10 Common Chinese Idioms Also Worked in English
Language is an isolated and alienated barrier in cross-cultural communication. It prevents us from interacting with people around the world.
Even so, it has amazing coincidences!
Several Chinese and English idioms overlap in meaning and also have similarities in phrasing. All this shows that even in different languages like English and Chinese, there are some notions that we have to express.
The ability to read Chinese idioms or “chengyu” is usually a touchstone in China. It reveals not only your language skills but also your intelligence.
What is Chinese Chengyu?
成语 (Chéngyǔ) or Chengyu is basically a Chinese idiom In general, it constitutes four Chinese characters and introduces a story in Chinese history and legend.
The Chinese are proud of their history and language. Recognizing that chengyu links the two together, there is no surprise that Chinese idioms are essential in Chinese traditional culture.
In China, you will meet local people who speak chengyu, even if it is about presenting a toast, explaining theories at school, providing friendly advice, or a simple talk.
After understanding the Chengyu cultural importance, let’s find out the 10 Chinese idioms that also work in English.
10 Chinese Idioms To Memorize Quickly
Below are 10 Chinese idioms that are worthwhile and useful while learning the Chinese language.
dōng chī luó bo xià chī jiāng, bú yòng yī shēng kaī yào fāng/ 冬吃萝卜夏吃姜, 不用医生开药方- An apple a day keeps the doctor away
This idiom explains that both Chinese and English cultures center their focus on nutrition to avoid bothering or seeing the doctor. Although Chinese idioms cover seasonal warnings and focus on drugs and prescriptions-which can be foul-tasting or expensive. It is a great way to suggest people have only nutritional food and pay attention to health.
路平安 / yīlù píng’ān – Have a safe and pleasant journey!
This phrase could be used while saying “GoodBye” to someone who is going for a vacation or on a trip. When you board the plane or train or are leaving the hotel, you may likely hear the Chinese state this to you. Most of the Chinese also uses, “一路顺风 / yīlù shùnfēng.” This idiom is related to the “Bon voyage!” phrase.
一石二鸟 / yì shí èr niăo- Kill two birds with one stone
By giving three ideas to a problem, you can usually present a smart solution to care for two birds at the same time. In this phrase, chéng yŭ (成语), defines that the language is reduced to the most primitive image. Another way of saying this idiom is that the bird is bigger and the archery is somewhat difficult. Though, it can also be assumed that huge problems should be expressed with huge fowl?
说曹操，曹操就到 / Shuō cáocāo, cáocāo jiù dào – Speak of the devil and he shall appear!
Although a little tongue twister, this Chinese idiom is very simple and can be used easily. It includes an English equivalent that we have used before. This idiom can be used when you are talking about someone and they arrive suddenly from nowhere.
叶公好龙 / yègōnghàolóng – To pretend to like something when actually you hate or fear it
There are times in life when we pretend to like someone or something despite actually hating it. Like, in China, your local friends like to eat duck feet and you go with them only not to ruin the fun element.
When some of your friends have realized that they hated duck feet and said, ““你吃鸭抓抓就是叶公好龙，只在嘴上说说，并不真的喜欢。以后我们就吃披萨。怎么样？/ Nǐ chī yā zhuā zhuā jiùshì yègōnghàolóng, zhǐ zài zuǐ shàng shuō shuō, bình bù zhēn de xǐhuān. Yǐhòu wǒmen bù chī pīsà. Zěnme yàng?”.
In the English language, it means, “You say you like duck feet when you actually don’t. How about we just eat pizza from here on?”
三思而后行/ sān sī ér hòu xíng- Think before you act
Chinese and English cultures are highly intelligent. To add this proverb, double-edged swords and boats are very critical. sān sī (三思) in Chinese means careful rethinking or consideration, though the request involves a particular number as the literal meaning is “think three times”. It is a good phrase for any friend who is about to make a spontaneous and major decision.
自食其果 / zìshíqíguǒ – To reap what you sow
This Chinese idiom can be used alone; similarly, “set it all” in English is used. Whenever you hear or say that someone has experienced negative consequences as a result of their actions, “自食其果“ is an appropriate phrase to explain the situation.
百年好合 / bǎinián hǎo hé – Live a long and happy life together
It is an appropriate idiom to use for someone who got married recently. Its exact meaning is “100 years together.” Hence, if you are attending a Chinese wedding, you must say this to the newlyweds. And remember to carry a red envelope!
恭喜发财 / gōngxǐ fācái – Have a prosperous New Year!
The one thing to notice in Chinese during the Spring Festival is that they speak well while presenting toasts. If you are attending a Chinese New Year celebration, you may also raise your own glass, and can use this popular idiom in the replies. Or, when your host greets you with good luck and health, things may turn out to be awkward, and you have nothing in return!
鸡毛蒜皮 /jī máo suàn pí -Small potatoes
There are some problems that seem so, but in actuality, they are not! Later you might discover that they are not a big issue. In order to emphasize the insignificance of an event or action, Westerners use the phrase “small potato”. In waste such as garlic peels and chicken, feathers are used.
Therefore, when guests come to your dinner party holding nothing in their hands, you know what to say. Moreover, the garlic peels and chicken feathers are used for discussing superficial conversation or trifling matters. When you met old buddies for dining but have less conversation, then, you can say that you only talked about 鸡毛蒜皮 (jī máo suàn pí) things.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here, we have mentioned some important common questions related to Chengyu:
1. Define Chengyu?
It is a four-character idiom. There could be exceptions for more characters, although 4 characters are the norm.
2. How many Chinese Idioms can be learned?
Generally, you can learn thousands of Chinese Idioms. But, it is not possible to learn it all. Better will be to find the popular ones and use them in regular daily life.
3. Is it important to learn Chengyu?
It is helpful to understand Chengyu, but it is not necessary. Focus on the fundamentals of Mandarin until you become an average or high-level speaker. The main advantage of learning idioms in addition to enhancing your Chinese level can also enrich your understanding of Chinese history.
4. How many Chinese Idioms are essential to memorize while learning the language?
For the Mandarin speakers who have memorized some Chinese idioms, learning general vocabulary would be sufficient. You must understand idioms as a “nice to have” skill, furthermore growing your vocabulary is required.
Do you have a reason to use Chinese idioms? Are you using them regularly? Which one according to you is beneficial? Are there other essential idioms? Let us know in the comment section below.
Also, if you want to learn the Chinese language with authentic and interactive content, then, give Easylore a try! It is an Edtech platform that follows a holistic approach to education. The online learning platform connects learners with tutors according to their abilities, age, and weak points to give quality learning. Sign up@ Easylore to get a quote!