Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Chinese Proverb: Easier said than done

Below is the Chinese language version of the English proverb “Easier said than done”.


(Shuō qǐlái róngyì, zuò qǐlái nán)

Here is the breakdown of individual characters:

(shuō): to say

容易(róngyì): easy

(zuò): to do

(nán): difficult

As you might be able to tell by now, 起来 (qǐlái) is used to indicate impressions. Here are couple other examples:

起来不错(kàn qǐlái bu cuò): Looks ok

起来好玩儿(tīng qǐlái hǎowán er): Sounds fun

(kàn): to see

(tīng): to listen

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The king of all Tongue Twisters

Maybe you didn’t believe me when I said that tones are important in Chinese language, so I have this tongue twister for you. I think this is the king of all tongue twisters.

Lion-eating poet in the stone den was written by Zhao Yua Ren to highlight the importance of Chinese characters. He wrote this 93 words long story, with all the words pronounced shi (in various tones), to prove that replacing Chinese characters with a phonetic script wouldn’t make sense. While this essay confirms the importance of characters in written Chinese, it also confirms the importance of tones in spoken Chinese.


Shī shì shí shī shǐ


Shíshì shī shì shī shì,

, 誓食十

Shì shī, shì shí shí shī.


Shì shíshí shì shì shì shī.

, 适十狮适

Shí shí, shì shí shī shì shì.

, 适施氏适是

Shì shí, shì shī shì shì shì shì.

氏视是十, 恃矢,

Shì shì shì shí shī, shì shǐ shì,


Shíshì shī shì shī shì,

氏拾是十狮, 适石

Shì shi shì shí shī shī, shì shíshì.

石室湿, 氏使侍拭石

Shíshì shī, shì shǐ shì shì shíshì.

石室, 氏始试食十狮

Shíshì shì, shì shǐ shì shí shí shī shī.

, 始识十狮,

Shí shí, shǐ shi shí shī shī,


Shí shí shíshī shī.


Shì shì shì shì.

And here is the English translation

Lion-eating Poet

A poet named Shi who lived in a stone den was fond of lions and swore that he would eat ten lions. He constantly went to the market to look for ten lions. One day at ten o’clock, Shi went to the market and saw ten lions there. Using his arrows he killed the ten lions, and carried the dead lions back to his stone den. The stone den was damp, so Shi ordered his servants to wipe the stone den. When he tried to eat the ten lions, he realized that they were actually made of stones and tried to get rid of them.

Just in case you are wondering how this story sounds, here is a video

I hope that I have convinced you now. Can you imagine getting the tones wrong in the above story?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Are Sichuan girls the prettiest?

There is a general consensus in China that the girls in Sichuan province are the prettiest. There is even an old saying “You’d better not go to Sichuan; it wouldn't help your career”. I went to Sichuan, twice, but the girls there looked the same as the girls from other parts of China. Maybe all the Chinese people look the same to me?

Whether the girls from Sichuan are the prettiest or not, it is always useful to learn how to say you are pretty in Chinese language. Below are the different ways you can tell a girl that she is pretty:

你很漂亮(Nǐ hěn piàoliang): You are beautiful

你很可爱(Nǐ hěn kěài): You are cute

你很好看(Nǐ hěn hǎokàn): You are good looking

你很美丽(Nǐ hěn měilì): You are beautiful

Remember the (měi) from “Beautiful Kingdom?”

If you want to say the same to a guy, use the following

你很帅(Nǐ hěn shuài): You are handsome

And if you think someone is ugly

你很丑(Nǐ hěn chǒu): You are ugly

Sunday, May 15, 2011

What's your Chinese name?

As you all must know by now, Mǎ Sī Wén (马思文) is my Chinese name. It was given to me by my Chinese language teachers in China, and seems like some of you have struggled with it. I have been called Ma, Ma Si, Si Wen, Ma Si Wen, and few other combinations of these three words. So what is my family name and what is my given name? Here is the breakdown:

(Mǎ) : Family Name

思文(Sī Wén): Given Name

As you can see, family names are written first in China. And Chinese people usually have two given names, which are written after the family name. So next time you see a Chinese name, the first one is the family name and the next two (or one in some cases) are the given names.

