Making friends in the playground: some practical Mandarin words

Taipei is blessed to have many child-friendly parks equipped with all the sort of playground swings and climbing stuff that little children love.  Most Taiwanese families and their carers are friendly and like to talk with new people.  So what are some key phrases you can use to help communicate?  Here are Taiwanxifu’s top five Mandarin Chinese communication tips:

  1. To say hello, say ‘hi’ (hai in Chinese, 嗨).  There is an art to this: usually it is pronounced in a cutesy, high-pitched voice with the vowels drawn out.  Kind of like ‘hiiiiiigh’.  You can also get your children in the act by moving their hands in a mock wave while making cute faces and saying ‘hiiiiigh’ at other children.  It sounds kitschy and overly cutesy, but kids seem to respond well to it.
  2. Little boys are called dìdì (弟弟) and little girls are mèimèi (妹妹) (meaning little brother and little sister respectively).  If a child is older, you can call them gēgē (哥哥, older brother) or jiejie (姐姐, older sister).  Usually the age difference is relatively clear from the size of the child(ren).  But occasionally you will meet children who are of a similar age.  Parents and carers will then often start a discussion about the child’s birthday to determine who is gēgē and who is dìdì (or jiejie and mèimèi).  It’s a good conversation starter.
  3. If a child is cute, you can say kě’ài (可愛).  But I have noticed that these days it is more usual to describe boys as handsome (shuài, 帥)and girls as pretty (piàoliang, 漂亮).  Often boys are nicknamed ‘handsome older brother’ (shuàigē, 帥哥), a description that can be used for any handsome man. 
  4. You may often hear parents and carers warning their children to be careful in the playground.  While I think adults anywhere worry about kids hurting themselves, I find Taiwanese seem to be a little more risk averse than most!  So you may hear people using the words xiǎoxīn (小心) pronounced as ‘show (as in shower) shin’ , which means ‘be careful’.
  5. The proper Chinese word for goodbye is ‘zai jian’.  But most young parents and carers will use the anglicised form of goodbye (bàibài, 拜拜) prounced like ‘bye bye’.  This is perfectly acceptable to use and for most English speakers, much easier to remember.

Now you have some basic vocabulary to meet locals at the playground.  But depending on the time of day, you might find that the playground is empty.  Locals like to avoid the heat summer heat, coming out later in the afternoon or evening when things are cooler.  But when the weather is bright and sunny, you will find the playground is the place to be.  Nor is the playground just for women and their kids; Mr Taiwanxifu met many new mums, dads and carers while taking our kids to the playground.  And after a while, you get to know the regulars.

So, have you ventured out to your local playground yet?  And if so, did you find it easy to communicate?

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About taiwanxifu

‘Taiwanxifu’ (pronounced ‘shee foo’) means ‘Taiwan daughter-in-law’ in Chinese and has been my nickname ever since I married my Taiwanese husband, Sam. I love sampling Taiwanese food, even local specialties such as stinky tofu, pigs blood cake and Taipei beef noodle soup with offal. But there are many other options on the menu. Promise!
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