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10 Mandarin Phrases or Words to Learn Before You Travel to Shanghai

Jul 11, 2017 8:30:00 AM / by Julie Ritz

Every country has their own idioms that mean something totally different than what they first appear to. You might say to your friend, “Wow! That cost an arm and a leg.” If someone from another country heard you- well, let’s just hope they don’t take it literally or they may get worried! If you think about it, you can probably come up with quite a few other unique phrases you use in daily life.

Since this is a common phenomenon that you'll encounter no matter where you go, we’ve rounded up 10 important Mandarin phrases to know in Shanghai that will help you speak like the locals!

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1. 三人成虎 (sān rén chéng hǔ) = three people can turn into a tiger

If you say something over and over again, it might just become true. This idiom warns that you should be careful not to lie often, or you might forget what the truth really is.

2. 单丝不成线,独木不成林 (dān sī bù chéng xiàn, dú mù bù chéng lín) = a single thread cannot become a cord, and a single tree does not make a forest

If you look for the deeper meaning of these phrases, the answer is obvious. It implies that you need to be part of the greater whole, and as a single person, cannot do or be everything necessary.

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Photo: public domain

3. 对牛弹琴 (duì niú tán qín) = playing a lute to a cow

Just as you might think, this saying suggests that you are saying the something to the wrong person or audience, just as a cow might not appreciate music as much as something, or someone else.

4. 一鸣惊人 (yī míng jīng rén) = a sound that surprises people

This saying means to become famous overnight. Just like you might be surprised by a loud noise, this person steps on the scene without any warning and leaves an impression.

5. 一箭双雕 (yī jiàn shuāng diāo) = killing two vultures with one arrow

Similar to the English idiom to “kill two birds with one stone”, you are completing two things by doing just one action.

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Photo: public domain

6. 抛砖引玉 pāo zhuān yǐn yù = to toss a brick to attract jade

If you have a lot of opinions and like to throw ideas out there, this is the idiom for you. The intention with this phrase is to say that even throwing a bad idea out there can lead to something good.

7. 九牛一毛 (jiǔ niú yī máo) = 1 hair between 9 cows

This is referring to something that is so small and insignificant, it’s like one hair taken from 9 cows  (there’s still plenty of hair left!), like the English idiom, “a drop in the bucket”.

8. 亡羊补牢 (wáng yáng bǔ láo) = repair the pen after the sheep is dead

This is used to describe acts that are just too late. What’s the point of repairing a sheep’s pen if it isn’t alive anymore? Just like the phrase, “better late than never”.

sheep.jpeg
Photo: public domain

9. 破镜重圆 (pò jìng chóng yuán) = a broken mirror becoming complete again

This idiom is based off a myth where two lovers were separated during war. Each one of them carried half of a mirror, and when they reunited, the mirror became complete once more. Use it to describe something reuniting after a long time.

10. 井底之蛙 jǐng dǐ zhī wā = frog in a well

This is used to describe someone who is narrow minded. If the frog looks up out of the well, all he sees is one tiny part of the vast sky.

There are many more than 10 phrases to known in Shanghai, so if you want to learn more, try going there and learning them yourself! 

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Topics: Shanghai, China, Language