Chinese Words That Should Be Used in Other Languages As Well

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speakSince I moved back to China, my Chinese has gotten better and better. Being the only foreigner in my company and almost only hanging out with Chinese people made me speak the language on a different level than before.

When I speak English or German again, though, I sometimes like to use certain Chinese words or expressions because they are just bringing things more to the point than my native languages sometimes. Here’s a list of Chinese words I think are useful for people to use in their native languages as well.

1. Máfan 麻烦

Máfan is one of the favorite Chinese word for a lot of foreigners. It actually means something like “trouble” so you can say “This is so troublesome!” (“Tai mafan le! 太麻烦了!). But it describes so much more than the English word “trouble”. It can be used for almost anything that you find “sucks”. It doesn’t only sounds fun it also is fairly easy to pronounce! That’s why we need to use mafan in other languages as well!

2. … Ba 吧

Ba 吧 is used all the time in everyday speech and is an awesome addition to your sentence! There are two main functions to use 吧: to mark and soften commands, requests and suggestions or as a tag question to ask for agreement or confirmation with what is being said.

For example:

我们去唱K吧!Let’s go to KTV (karaoke)!


你是中国人是吧?You are Chinese, right?

Ba is great for almost everything to emphasize something or also express a little bit of anger like: 那你不用帮我吧!(Well, don’t help me then…)

This particle is so important and great to use that we should really add it in other languages as well! Like: Can you send me this file? – Later ba. Awesome right?

3. … Ah 啊

Similar to Ba 吧, Ah 啊 is another great little word to emphasize what you are saying and you can but it anywhere! 


我要吃饭啊! I want to eat (ah) ! 

It basically just means that you really want to eat or it can also be kind of “defensive”, like 我就这样子啊!(That’s just how I am (ah))!

Chinese people put ah 啊 after almost anything and it’s suuuuuper common in everyday speech. And it’s so convenient too and makes you get used to saying it very fast ah.

4. Gànma? 干嘛?

Gànma? Is also one of my favorite words that we should use in other languages as well. It can be used to express “What do you want?”, “What is it?” or simply “Why?”.


Sombody calls your name. Respond:  Gànma? 干嘛? or somebody does something to you for no reason, scream :  Gànma? 干嘛?

Gànma is definitely great to use at all times. That’s why I would love to use it in other languages as well. It’s short and easy to pronouce. Gànma?


5. Āiyā! 哎呀!

The exclamation Āiyā! 哎呀!has lots of different meanings. Use it for when something you want to do, fails. 

For example: 

You are grocery shopping and bought too much you can’t carry it and it falls down: Āiyā! 哎呀!

You can even use it if someone annoys you simply say Āiyā! 哎呀!in a very annoyed voice.

Is your computer not doing as you want, Āiyā! 哎呀! Mosquito bite? Āiyā! 哎呀!You get what I’m saying…


Sometimes there are just words in other languages that express something much more detailed than in your native language. Or sometimes Chinese words or expressions just sound much more funny than English or another language. Do you think we can convince other foreigners to use these words when speaking their native languages?

What are your favorite Chinese words/expressions you want to use all the time? 


Linda has been living in Asia since 2012 and loves sharing her travel and life experiences on her website. She currently works remotely in Online Marketing and also teaches various English classes in South Korea.


  1. Marta on July 31, 2014 at 4:11 pm

    Mafan is hands down the most useful word in any language ever haha.

    I also like mei banfa because it has a lot of meanings, if someone says it to you maybe there really is no way to do what you want, or maybe the person just doesn’t feel like doing it. Mei banfa is Chinese people’s favourite excuse!

    • lindalindsch on July 31, 2014 at 5:24 pm

      OMG YES! MEI BANFA!!! i totally forgot that one! i loooove it!

    • Sara on July 31, 2014 at 11:33 pm

      I agree, my favorite is absolutely 麻烦. You can use it about people, situations, what ever really. So handy! 😀

  2. mariadeng on July 31, 2014 at 8:26 pm

    I’ve heard Āiyā being used in my husband’s family very often. It’s funny because it is used with different intonations. Such as, when my FIL is angry with my MIL, he will use it in an angry tone. But, when my husband is making a joke with my MIL, he will use it in a happy tone. I would love to use Máfan in English as it sounds exotic, almost like someone’s name! Gànma is also another one that makes questioning others seem fun! Thanks for sharing Linda!

    • lindalindsch on August 1, 2014 at 8:52 am

      haha thats great! aiya is awesome. does your husband speak chinese/cantonese?

  3. Ray H on July 31, 2014 at 9:24 pm

    I tend to say 啊 in English, the Cantonese ‘la’ also works – la

    • Chris P on July 31, 2014 at 10:39 pm

      My wife and I also like to use the Cantonese “la,” because it’s way more comical than the Chinese “la.” Hehe.

      • lindalindsch on August 1, 2014 at 8:52 am

        hahaha that is so funny too haha

    • lindalindsch on August 1, 2014 at 8:52 am

      yeah 啦 咯 they are all great haha

  4. Katarina on July 31, 2014 at 10:43 pm

    I think 还可以 is also very useful. I found out sometimes I use it in converstaion with non-Chinese and then I get that ‘what- have- you- just -said’ look which is understandable in every language 😉

    • lindalindsch on August 1, 2014 at 8:53 am

      hahaha. yeah 还可以 is useful! thanks for adding!

    • Chris P on August 2, 2014 at 1:38 pm

      I’m starting to use that phrase a little more often now that I know when it means. It also makes you sounds a little more local than if you were to just say 很好, which isn’t really common to say by itself.

  5. leonahinds on August 1, 2014 at 11:10 am

    I like just adding a 哈 at the end of sentences. like in a taxi, 我要去宁德路哈,and the driver replying ok哈
    Also she’s got a 感冒

  6. Suigetsu on August 1, 2014 at 3:08 pm

    “哎呀” is the one I hear foreigners use most often. It’s a very expressive exclamation that even non-Chinese speakers have little difficulty understanding.

    • lindalindsch on August 1, 2014 at 4:44 pm

      its awesome! i love 哎呀

  7. Chris P on August 2, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    My wife and I use 差不多 quite a lot whenever we’re making comparisons with different things.

    Another one that we don’t use as often, but still throw around ever once and a while is 随便。This one is particularly useful if you don’t have a very strong opinion about a decision that needs to be made (like what type of food you’re gonna eat with a friend).

  8. scott tong on August 6, 2014 at 3:57 am

    no zuo no die

    • lindalindsch on August 6, 2014 at 8:48 am

      hahaha.. yeah that one too! love it! thanks for adding!

  9. Ashley on April 25, 2015 at 2:33 am

    My favorite is 奇怪 I tend to say a lot of things are strange or weird in English so my friend taught me the chinese

    • Linda on April 25, 2015 at 4:18 am

      haha that’s awesome! i like that word too! you can use it in so many ways!

  10. julieee on August 7, 2022 at 12:48 pm

    china has perhaps changed, but i was there 20 years ago, and the single biggest expression we adopted/mocked was “卖完了”. usually followed by “明天再来”.

    shopkeepers too lazy to ring up the sale, even when the item was 2 feet away. u could point at something, big stack on a shelf, even, and odds were, she would still respond “卖完了”.

    it took amazing persistence to convince someone that the item U WERE POINTING AT was not, in fact, “卖完”….. :p

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