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Family is important in all cultures around the world. After all, where would we be without our family? When learning a new language, this topic always comes up. Of course, the many words used to describe relationships in a family can be confusing. In order to help you discuss your family in Chinese, I’m going to introduce some useful vocabulary. First of all, you can use one Chinese character to mean “family” (家 – jiā). This character can also mean “home,” so to avoid confusion, you can add the character for “people” (人 – rén) to show that you’re talking about the people in your family (家人 – jiā rén). Or, if you prefer, you can use yet another word for “family” (家庭 – jiā tíng). Whichever word you use, sooner or later you’ll need to introduce the people in your family.
Let’s start out with your immediate family – the people who brought you into this world and the people you grew up in the same house with:
How about your extended family? You know, those people you only see at holidays or family reunions. In English, we can just say “grandma” and “grandpa” for both side of the family. Unfortunately, it’s not so easy in Chinese:
If you think that’s complicated, just wait… In English, we can use the word “uncle” to describe so many people – our mother’s or father’s brother, or the husband of our mother’s our father’s sister. One either side of the family, be they younger or older, they are all called “uncle.” In Chinese, there are different words for every relationship:
Thankfully, there is one word that can sort of universally mean “uncle” (叔叔 – shū shu). It’s used for actual family members, and can also be used when talking to an older man who is not in your family, but mostly for children. For example, many Chinese kids will often call me “叔叔”, despite the fact that we’re obviously not related whatsoever. Well, how about the ladies in the family? One all-encompassing word can basically mean “auntie” (阿姨 – Ā yí), but there are plenty of other words to learn:
And you thought English had a lot of names for family relationships! So what happens when your uncles and aunts have children? As you’ve probably guessed by now, there are a bunch of Chinese words that can be used. The word changes depending on whether your cousin is a boy or girl, and whether they are younger or older. You’ll see some familiar characters that you’ve already learned:
Eventually, most people will start a family of their own. You know what that means, don’t you? Time to learn even more vocabulary!
Now that you’re equipped with a bunch of new vocabulary, try to introduce your family in Chinese. Even better yet, write out your family tree, and include the Chinese words for the various relationships. To help you out a bit, here’s an article I wrote a while back about my family in Chinese. Of course, you can always learn a new Chinese word every day with us!