The Secret to Speaking Chinese Easily: Phrases Adopted from English

Did you know that by knowing some simple English words you already can speak some popular colloquial Chinese phrases? If you have been studying Chinese for a while some words might immediately jump to mind. What occurs is actually the adoption of particular words from one foreign language into another. You would be surprised how many English words are actually adopted from other languages, like klutz is originally Yiddish and fiasco is Italian. There are even phrases that are still said in another language, although the vast majority of English speakers understand them. For example, the Latin carpe diem meaning “seize the day” is still used in every day speech, and French words like a la carte are written on menus. In a world that is becoming more and more global, it isn’t surprising that languages are starting to share a common ground. This is exciting for language learners as it means learning a foreign language can be just a little easier!

Probably the easiest to remember and most commonly used of English words in Chinese is “拜拜(bàibai).” The way these characters are pronounced is the same as the English “bye-bye” and, although the character “拜(bài)” actually means “do obeisance,” here it is just used to say good-bye. This farewell is usually used with people you are more familiar with and is comparatively casual. Whereas, the farewell “再见(zàijiàn)” also meaning goodbye is used to be more formal. As a beginner who doesn’t know much Chinese, just say bye-bye to your Chinese friends and you will be speaking Chinese!


Xiǎo Líng: Gōngjiāochē lái le,   Mǎ Kè, nà wǒ xiān zǒu le.
小    玲: 公交车        来 了,马 克,那 我   先   走   了。
Xiao Ling: Mark, the bus has arrived, so I’ll leave first.

Mǎ Kè: Hǎode, zhùyì ānquán.
马  克:好的,注意   安全。
Mark: OK, be safe.

Xiǎo Líng: Hǎode, bàibai.
小     玲: 好的, 拜拜。
Xiao Ling: OK, bye-bye.

Mǎ Kè : Bàibai.
马  克:拜拜。
Mark: Bye-bye.

Perhaps a less known phrase by foreigners, although a very fun one is “high起来(qǐlái)” also written as “嗨起来(hāiqǐlái).” This is used to express when a person is feeling very happy or excited and is usually also referring to the atmosphere the person is in. The English word “high” is paired with the Chinese “起来(qǐlái)” which is something that is used after a verb to indicate the beginning and continuation of an action or state. So, “嗨起来(hāi qǐlái)” is said when someone begins to feel very happy. Also playing off the word “high” is the phrase “自嗨(zìhāi),” which is when a person is having a lot of fun and is making oneself happy or excited. This phrase is used more when a person is having fun by themselves as “自(zì)” means “self, oneself.”


Míngtiān fàngjià, dàjiā jìnqíng de wánr ba,  dōu hāi qǐlái!
明天         放假,大家  尽情   地  玩儿 吧,都  嗨  起来!
Tomorrow is the holiday, everybody enjoy time off, get excited!

Tā hěn néng zìhāi,    zìjǐ   yígèrén dōu néng wánr dé hěn kāixīn.
她  很    能    自嗨,自己 一个人 都    能     玩儿  得  很  开心。
She can make herself feel happy and have fun all by herself.

There are many other phrases which are connected to English you might come across, as it is popular for young Chinese people to use English words in daily conversations. For example, there is “酷(kù)” meaning “cool” and “拷贝(kǎobèi)” meaning “copy”. Also, the word “吧(bā)” from “酒吧(jiŭbā)” comes from the English word “bar,” since “酒(jiŭ)” means alcohol, so “酒吧(jiŭbā)” is the Chinese word for bar, pretty easy to remember! These words, unlike “拜拜(bàibai)” and “嗨起来(hāi qǐlái),” are pronounced a little differently from the English equivalent although they sound very similar.
If you ever come to China you will find that these equivalents are everywhere. Consider foreign brand names for instance. When they come to China they usually adapt the name a little so that it sounds Chinese and has Chinese characters that accompany the word, but it still is pronounced very similar to the English name! A favorite example, and very clever marketing strategy is that of the brand name Coca-Cola. In Chinese the name becomes “可口可乐(kěkǒu kělè),” which as you can tell sounds very similar to the English name. Here “可口(kěkǒu)” means tasty, and “乐(lè)” means happy. So, as Coca-Cola advertises that its drink satisfies thirst and makes people happy, so does the translation of the brand name mean exactly that!
The adoption of English words can be a short cut to learn Chinese just a little quicker. If you are a beginner, try using one of these similar words with your Chinese friends. It is easy to do and these words/phrases can be used in daily conversation!

HSK 3 quiz

1. “嗨起来(hāi qǐlái)” is used to express:
A. A feeling of excitement.
B. A feeling of happiness.
C. Both A and B.
D. A feeling of boredom.
2. Which of these words aren’t derived from an English equivalent?
A. “拜拜(bàibai)”
B. “酷(kù)”
C. “拷贝(kǎobèi)”
D. “起来(qǐlái)”

4 thoughts on “The Secret to Speaking Chinese Easily: Phrases Adopted from English”

    1. jennifer.zhu

      Hello Bharat. Since we only have two quizzes in the article. I’m a little bit confused as you provide three answers.

    1. jennifer.zhu

      Wow, great! Your answers are all right. We will keep updating the posts, please feel free to check.

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