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How Chinese People Normally Say Goodbye

JULIE THA GYAW

Have you ever listened to Chinese people speaking on the phone? If so, you’ve probably noticed that a lot of them tend to significantly raise the volume of their voice as soon as they pick up the phone.


I don’t know how many times I’ve been startled on public transportation when somebody beside me suddenly picks up his phone and shouts, “WÉI? NĚI WÈI?” (喂?哪位? HELLO? WHO’S CALLING? ) 


I find loud phone talking simultaneously annoying and amusing. But equally amusing is how Chinese people finish a conversation:


S.H.E Goodbye


If that person is trying to be polite, you might hear him go on and on before hanging up, kind of like this: “那就这样…好的 ,好的…保持联系…  嗯嗯…再见,再见…嗯…嗯"  before finally hanging up the phone.


In pinyin, that’s: “Nà jiù zhè yàng…hǎode, hǎo de…bǎo chí lián xì…ēn ēn…zài jiàn , zài jiàn…ēn… ēn.”


And in English, that could be translated as: “Sounds good then…okay, okay…stay in touch…uh huh…bye, bye…uh huh…”


It’s as if nobody wants to be the first one to hang up. 


Somehow those “ēn” sounds (I call them “grunts”) just before you hang up seem to make all the difference in ensuring you don’t come across as being rude or in a hurry to get off the phone.


The funny thing is, in contrast to the long and drawn-out farewell, if a Chinese person is having an informal phone chat with someone she knows well, then the conversation often does end rather abruptly, sometimes like this:


“挂了啊 (guà le a)”  (And then hang up the phone.)


"Guà le a,” just means, “Hanging up now.”


Although most phone conversations probably end with something in-between those two examples, both the polite, long-and–drawn-out “farewell” as well as the casual, short-and-to-the-point “bye” are really common.


Figuring out how to say the right thing in the right situation to avoid offending anyone or coming across as rude or inappropriate can be tricky, but it’s part of the fun of learning any new language. 


Of course, in Chinese, when it comes to saying goodbye, whether you’re on the phone or speaking in person, you can always just say “zài jiàn,” but where’s the fun in that?



If you’d like to add some more variety to your “farewells,” below is a list for you of things that you can say as you leave a person or group of people. 


The list progresses from casual to formal, so you can use the first examples with your friends but not with, say, your friend’s parents when they’ve just had you over to their house for dinner, and vice versa.


The list also goes from the simplest expressions to more complex sentences. 


So if you’re just beginning to learn Chinese, stick with the first few examples for now. 


But if you’ve been learning for a while, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got a handle on all of them:


Tip: Before you begin, have Yoyo Chinese's free video-based pinyin chart (bit.ly/yoyochinesepinyinchart) open and ready to make sure your pinyin pronunciation is correct. The chart has audio demonstrations for all Mandarin sounds and video explanations for some of the more difficult sounds.


In English, you might say:


Bye!


In Chinese, you can say:


拜  拜(bái bái)!  


It’s always the double “bái bái” in Chinese, never just a single “bái.” 


In English, you might say:


Well, I’m off!


In Chinese, you can say:

我走了 (wǒ zǒu le)  

or


我先走了(wǒ xiān zǒu le)  


The word ”xiān” means “first,” so “wǒ xiān zǒu le” actually means “I’m leaving first.” It’s an acknowledgement that you’re leaving ahead of the person or people you’ve been hanging out with.


In English, you might say:


I have to go now


In Chinese, you can say:        


我得走了 (wǒ děi zǒu le)  


In English, you might say:


See you tomorrow this evening at 8:00!


In Chinese, you can say:


明天 晚上八点钟见 (míng tiān wǎn shàng bā diǎn zhōng jiàn)  


You can put almost any time phrase before “jiàn.”  It can be short, like “míng tiān jiàn” or “wǎn shàng jiàn” or “bā diǎn zhōng jiàn,” or it can be long like “Míng tiān wǎn shàng bā diǎn zhōng jiàn.” (明天晚上八点钟见 “See you tomorrow at eight o’clock in the evening.”)  





