I learnt Chinese in Just One Year - Chinese Metaphors and Watermelon Juice


No gourd is perfectly round, just as no man is perfect.

Talk to me for more than five minutes and you will soon realize I love metaphors. And in half that time you will already have me talking about food.

Chinese just happens to be a perfect combination of the two.

I love how in Chinese, through simple combinations of characters you already know, you can easily learn (and automatically remember) new vocabulary which would otherwise be an abstract combination of letters in any other alphabet-based language.

I came across the above proverb this morning while looking up the word 滾 (rolling) finally realising 滾 was part of 摇滾 (literally "rock" n "roll"). With that sorted I started thinking about the use of 瓜 (gourd)in Chinese. Let's see:

If you add 南 (south) you get 南瓜 >>> pumpkin

If you add 西 (west) you get 西瓜 >>> watermelon

If you add 冬 (winter) you get 冬瓜 >>> winter melon

If you add 黃 (yellow) you get 黃瓜 >>> cucumber

If you add 地 (earth) you get 地瓜 >>> sweet potato

If you add 木 (wood) you get 木瓜 >>> papaya

If you add 傻 (stupid) you get 傻瓜 >>> a fool :)

How cool is that!

Yes, when I started learning Chinese, people constantly told me learning characters was hard, better just learn the pinyin, but from the beginning, I always felt learning characters was important, even traditional characters. In fact in my first six months, I refused even to look at the pinyin! You see, in learning the characters, you add meaning and through meaning comes understanding.

It's like they say in Chinese 種瓜得瓜,種豆得豆 (plant melons reap melons, plant beans reap beans >>> "you reap what you sow"), if you are willing to put the extra work in at the beginning, the long term benefits and ability to quickly learn new vocabulary are all there for the taking. And using patterns like shown above, the vocabulary quickly sunk in.

Yes, we may all want to be 滾瓜爛熟 (ripe as a melon that rolls from its vine) and "know a (language) fluently", but there are times when words just don't seem to stick (like my above mentioned 摇滾) but they also say 瓜熟蒂落 (when the melon is ripe, it falls >>> "things sort themselves when the time is ripe"), and when a word is "ripe", it will stick, and it will stick for good. Sometimes we do need to wait, but more often we can use special learning techniques to stimulate the "ripening" process. That's where I can help :)

Now just in case you didn't know it 瓜田不納履,李下不整冠 (don't tie your shoelaces in a melon patch, and don't adjust your hat under a plum tree). It may "arouse suspicion" (you know, just a little) :)

Obviously we could 数冬瓜道茄子 (list winter melons down to aubergines) or rattle on and talk endlessly about melons, metaphors and Mandarin, but I think I would rather go and make a pumpkin pie.

Now where did my watermelon juice go?