Below are the five most common Chinese surnames according to a study published in 2006.






It is more common to call people by their full names in China, rather than just use the given name or the family name by itself. When using family names, make sure that you use the right form of address:

Forms of address


先生(xiānshēng): Mr

王先生 (Wáng xiānshēng)

(nǚshì): Ms

(Li nǚshì)

(lǎo): Old

老张 (lǎo Zhāng)

(xiǎo): Young/Small

小陈 (xiǎo Chén)

老师(Lǎoshī): Teacher

老师 (Liú lǎoshī)

Do you want a Chinese name too? Get yourself a Chinese name here. Please leave a comment and post your Chinese name.

Friday, May 13, 2011


If you think Chinese language is interesting then you don’t know Chinglish yet. You find Chinglish everywhere in China and the Chinese government is trying its best to get rid of them. I am definitely a big fan of Chinglish and here are some interesting ones I found on the internet:

Which one of these is your favorite?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Three uses of 想 (Xiǎng)

The Chinese character (xiǎng) can mean three different things depending on how it is used. Since it is a pretty commonly used character, let’s look at its three uses:

(i) + Somebody/Something

我想你 (Wǒ xiǎng nǐ): I miss you

When used in this form, means to miss somebody/something.

If someone says that to you and you feel the same way too, then you can respond

我也想你(Wǒ yě xiǎng nǐ): I miss you too

想家(Xiǎng jiā): homesick

(jiā): home/family

(ii) + Verb Phrase

我想去中国(Wǒ xiǎng qù Zhōngguó): I want to go to China

In the above structure, means the desire to do something.

(iii) + Clause

我想他是中国人(Wǒ xiǎng tā shì Zhōngguórén): I think he is Chinese

Here is used to express someone’s opinion.

But how to ask someone what he or she is thinking

你在想什么?(Nǐ zài xiǎng shénme?): What are you thinking?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Chinese people love basketball

Posters like one below are found everywhere in Chinese cities. But why do the Chinese people love basketball so much?

The popularity of NBA is believed to have surged in China after Yao Ming was selected as the first overall pick in 2002 NBA draft. It is estimated that his first NBA game attracted more than 200 million viewers in China. In 2008, the number of NBA fans in China was estimated to be around 450 million, and 300 million people were estimated to play basketball in China. 20% of all NBA.com traffic comes from China, and NBA was the 10th most popular search on Google in China.

So let’s learn how to say the most popular sports in China in Chinese language



篮球(lánqiú): basketball

Here are few other sports involving a (qiú):

足球(zúqiú): soccer/football

橄榄球(gǎnlǎnqiú): American football

排球(páiqiú): volleyball

冰球(bīngqiú): ice hockey

乒乓球(pīngpāng qiú): ping pong/table tennis

网球(wǎngqiú): tennis

Feel free to leave a comment and add your favorite sports to this list.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Do all Asians look the same?

I meant to post a list of coolest nationalities in Chinese language but realized that I actually posted a list of nations. However, figuring out how to say the nationalities once you know the nations is not that difficult. You just need to add (rén) at the end and a nation will become a nationality. For example:

巴西 (Bāxī): Brazil

(rén): people

巴西人 (Bāxī rén): Brazilian

That was easy, wasn’t it? Here are few more:

牙买加人 (Yámǎijiā rén): Jamaican

美国人 (Měiguó rén): American

日本人 (Rìběn rén): Japanese

中国人 (Zhōngguó rén): Chinese

尼泊尔人 (Níbóěr rén): Nepalese

土耳其人 (Tǔěrqí rén): Turk

While it is easy to figure out how to say different nationalities, figuring out someone’s nationality is a completely different story. Yes I am talking about the Asians. Two friends of mine, a Japanese and a Korean, and I took this AllLookSame Exam #1: Faces together and we managed to score only 7 out of 18. Please post how you end up doing.

[Note: Some of you were complaining that you have to register before you can take the test. So I have a username and password for you. Username: looktest, Password: 1234]