No matter your Mandarin speaking level – beginner, expert or somewhere in between – be prepared to be over-praised.

As you progress with your language studies, you’re going to face an inordinate number of compliments from well-meaning Chinese, including effusive appraisals which far outstrip any honest assessment of your language prowess. Responding with a soft-spoken “thank you” might earn points in the West, but in China, it suggests an oversized ego and overestimated abilities. That’s right, the very same abilities they are overestimating on your behalf.

Never fear, these responses will showcase your supreme modesty:

Nǎ lǐ nǎ lǐ
Overpraise! (Really not that good)
Guò jiǎng le!

Overpraise! (It’s too kind of you)
Wǒ hái yǒu hěn duō kě yǐ xué
There’s still so much for me to learn.
Wǒ de lù hái hěn cháng.

I still have a long road ahead of me.
Wǒ hái zài “zī zī bú juàn” de xué xí.

I’m still assiduously studying it. (Plus bonus points for using an idiom!)

Engaging others with amusing responses leads to more interactions, and generating more personal interactions should be your overriding goal in language learning. It’s also a great way to make new friends.

What about more general (non-language) compliments?

In China, when people praise you, your first reaction is to say something nearly the opposite. Because the Chinese believe everything should be balanced, if they say something positive, then you have to say something negative. It’s a Yin & Yang balance thing.

Our China Simplified: Language Empowerment author Katie Lu recalls:

I remember when I was little. If anyone said to my mom, “Your daughter is really cute,” my mom would answer, “Oh no, she’s really ugly, I just picked her up from the trash can.” Then the other person would laugh, which is the best scenario. If my mom instead replied, “Yes, she’s really cute” then the other person would think she’s not modest enough, probably even weird.

Happy dodging…and let us know below when you come up with new ones!

This post is excerpted from Chapter 7 “Never Use the F-Word” of our new book China Simplified: Language Empowerment. Available online now.

Join the discussion 4 Comments

Leave a Reply