11 Chinese Phrases You'll Keep Saying Long After You Leave China

11 Chinese Phrases You'll Keep Saying Long After You Leave China
Oct 14, 2015 By August Hatch

When it comes to studying Chinese or any other language, “use it or lose it” is often the motto used to describe the decay of vocabulary over time. But even long after a person who has studied Chinese leaves China and stops practicing, certain words and phrases will stick in his or her brain. Here’s a list of 10 such terms you’ll continue to rattle off long after you stop using Chinese. Apologies to our more vulgar readers, as this list excludes obscenities.

1) dou keyi (都可以)
Dou keyi comes in handy often because there's not really an English equivalent. It roughly translates to "both are okay" or "all are acceptable." Whenever you're given a choice between two perfectly acceptable options, dou keyi just sounds nicer and chirpier than saying "whatever."

Example: A: Do you want to go to the park or just stay in and eat Cheetos today? B: Dou keyi! Those both sound good

2) suibian (随便)
Closely related to dou keyi, suibian is the moody, angsty translation of "whatever." Lacking the positive connotation of dou keyi, it gives an impression more of resignation than enthusiasm.

Example: A: Do you prefer the wood flooring or the linoleum? B: Suibian. I really don't care.

3) meishi/meiwenti (没事/没问题)
The Chinese equivalent of "no problem" comes in two similar but not identical forms. Meishi translates more closely to "no matter" and is used for small things that we can easily look past. Meiwenti is more often used when encountering an actual slight, obstacle, or mistake. They can often be used interchangeably, and most people tend to lean more toward one or the other. And for the Beijingers out there, you may be more accustomed to hearing meishi'r (没事儿) in the hutongs.

Example: A: I'm going to be late to the meeting. B: Meiwenti, we don't really need you anyway.

4) bu zhidao (不知道)
Simply, I don't know, this phrase becomes emblazoned onto the brains of all foreigners in China because we so often use it both in Chinese class and in daily life. It's a phrase we so often repeat that it remains lodged in our everyday vocabulary even long after we depart. One fun tidbit is that this phrase is probably the easiest way to pinpoint where a person learned Chinese, as the pronunciation is heavily influenced by local accents (i.e. "zi-dao" sounds more southern while "zher-dao" sounds more northern).

Example: A: How does Einstein's theory of relativity work? B: Bu zhidao, I suck at science.

5)meiyou (没有)
Remember how hilarious it was the first time you went to a Subway sandwich shop in China and you snickered when you finally got the chance to say, "meiyou mayo"? Seems a lot less funny now, right? Now it's just an alternative way to say "don't have" that you can't seem to shake from your tongue.

Example: A: Do we have any mayonnaise left? B: Meiyou, I used it all to make cole slaw.

6) zhende ma? (真的吗)
Every expat in China knows at least one other annoying expat who constantly repeats the phrase, "zhende ma?" in place of the English meaning, "really?" If you don't, then that person is probably you.

Example: A: Jerry just go into Harvard on a full-ride scholarship. B: Zhende ma? I thought that guy was an idiot.

7) xiao pangzi (小胖子)
In most English-speaking societies, it's impolite to call someone else's child fat. But in China, fat kids are just cute, blubbery little xiao pangzis. Literally translating to "little fat person," xiao pangzi is a term of affection rather than an insult. When you're out of China, it's a great way to comment on childhood obesity without sounding crass.

Example: A: Look at that kid eating butter! B: Aw, what a xiao pangzi!

8) wasai! (哇塞)
As a foreigner in China, you probably first heard this exclamation when you either did something really impressive, stupid, or crass. Wasai literally translates to "wow", but it's way more fun to say.

Example: A: Check out this Youku video of a Beijing traffic jam. B: Wasai! That's really bad.

9) ganbei (干杯)
Toasting friends at parties in another language is one of the best ways to show off how cultured you've become after a two-month study abroad course. It literally translates to "dry cup." Just don't confuse ganbei, which means "cheers," with ganle, which means "bottoms up."

Example: A: Peter finally showed up with the vodka. B: About time! Ganbei!

10) jiayou (加油)
Jiayou literally means "add oil", but the idiom translates more closely to "come on" or "keep going." It's the most common cheer you'll hear in China, so don't be surprised if it slips from your lips while watching the next football game.

Example: A: I can't go on. Leave me here to die. B: You can make it! Jiayou!

11) chabuduo (差不多)
Chabuduo literally translates as "the difference is not much", or in a less wordy way: "similar." While the three characters together have a familiar meaning to most people who have studied Chinese, most of them probably can't remember how to use cha by itself in a sentence.

Example: A: What's the difference between Pepsi and Coke? B: Chabuduo, but Pepsi is superior.

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Keywords: Chinese phrases list pander Chinese vocabulary

14 Comments

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1

theused36
comment|66219|1604398

Nihao?

Nov 07, 2015 17:54 Report Abuse

2

umzung
comment|66162|1578984

Shenme?

Nov 06, 2015 09:23 Report Abuse

3

Guest2503130
comment|65737|278125

bu hui kan zhongwen!

Oct 22, 2015 06:23 Report Abuse

4

Ambinina
comment|65671|112107

mei banfa should be on that list!!!!

Oct 20, 2015 15:57 Report Abuse

5

walternc3
comment|65669|238170

I've think taiguile is much more common than xiaopangzi

Oct 20, 2015 13:11 Report Abuse

6

packers
comment|65632|1601352

Great list. Keep em coming

Oct 19, 2015 11:46 Report Abuse

7

minorthang
comment|65592|1574458

more of these for intermediate speakers pls , always useful

Oct 16, 2015 12:42 Report Abuse

8

hassanihussaini
comment|65566|239341

You really forgot - "ShenJingBing"

Oct 15, 2015 16:49 Report Abuse

9

Guest2650392
comment|65563|294488

How can you leave this out? L A O W A I....the satisfaction from screaming that in their face...hmmm...

Oct 15, 2015 11:02 Report Abuse

10

bill8899
comment|65523|81937

This is great. Thanks mate.

Oct 14, 2015 21:14 Report Abuse

11

kuntmans
comment|65519|307009

That's too bloody mafan. Totally bu xing. Let's just mai the dan and go find some mei nü's

Oct 14, 2015 19:28 Report Abuse

12

Karajorma
comment|65598|86810

I can't believe they forgot tai ma fan.

Oct 16, 2015 14:35 Report Abuse

13

sharifmy
comment|65509|259313

Great way of learning via making a links with something that is familiar to you. Here is my very first phrase I learnt "door shower chain" i.e that I go to the bathroom close the DOOR have a SHOWER and pull the CHAIN of toilet! All this means is HOW MUCH...

Oct 14, 2015 08:02 Report Abuse

14

Guest388182
comment|65508|43131

Fa Kin Lei Mas

Oct 14, 2015 06:05 Report Abuse