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A how to for “picking up” in Chinese

Stop sniggering at the back! When you saw the title, did you think we were learning about how to pick up a man or woman in Chinese class today? We are strictly talking about the Chinese translations of the English phrase “to pick up”! For example, “to pick up a book”, “…your parents” or “…a little Mandarin”. This is a little less easy in Mandarin, as the word will change depending on the situation.

Oh and I lied, it’s not 100% true that we won’t learn about picking up dates… but before we start on all of that, let’s being with a more… academic example!

学会(xué huì)-pick up

学会(xué huì) means “to pick up a skill”. 学(xué) means “to learn, to study” and 会(huì) means “master a skill”. So you learn + master = “pick up”. The object in this structure could be either a verb phrase or a noun. For example:

  • 学会做饭(xué huì zuòfàn)-pick up cookery (skills)
  • 学会英语(xué huì yīngyǔ)-pick up English

接(jiē)-pick up

接(jiē) itself has a lot of meanings itself, but here we are talking about 接电话(jiē diànhuà) which means to pick up a phone.

In case you were wondering, “to hang up” is “挂电话(guà diànhuà).

  • Don’t hang up. 别挂电话(bié guà diànhuà)。

接(jiē)-pick someone up

If you need to pick someone up, as in, from the airport, work or school perhaps (not at a bar!!) you also use 接(jiē). The structure is: 接(jiē) + someone.

汤(jī tāng)-“pick-me-up”.

Nope, I didn’t make a mistake here. The equivalent phrase for “pick-me-up” in Chinese is “鸡汤(jī tāng)”, literally “chicken soup”. I guess chicken soup is something you drink when you are sick and it makes you feel better. So the Chinese think of expressions and kind words which pick you up in spirit as鸡汤(jī tāng) as well! Here is a “鸡汤(jī tāng)”

皮卡(píkǎ)-“pickup truck”.

I have a hunch that this word is a word is lent from English. 皮卡(píkǎ) just sounds like “pickup”, doesn’t it? In China, few people drive a “pickup truck”, especially in cities. Chinese think the only reason you would drive a皮卡(píkǎ) is because your job is a truck driver.

搭讪(dāshàn)-“pick up”

Finally, the one you’ve been waiting for! 搭讪(dāshàn) is used when you pick up a man or a woman. It’s a verb but you can’t use any object directly in most cases.

So “I picked her up” IS NOT 我搭讪她 (Wǒ dāshàn tā). No, no, no. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

The right way to use it should be:

He likes to pick up in the bars.
(Tā xǐhuan zài jiǔbā dāshàn)。

He picked her up.
(tā xiàng tā dāshàn)。

However, this word should come with a warning, because in Chinese, 搭讪(dāshàn) is frowned upon and conveys a slightly negative meaning, particularly to more traditional Chinese people. So if you want to use it, please be careful. Otherwise you will be considered a “不正经(bù zhèngjīng)” or bad man/woman.

On the subject of how to go about搭讪(dāshàn), some phrase book will teach you these words:

  • 美女(měinǚ) beauty
  • 帅哥(shuàigē) handsome guy

But in my opinion, these words will just tell others you are only interested in picking up and not sincerely trying to make friends. They are also not very imaginative. So last but not the least, let’s learn the number one best sentence to搭讪(dāshàn)!

I don’t understand this. Can you help me?
(wǒ bù dǒng zhège.nǐ kěyǐ bāng wǒ ma?)

Find something in characters, a menu, a ticket, a message… Ask him/her the question. Chinese people are very patient and who knows, maybe you will meet a new friend!

Vera Zhang

After graduating from East China Normal University in 2005, Vera Zhang (张晓丽) started her career in teaching Chinese as a second language. Her first teaching job was teaching high school Chinese in Philippines and realized how much she loved this job. In 2007, she came back Shanghai and spent 7 years in ChinesePod. During that, she also went to America to learn language learning knowledge and curriculum editing by teaching in a high school. Now she works in a start-up company and has developed a new Chinese learning app-HelloChinese. She hopes she can share her knowledge in Chinese and make Chinese learning easy and fun.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Thanks a lot for the article! Very interesting. How about “to pick up something”? Or in a restaurant context “pick up only” (no delivery)?

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