of my recent encounter with a Rufous hummingbird. I have highlighted the popular four-character Chinese idioms featured in this article. It will also be good for you to look at how some of the adverbs and conjunctives are used in the sentences. are discussed in Chapters 17, 18 and 25 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes”.

又是大地回春, 万象更新的时节.
Yòu shì dàdì huíchūn wànxiàng gēngxīn de shíjié.
It’s that season again when the earth springs back to life anew.

园里的蓝莓灌木开满了小巧玲珑的白花儿.
Yuán li de lánméi guànmù kāi mǎn le xiǎoqiǎolínglóng de bái huār.
The blueberry bushes in the garden are full of little white blossoms.

蜜蜂穿梭其间采集花蜜及花粉.
Mìfēng chuānsuō qíjiān cǎijí huāmì jí huāfěn.
The bees go from one floweret to another to collect nectar and pollens.

偶尔也有蜂鸟光顾,
ǒu’ěr yě yǒu fēngniǎo guānggù,
Occasionally a hummingbird visits,

但是往往一眨眼就不见了.
dànshì wǎngwǎng yīzhǎyǎn jiù bùjiànle.
but it usually disappears in a blink of the eyes.

我一直希望能够录到蜂鸟的影片,
Wǒ yīzhí xīwàng nénggòu lù dào fēngniǎo de yǐngpiàn,
I’ve always wished to be able to capture a video the hummingbird,

但是没有闲空来守株待兔.
dànshì méiyǒu xiánkòng lái shǒuzhūdàitù
but I don’t have the time to sit there and wait for the bird to appear.

那天我正在为新种的蔬菜拍照,
Nǎtiān wǒ zhèngzài wèi xīn zhòng de shūcài pāizhào,
That day, while taking pictures of the newly planted vegetables,

忽然听到蜂鸟振翅的嗡嗡声.
hūrán tīngdào fēngniǎo zhèn chì de wēngwēng shēng.
I suddenly heard the hum of rapid flapping of wings.

我赶忙切换到录影模式,
Wǒ gǎnmáng qiēhuàn dào lùyǐng móshì,
I quickly switched to the video mode,

竟然录到了小蜂鸟吸允花蜜的景象,
jìngrán lù dào le xiǎo fēngniǎo xīyǔn huāmì de jǐngxiàng,
and actually captured a scene of the little hummer sucking nectar.

令我喜出望外.
lìng xǐchūwàngwài.
I was pleasantly surprised. (This gave me unexpected joy.)

想必你们也会替我高兴能够如愿以偿.
Xiǎngbì nǐmen yě huì tì wǒ gāoxìng nénggòu rúyuànyǐcháng.
I think you will also be happy for me for having had my wish fulfilled.

大地 (dàdì) is the earth or Mother Earth.
回春 (huíchūn) means returning to spring or bringing back to life.
万象 (wànxiàng) refers to all phenomena on earth.
更新 (gēngxīn) is to renew.
花蜜 (huāmì) is nectar.
花粉 (huāfěn) means pollen.
蓝莓 (lán méi) are blueberries.
小巧玲珑 (xiǎoqiǎolínglóng) means tiny and exquisite.
灌木 (guànmù) is a shrub or a bush.
蜜蜂 (mìfēng) are honeybees or bees in general.
穿梭 (chuānsuō) is to shuttle back and forth.
其间 (qíjiān), as used here, means “among them”.
偶尔 (ǒu’ěr) means occasionally.
蜂鸟 (fēngniǎo) are hummingbirds.
光顾 (guānggù) is to patronize.
往往 (wǎngwǎng) means often or frequently.
一眨眼 (yīzhǎyǎn) means in an eyewink.
不见了 (bùjiànle) is to disappear or to be missing.
一直 (yīzhí) as an adverb means all along or all the way.
希望 (xīwàng) is to hope or to expect.
(lù) is to record or to write down.
影片 (yǐngpiàn) is a movie or video clip.
闲空 (xiánkòng ) is spare time or leisure.
守株待兔 (shǒuzhūdàitù) describes a person standing by a tree stump to wait for hares to come and dash themselves against it. It means to wait for windfalls.
那天 (nǎtiān) means that day or a certain day.
蔬菜 (shūcài) are vegetables.
拍照 (pāizhào) is to take a picture.
忽然 (hūrán) means suddenly.
切换 (qiēhuàn) is to switch to a different mode.
录影 (lù yǐng) is to record a video.
模式 (móshì) is a mode or method.
竟然 (jìngrán) is an adverb that means unexpectedly.
吸允 (xī yǔn) is to suck up.
景象 (jǐngxiàng) is a scene or a sight.
喜出望外 (xǐchūwàngwài) is a common expression that means to be overjoyed or pleasantly surprised.
想必 (xiǎngbì) means “I think, most likely…”
如愿以偿 (rúyuànyǐcháng) is a common expression for having one’s wish fulfilled.

