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Master the Art of ‘Picking Up’ in Chinese: Translations You Need to Know!

Stop giggling at the back! When you saw the title, did you think we were diving into the world of dating and romance in Chinese class today? Well, instead we’ll be focusing on a much more practical aspect of the language: translations of the English phrase “to pick up” in Mandarin Chinese!

From acquiring new skills to answering phone calls, the Chinese language contains a rich variety of expressions that vary depending on the context. And hey, don’t worry, we might just touch upon the dating scene too! But first, let’s begin with a more academic example to whet your appetite for knowledge!

学会(xué huì)-pick up a skill

In this phrase, 学 (xué) means ‘learn’ or ‘study,’ and 会 (huì) means ‘master a skill.’ When you combine the two, you get ‘pick up a skill.’ You can use this structure with either a verb phrase or a noun.

For example:

  • 学会做饭(xué huì zuòfàn) Pick up cooking
  • 学会英语(xué huì yīngyǔ) Pick up English

接(jiē)-pick up the phone

接 (jiē) has multiple meanings, but in this case, we’re referring to 接电话 (jiē diànhuà), which means to pick up a phone call. In case you’re wondering, “to hang up” is 挂电话 (guà diànhuà).

For example:

  • 别挂电话 (bié guà diànhuà) Don’t hang up.
  • 快接电话!(kuài jiē diànhuà)Pick up the phone!

接(jiē)-pick someone up

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

For example:

你今天会去接他吗?(Nǐ jīntiān huì qù jiē tā ma?)
Will you go pick her up today?

请五点来机场接我。(Qǐng wǔdiǎn lái jīchǎng jiē wǒ.)
Please come to the airport to pick me up at 5 o’clock.

汤 (jī tāng)-pick-me-up

No, I didn’t make a mistake. In Chinese, the equivalent phrase for “pick-me-up” is 鸡汤 (jī tāng), which literally means “chicken soup.” Just like how chicken soup can make you feel better when you’re sick, the Chinese use the term 鸡汤 (jī tāng) to refer to expressions and kind words that uplift your spirits as well! Here’s a serving of 鸡汤 (jī tāng) for you: 明天会更好.

皮卡 (píkǎ) – pickup truck

I suspect that the word 皮卡 (píkǎ) is borrowed from English. It sounds just like “pickup,” doesn’t it? In China, only a few people drive pickup trucks, especially in cities. Chinese people believe that the only reason someone would drive a 皮卡 (píkǎ) is if they work as a truck driver.

搭讪 (dāshàn) – pick up someone romantically

Finally, here’s the moment you’ve been waiting for! 搭讪 (dāshàn) is used when you approach and strike up a conversation with someone. It’s a verb, but in most cases, you can’t directly use an object with it.

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

The correct way to use it would be:

For example:

他喜欢在酒吧搭讪。(Tā xǐhuan zài jiǔbā dāshàn.)
He likes to pick up people at bars.

他向她搭讪。(Tā xiàng tā dāshàn.)
He picked her up.

However, I must warn you that 搭讪 (dāshàn) carries a slightly negative connotation in Chinese, especially among more traditional individuals. So, if you want to use it, please be cautious. Otherwise, you might be considered a 不正经 (bù zhèngjīng), or a bad person.

When it comes to approaching someone, some phrase books might teach you words like:

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

But in my opinion, using these words will give the impression that you’re only interested in picking someone up rather than forming a genuine relationship. They are also not very creative. So, last but not least, let’s learn the best sentence to use for 搭讪 (dāshàn)!

For example:

我不懂这个。你可以帮我吗? (Wǒ bù dǒng zhège. Nǐ kěyǐ bāng wǒ ma?)
I don’t understand this. Can you help me?

Find something with characters, a menu, a ticket, or a message, and ask them the question. Chinese people are patient, and who knows, maybe you’ll even make a new friend or meet someone special along the way!

Closing Thoughts

Congratulations! You’ve now explored the many uses of “picking up” in Mandarin Chinese. From acquiring new skills to answering phone calls, and even exploring the delicate realm of dating, you’ve gained insights into the various  translations and cultural nuances of this seemingly simple phrase.

Remember, in your quest to learn and connect with Chinese speakers, it’s essential to approach each situation with respect and cultural sensitivity. Whether you’re using 学会 (xué huì) to pick up a skill, 接 (jiē) to pick up a phone call, or even venturing into the realm of 搭讪 (dāshàn) to pick up someone romantically, always be mindful of the context and the impact your words may have.

So, armed with this newfound knowledge, go forth and explore the Chinese language with confidence!

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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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