A hot Taiwanese guy just moved in across the hall! A cute new girl just arrived from Beijing! If you have a Chinese love interest, you should brush up on your romantic Mandarin skills. These 5 steps will take you from first encounters to wedding vows.
- 好可爱! (hǎo kě ài）- “So cute!”
Step 1: You spot your cutie from afar and think to yourself, “hǎo kě ài!” That same“hǎo” can be found in “nǐ hǎo” (hello), but here, “hǎo” = “very”. “kě ài” = cute. The Chinese “kě ài” sounds like the Japanese “kawaii” — the two cultures share an obsession with cuteness. (Don’t believe me? 5.5 million people downloaded the Neko Atsume app just to play with adorable cartoon cats!)
- 好美／好帅 (Hǎo měi／Hǎo shuài）- “Beautiful/Handsome”
Step 2: Now, work up some courage and approach your crush. Introduce yourself, make some small talk, then tell her “nǐ hǎo měi” (or him, “nǐ hǎo shuài”).
“Nǐ” = “you”, and again “hǎo” = “very”. The character “美” (beautiful) is a combination of “羊” (sheep) and “大” (big). What?? In ancient China, sheep were offered to the gods as a generous sacrifice. Such an offering was considered holy, sacred, and beautiful. “hǎo měi” not only describes people, but also landscapes, paintings, music, big sheep, and anything beautiful!
- 好不好 （hǎo bù hǎo）- “Is that OK?”
Step 3: Time to pull out the big guns: ask him out. Dim Sum is always a safe bet, so ask with confidence, “Let’s get dumplings, hǎo bù hǎo?” Who could refuse? Add “hǎo bù hǎo” to the end of a suggestion to make it a question. Here, “hǎo” means “good” and “bù” means “not.” You are asking “good not good?” It seems awkward, but it sounds natural to Chinese ears. If he answers with the affirmative “hǎo”, move on to step 4. If he declines with “bù hǎo,” don’t be too heartbroken. Who would even want a boyfriend who refuses dim sum?
- 我爱你 (wǒ ài nǐ) – “I love you.”
Step 4: Just three simple words. “wǒ ài nǐ”. This lovely phrase has a soft, gentle sound. “爱” also happens to be my favorite character. In the past, many considered this phrase too graphic or intimate to be used in everyday conversation. “喜欢” (to like) was used more often. Now, however, Chinese people have been influenced by Western culture. Everything is over the top in America (“I’m literally dying!” “I’m in love!” “I can’t even!”) — so “爱” (ài) is now used more freely in China. (P.S. “wǒ ài nǐ” is the only phrase my boyfriend can say in Chinese!)
- 老公老婆 (lǎo gōng lǎo pó) – “Husband and wife”
Step 5: The big day has arrived, congratulations! I now pronounce you “lǎo gōng” and “lǎo pó”. These aren’t formal phrases. They’re cute, intimate sayings exchanged between lovers— like “honey” or “sweetheart”. Their literal translations, however, are not so sugary. ““lǎo gōng” (husband) means “old grandpa” and “lǎo pó” (wife) means “old grandma”. I promise, I’m not trying to ruin your marriage! These phrases indicate a profound level of affection between two individuals. These two people love each other enough to joke around. They can drop the facade with each other.
These five phrases will capture the heart of your Chinese lover. If you do fall in love, can you invite me to the wedding?