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Sing “Pearly Shells” in Chinese

Picked Blackberries

Picked Blackberries


Blue, blue my world is blue – the good kind of blue from the luscious blueberries (藍莓 lán méi) and blackberries (黑莓 hēi méi) in my yard begging to be picked. Duty-bound I don a white shirt with long sleeves, grab a 1 1/2 quart plastic container and head outside. It is my responsibility to unleash my gatherer instinct and free those anxious berries from their bondage to the same old bushes under the scorching sun.

What precision it takes to pluck each and every blackberry without being poked or scratched by the vicious thorns! And what delight it is to gently roll or rub a bunch of blueberries and nudge the ripe ones into the container! It does take some nerves, though, to work alongside the honeybees (蜜蜂 mìfēng) and not be intimidated by their constant buzzes and hums. My white shirt makes me basically invisible to these flying stingers. I just need to be careful not to pick from the same bunch the bees are after. Some of them zip around at lower elevations and bump into my long trousers once in a while.

An hour or so later, I come back inside with a quart of each kind of berries, fully intending to elevate their status to velvety berry sauces, to-die-for pies, or glistening jams and jellies. Alas, that is not to be. Eager hands fall upon the berries and plop them into eager mouths. Within minutes all berries are gone.

Oh well. Anyhow it’s too hot to be in the kitchen baking, canning or, for that matter, cooking. I stretch out on my favorite chair and dream about a vacation in Hawaii (夏威夷 xiàwēiyí). I imagine myself walking barefoot along the coastline, now and then picking up a seashell to admire. I come upon a group of adorable kids singing “Pearly Shells“. I smile and say, “Aloha!”

You might try singing the first part of this cute song in Chinese by substituting the English lyrics with the following lines.

小贝壳,来自海洋,
Xiǎo bèiké,láizì hǎiyáng,
Little shells that came from the ocean,

遍布沙滩上,
biànbù shātān shàng,
spread all over the sandy beach,

阳光下发亮.
yángguāng xià fāliàng.
glisten under the sunshine.

看见它们,
Kànjian tāmen,
Seeing them,

我心明白我爱的是你,
wǒ xīn míngbai wǒ ài de shì nǐ
my heart knows that the one I love is you,

尽管那些贝壳有多美丽.
jǐnguǎn nàxiē bèiké yǒu duō měilì.
despite the beauty of all the pearly shells.

来自 (láizì) means to come from a place. In Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes we came across this word while singing the phrase “I come from Alabama” in the song “Oh Susanna”. We use this word more often in writing than in speaking. Colloquially you would say “The little shells came from the ocean.” as follows:

小贝壳是从海洋来的.
Xiǎo bèiké shì cóng hǎiyáng lái de.

明白 (míngbai) as an adjective means clear or obvious. Used as a verb, it means to know, to understand or to realize, as shown in the following example.

现在我明白了.
Xiànzài wǒ míngbai le.
Now I understand.

You probably already know that “I love you” in Chinese is 我爱你 (Wǒ ài nǐ). 我爱的是你 (Wǒ ài de shì nǐ) emphasizes the choice of the person one loves. You would use this form when there is a doubt of which person you actually love and clarification is called for. When you need to clarify your intention or what you’ve just said, you could start the sentence with 我的意思是 (Wǒ de yìsī shì I mean, or what I meant is)

尽管 (jǐnguǎn), as used here, means “even though” or “in spite of”. This word also means “feel free to (do something)”, as shown in the following example:

不要担心. 你尽管去做.
Bùyào dānxīn. Nǐ jǐnguǎn qù zuò.
Don’t worry. Go ahead and do it.

祝夏安!
Zhù xià ān!
Have a nice summer!

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.

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

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“.

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