The Beijing dialect began to be applied as the standard Mandarin in China around late Qing dynasty, but you are wrong if you think it’s a piece of cake to speak like a native Beijinger as long as you’ve mastered Mandarin.
With the distinctive r-coloring (Erhuayin) character of its accent, along with some colloquial phrases exclusive to the dialect, plus the not-giving-a-damn spirit the Beijing dialect speakers always seem to convey, it can be as difficult to speak like a Beijing local as any other Chinese dialect speakers – but don’t worry, we strive to make it easier for you here, by introducing some frequently used phrases.
“Bei’r” means “very”, and is widely used in daily life by locals of Beijing and its neighboring city Tianjin. The usage is simple: Just replace “very” with “Bei’r” in a phrase – for example “倍儿爽 (Bei’er Shuang, meaning very happy). This phrase is also a typical representation of Beijing accent’s r-coloring, so instead of pronouncing the two characters separately, you should make a sound more like / bɜː/ when saying the word.
Listen to Beijing musician Da Zhang Wei’s Bei’r Shuang (Very Happy) and learn the pronunciation of “Bei’r” from him.
鸡贼 Ji Zei
Literally translated as “Chicken thief”, this adjective is often used to describe stingy or calculating people in Beijing dialect. Sometimes it’s used between close friends to make fun of each other too.
The adjective is used to describe a person who has a disagreeable and stubborn character, or a bizarre incident that can’t be explained with reason. However, different from “disagreeable”, “stubborn” or “bizarre” in English, “Ge” cannot be used as an attribute adjective, but can only be predicative.
发小儿 Fa Xiao’r
In ancient times, “Fa Xiao’r” was how Beijingers addressed the naughty kids who wore pigtails and loved playing with mud, but after some transformations in its meaning, the phrase is now regarded as a name for the old friends who you grew up with. There’s an old verse in Chinese that goes “Clothes are the newer the better; friends are the older the better”, and that’s probably why the phrase “Fa Xiao’r” seems to send out an affectionate ambience.
老炮儿 Lao Pao’r
If you are familiar with Chinese blockbusters, then you might have heard the phrase “Lao Pao’r”, which was the Chinese name of director Guan Hu’s 2015 movie Mr.Six. The phrase means “old loafer”, and was once used to denounce the old Beijingers who idle around all day long. As time goes by, “Lao Pao’r” is more often used to commend those respectable old men who had their heydays in their career, with an upright and loyal personality kept till today.
眼力见儿 Yan Li Jia’r
Usually used after “有 (You, meaning ‘have’)” or “没 (Mei, meaning ‘don’t have’)”, the noun phrase “Yan Li Jia’r” is to describe people’s ability to observe situations acutely and act accordingly with discretion.
撸串儿 Lu Chuan’r
The infinitive phrase vividly portrays the action of eating meat skewers – “Lu Chuan’r” literally means “to strip the meat off the skewers”. Beijingers love chatting over meat skewers and beers, and it’s no exaggeration to say that meat skewers are an icon of the Beijing folk culture. While the verb “Lu” can also mean “to masturbate”, the phrase “Lu Chuan’r” seems to be a vulgar expression, so you might want to think twice before you say that to not-so-close friends.
胸是炒鸡蛋 Xiong Shi Chao Ji Dan
At first glance of this phrase, anyone who knows Mandarin will find themselves quite confused, as the phrase is literally translated as “Scrambled Eggs is Chest”. “Wait, isn’t it ‘Scrambled Eggs with Tomatoes’?” a foodie like you may wonder. It is in fact because Beijingers make elisions when they speak very fast, so what is originally “Xi Hong Shi Chao Ji Dan (‘Xi Hong Shi’ means ‘tomato’)” sounds like “Xiong Shi Chao Ji Dan (Xiong means ‘chest’, while ‘Shi’ means ‘is’)”. You may try make an elision next time when you order scrambled eggs with tomatoes in front of your Beijing friends, and they will definitely be impressed.