Lesson 19: Chinese Idioms

Hey everyone, it's been a while since I posted a new Chinese lesson, so today that is exactly what I'm doing! Today we will be learning about one of the most difficult parts of the Chinese language: 成語(pronounced chen yu), or idioms. It can be very challenging to learn a foreign language, even just literal every day language, but idioms will pose a serious challenge. There are still tons that I don't know! And the meaning is not always clear. Basically, they're often something older people will say to us youngsters (I'm 30, that's still youngish, right?) to sound wise and experienced in the ways of the world. While you don't really need to learn any idioms to be able to communicate and get around in Taiwan, they will add a lot of credibility to your Chinese, and they're fun too! So let's learn some, shall we? Here are some of my favorites:

感激不盡 gǎnjībùjìn-

This means "I can't thank you enough", and it's to be used in a situation where saying 謝謝 just doesn't cut it, like if someone were to save your life.


吹毛求疵 chuī máo qiú cī-

This mean "nitpick", and is useful for when your wife or girlfriend is laying into your every action/word. Next time, tell them 不要吹毛求疵 (don't nitpick). And then you might want to run!


隨心所欲 suí xīn suǒ yù-

This means "do as you please", so if someone is retired, they can go ahead and 隨心所欲.


船到橋頭自然直 chuán dào qiáo tóu zì rán zhí-

This basically means "just go with the flow", when a ship comes into dock, it doesn't fight the waters, and you can't control everything on your own life. You'd go crazy if you tried!


青紅皂白 qīng-hóng-zào-bái-

This is used to mean " black and white", or "right and wrong", so if we are discussing someone that has done something wrong, like a politician, a celebrity or a friend, I may say "他不分青紅皂白".


馬馬虎虎 mǎmǎhūhū-

This literally means "horse horse tiger tiger", which of course makes no sense in English! The idiom is used to mean "so-so". If I see a moviend my friends ask me how it is, I may reply 馬馬虎虎 if I didn't think it was that good.


津津有味 jīnjīn yǒu wèi-

This can mean to "relish" something. For example, 他們吃得津津有味 means that they greatly relished their meal. 


知己知彼,百戰百勝 zhījǐzhībǐ, bǎizhàn-bǎishèng-

This is probably the most famous Chinese idiom in the West, as we see the reference in a lot of literature and movies. "Know yourself, know your enemy, fight a hundred battles, win a hundred victories" is pretty self explanatory, so I won't go into depth on the meaning. It's a quote from Sunzi's "The Art of War", for those of you that may not have heard it before.


百看不厭 bǎi kàn bù yàn-

This literally means that If you see something one hundred times, you won't hate it. Or "you won't get sick of it". This is good phrase for talking about your favorite movie.

For example, 那一部電影百看不厭.


羊入虎口 yángrùhǔkǒu-

This means "a lamb enters a tigers mouth", which is used to mean that you(the lamb) are treading dangerous grounds(the tiger's mouth).


As you can see, some of these idioms are easier to understand than others, but most of their meanings are not readily apparent. That is why Chinese is so challenging, and such a fun language to learn! What is your favorite idiom from our list! Let us know!


Lesson 18: Spice up your Chinese

Just like every dish needs the right spices to really bring out the flavor, so too does your Chinese. These phrases will help you to make your Chinese sound much more "flavorful", so let's get started with today's lesson!

雖然- even though;often used in conjunction with 但是

suī rán                                                                                                        dàn shì 



tā suī rán lái měi guó shí nián le ,dàn shì hái bù gǎn jiǎng yīng wén 。

Even though he's been in America for ten years, he still isn't confident speaking English.


其實- actually

qí shí 


wǒ de shì yǒu shì yá yī 。qí guài shì tā de yá chǐ qí shí bù tài hǎo 。

My roommate is a dentist. The weird thing is, his teeth are actually pretty bad.


實在- really 

shí zài 


zuì jìn wǒ men chá diǎn shēng yì tè bié hǎo ,wǒ shí zài bù gǎn xiàng xìn le lā !

Recently, our tea store's business has been so good, I really can't believe it!


不但。。。也是- not only, but also

bù dàn ………..yě shì 


wǒ de shī fù bù dàn lì hài ,yě shì qiān xū de 。

My master isn't just really talented, he's also humble.


幾乎- nearly

jǐ hū 

wǒ de péng yǒu jǐ hū dōu yǒu xiǎo hái zǐ le 。

Nearly all of my friends have kids now.


隨便- do as you wish

suí biàn 


bù yào zài lù biān suí biàn wán 。

Don't goof around by the road.


