Unlike alphabetical languages such as Spanish and French, the Chinese language is a writing system that is composed of over 50,000 characters. This logographic writing system gives access to visual representations of objects and concepts. This makes the language both difficult to translate, and less precise than its counterparts. Here we present six examples of Chinese words that are hard to translate.
撒嬌 (sā jiāo)
Whiny, to seek attention in a childish but lovely way.
This is an act particularly practiced by a grown-up female to her partner. It is considered as a way to show the side of her feminine character.
面子 (miàn zi)
Surface (literally), referring to dignity or self-esteem.
For example, I was just pretending to understand the conversation in French in order to save face (保全面子, bǎo quán miàn zi).
風水 (fēng shuǐ)
Feng shui, known as Chinese geomancy.
The term literally translates as “wind-water”. By orienting buildings and furniture, it’s practiced bolster the harmony between individuals and their surrounding environment.
緣分 (yuán fèn)
Fateful coincidence, an interactive concept that describes good and bad chances and potential relationships.
Sometimes, it’s simply translated as “destiny”, “fate” or “luck” with a focus on the relationship two people or objects share.
幸福 (xìng fú)
A state of being satisfied and content with life especially when with families and significant others.
It can be simply translated as “happiness” depending on the context.
孝順 (xiào shùn)
Filial piety, a virtue of respect for one’s parents that is commonly praised in the Chinese community.
It includes but is not limited to being a loving, dutiful and caring child, as well as being responsible for the well-being of one’s parents.