In English, you might say:


See you later/ soon /after a while!


In Chinese, you can say:


待会儿见 (dāi huǐr jiàn)  

or


过会儿 见 (guò huǐr jiàn) 

or


回头见 (huí tóu jiàn)  


These three phrases are colloquial and still on the casual end of the spectrum. “Huǐr” is short for “yì huǐr” (一会儿)  , which means “a little while.” 




You COULD leave off the “er” at the end and just say “yì huǐ,” but that just sounds odd, even to my ears, which are used to hearing a more southern style of Mandarin.  Also, every dictionary out there lists this as “yì huìr,” with the fourth tone, but it’s actually pronounced with a third tone here.


In English, you might say:


I’ll be on my way now.


In Chinese, you can say: 


我先走一步 (wǒ xiān zǒu yí bù)  


By adding the “yí bù” onto the end, it becomes a little more formal.  “Yí bù” means “one step.”


In English, you might say:   

 
I’ll say goodbye now.


In Chinese, you can say:  

   
我先告辞了 (wǒ xiān gào cí le)  


We are entering some fairly formal territory now. “Gào cí le” is not the kind of thing you’d say to your friends, unless you’re trying to be funny.


In English, you might say:


I’ll show myself out.


In Chinese, you can say:


留步 (liú bù)  


In western cultures, it’s always nice and polite to show someone out as they leave, but this is especially important in China. And the further you go, the more care you’re showing for a guest. 


Showing them to the door is basic. Walking out to the elevator or down to the main entrance of the apartment building is better. Making sure they safely get onto their ride home (bus, taxi, whatever) is great, and actually taking them all the way to their own door is best. 


The word used to describe this is “sòng” (送)  .  So if you want to tell someone that there’s no need to “sòng” you, then you can just say “Bú yòng sòng” (不用送)  , but “liú bù” is also good for a formal or polite situation.


In English, you might say:


Apologies, I’ll excuse myself now.


In Chinese, you can say:

失陪了 (shī péi le) 


If you want to add on a little something extra to make these phrases even more polite and formal, then you can also use “gè wèi” (各位)  , which is a way to politely address everyone, and “bào qiàn” (抱歉)  , which is a formal way to apologize. 


So, for example, you can say, “Gè wèi, bào qiàn, wǒ xiān gào cí le” (各位,抱歉,我先告辞了)  , which is like saying, “Everyone, apologies, I must say goodbye now.” 


And how do you respond if someone else says goodbye to you? 


As always, “zài jiàn” is just fine, as is “bài bài,” if it’s not a formal setting, but any of the following will do too:


Chinese:


慢走 (màn zǒu)!  


Meaning: This literally means “go slowly,” and is a way to say “take care.”


Chinese:

有空再来 (yǒu kòng zài lái) 

有空再聊 (yǒu kòng zài liáo) 


Meaning: “Come back when you’re free” and “Talk more when you’re free.”  The first one is usually used as you’re leaving someone’s house, and the second one is most often used on the phone or as you’re ending a conversation.


Chinese:

到时候见 (dào shí hòu jiàn) 


Meaning: “See you then,” so it’s a good response when someone says,“ See you (whenever).”


And lastly, if your mind blanks and you can’t think of anything else, you could always just wave goodbye and make the “telephone” sign with your fingers held up to your face to indicate that you’ll keep in touch by phone. It truly seems to be a universal way to say goodbye these days.  No words necessary.



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JULIE THA GYAW is one of the course designers and script writers for Yoyo Chinese. She has lived in China for more than a decade teaching Mandarin, and holds a Master's degree in Chinese from Middlebury College. Her biggest and most challenging project these days is learning how to teach her one-year-old son both English and Chinese.

Tue, 24 Jun 2014 00:15:00 GMT

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