Even if you’ve only been living in China for a short while, chances are that you’ve acquired a couple of super-useful phrases that just don’t quite translate into your native tongue. As English speakers, here are our favorite examples:
麻烦 – Máfan
“Ugh, it’s just so much mafan” is a phrase you’ll hear many a Chinese expat saying, mafan translates to ‘troublesome,’ but as ‘troublesome’ is quite an outdated word in English, there’s no good contemporary translation. Mafan can be used to describe an annoying/impractical situation, thing, or person. 太麻烦了 – Tài máfanle, literally meaning too much mafan, could be translated as ‘Can’t be arsed’.
差不多 – Chàbùduō
This translates literally to ‘different not much.’ meaning ‘roughly/almost/about the same.’ On a scale going from the complete opposite to kind of similar, to pretty similar, to exactly the same, chabuduo would fit in just before ‘exactly the same.’
Aiya is not technically a word, it’s more of a verbal ‘tsk,’ or a ‘tut,’ or shake of the head, and expresses general exasperation. I find myself using this in whatever language I’m speaking in – and even if my interlocutors don’t speak Mandarin, they get my meaning. Alternatively, this can also be used to express excitement and surprise, or as a cry of adoration at something super cute.
随便 – Suíbiàn
This has many meanings, but pretty much means ‘do as you please,’ ‘as one pleases,’ or simply, ‘it’s all good for me.’ Basically, ‘whatever.’ 随 suí can also be added to other things such as time and place. For example, 随时 (suíshí) anytime, 随地 (suídì) anywhere.
慢走 – Màn zǒu
This handy little phrase literally means ‘walk slowly’ (慢 màn = slow, 走 zǒu = walk), but in reality, it has many other meanings. You’ll hear it most often when leaving shops, or leaving somebody’s house as a guest. It is a nice way of saying goodbye to somebody, e.g. ‘take it easy.’ ‘have a nice trip.’
Bonus phrase: 加油 – Jiā yóu
Speaking of Chinese words that should exist in English… Well, this one actually does, officially at least. Earlier this year the Oxford English Dictionary added jia you into the dictionary. Literally meaning ‘add oil,’ it’s real meaning is far from this. It is simply a way to encourage somebody, e.g. ‘You can do it!’ ‘Go on!’ ‘Don’t give up!’
If English isn’t your first tongue, do equivalents to any of these phrases exist in your native language? And what other Chinese phrases do you wish you could use all the time? Tell us in the comments section below.
Learning Chinese can be a real pain in the pigu.
Get some common idioms under your belt, here.
Photos: news.hallacura.com, Giphy