結果- result

jié guǒ 


tā shuō bù xiǎng qù kàn yī shēng ,jié guǒ zǎo shàng qǐ lái fā xiàn tā sǐ diào le 。

He said he didn't want to go to see a doctor; in the morning I discovered that he was dead.


而且- and also

ér qiě  


nà jiān fáng zǐ hěn gāo ,ér qiě hěn háo huá 。

That house is really tall, and also luxurious.


而已- that's all, only

ér yǐ


bù yào duì nǐ de zǐ zǐ tài xiōng ,tā jiù shì xiǎng gēn nǐ wán ér yǐ 。

Don't be too mean to your nephew, he just wants to play with you.

That's it for today, you have your new vocabulary and your examples, so start practicing owning them. Before you know it, your Chinese will taste much better!

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5 Ways to Learn Chinese for FREE!!!!

I think that anyone who has found there way to my little corner of the web will agree that command of Chinese is a valuable, desirable skill to have. Though not particularly an easy one to obtain. Granted, it helps a lot when you know the right way to approach your studies, but don't be fooled, you are still in for a lot of work if you want to really take your Chinese to the next level.


One of the best, if not the best ways to do this is to live abroad and completely immerse yourself in a Chinese speaking culture. There is no lack of language programs for foreigners living in Taipei, Taiwan for example. I myself attended one such school for a semester. You could also higher private tutors from amongst the locals to further your studies. These are both great ideas, but they aren't cheap.


In today's article, I'm going to offer you some alternatives: 5 free ways to learn Chinese. I think we can all "afford" free, right? So let's take a look.


1. Live with a Chinese family:


If you decide to live abroad, one way to rapidly improve your Chinese(especially comprehension) is to live with a local family. I did this for around half a year or so when I was living in Taipei and focused on intensely on my Chinese studies at Shida University.I lived with an elderly couple that went by simply "A'gong" and "A'po", Meaning grandfather and grandmother respectively in Taiwanese dialect. They must've been at least in their 70s, and they didn't speak a lick of English. Needless to say, my Chinese improved immensely just chatting g with them…and boy did they love to talk! If you have the opportunity, I definitely recommend living in a household where Chinese is spoken exclusively, it will really help you speed-up your progress.


2. Find a Language Exchange Partner:


If you don't have the opportunity to live with a Chinese family, you can at the very least make friends with a local person and have them become your language exchange partner. Trust me, you will have no lack of people wanting o be your friend just to learn English, so why not take advantage of that and learn Chinese? It's a win-win situation for everyone. Because Chinese people can be shy when they feel their Enlish is not up to par, don't let that stop you. Star conversations, be friendly. And when all else fails, check on Tealit.com for people interested in finding an LE partner(if you're in Taiwan), or make a profile on Italki.com and find a partner to Skype with. The bottom line is: Make it happen!



3. Watch Chinese shows on Youtube:


One of the best ways to improve your listening comprehension and vocabulary in a foreign language is to watch TV shows in that language, and Chinese is no different. Do a Youtube search for 康熙來了, one of my wife's favorite shows. It's a talk show with a lot of funny characters. You should also check out 大學生了沒 while you're at it! Or if you are in the mood for something more serious, check out 痞子英雄, a Taiwanese cop drama. Another good option would be to watch the news. These are just a few examples, but you get the idea, now go veg-out in front of the TV!


4. Listen to Some Music:


Another great way to improve your listening skills is to listen to Chinese music. You can find a lot of music for free on youtube, or on various radio apps. Why not start by searching for these artists' songs on youtube: Lu, zhang, Chen. That will get you off to a good start.


5. Go to your local Chinese restaurant:


Another idea for improving your Chinese without spending any money is to go down to the local Chinese restaurant and try to speak with your waiter in Chinese. Now, they will most likely be from Hong Kong and primarily speak Cantonese, but most will likely speak Mandarin as well. You'll never know if you don't try! My wife and I have started a lot of conversations by just ordering food, since she is Chinese. It always makes for an interesting time. So go on, be adventurous!


I hope that you found something that you could use in this article. It's easy to think that you'll never learn a language due to limitations that you place on yourself, such as being unable to find native speakers to interact with. Just know that there really is a lot that you can do, you just have to have an open mind to see the possibilities. If you want it bad enough, then you'll make it work.



If you found this article useful, then check-out my article 10 tips to reverse engineering the Chinese language for more Chinese learning tips!  Also, please don't be afraid to comment below and share your thoughts! 


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