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 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.

Shān qīng shuǐ míng yōu jìng jìng.
In the tranquility by the green mountains and the clear water,

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.

Huánghūn shíhòu rén xíng shǎo.
In the twilight few people are around.

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.

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