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Teacher Talk

Phrases familiar to every Chinese student


Teacher Talk

Phrases familiar to every Chinese student


Today is Teacher’s Day, a time when students express gratitude and respect to their teachers through gift-offering or card-giving. In China, teachers enjoy high social status. During ancient times, Confucianism required people to respect their teachers like their parents.

Although people of different ages or from different regions may not have much in common, educators always have similar tendencies—strict, hard-working, and always urge students to study harder. Here are some classic lines from Chinese teachers which, if you have Chinese education experience, may sound all too familiar.

1.This is a freebie 这是一道送分题

This sentence is usually heard when teachers make comments on an exam. In their opinion, exams are full of no-brainers, and what you need to do is to just write the correct answer. No mistakes are allowed. And if students lose marks due to an easy problem, you will hear the teacher slam the blackboard and ask the whole class: “How can you answer incorrectly? This is a freebie!”

2.You are not dumb, just not hard-working 你们脑子不笨,就是不肯用功。

A qualified teacher is supposed to encourage students and Chinese faculty members are no different. Just like anywhere else in the world, it’s mean to say someone is stupid, but it acceptable to criticize laziness. It’s common to hear “You are not dumb,  just not hard-working.” Many think that the spirit of diligence exists innate in the blood of the Chinese, but that is exactly why Chinese teachers rarely believe their students are industrious—they can always work harder!

3.You study for yourself, not for me 你是给自己学的,不是给我学的

Great achievements come from great motivation. Teachers know this. They are natural speakers, good at making stirring speeches to motivate students—“Gaokao is your best opportunity to change your fate!” “After you survive these moths, you will have enough time to relax!” “The harder you study now, the easier your future will be!” But students are not always faithful believers, sometimes they just can’t “study hard”. So, teachers, who have exhausted their entire repertoire, become anxious, saying: “You study for yourself, not for me!” And if they are even angrier, they may add: “I can leave you alone! You can study or not, I earn the same salary!”

4. Your PE teacher is taking today off, let’s have math class instead 体育老师今天请假了,我们来上数学

Students love PE class, because it’s the only opportunity to play in the playground instead of studying behind a desk. But obviously teachers have a different standpoint. In their opinion, limited time should be spent on more “valuable” classes, like math or Chinese. So, the PE teachers naturally become the least dedicated members of faculty on campus. We are often told that they have asked for leave and cannot have class. Imagine being excited for PE, only for the math teacher to walk into the classroom and announce “Your PE teacher is taking today off, so let’s have math class instead!” Student heads droop immediately.

5. Please give me two minutes 耽误大家两分钟

Teachers believe that they have right to extend class time. They often completely ignore the ringing bell for as long as they want to. In most cases, they look sorry for the delay and assure you that they will finish the class as soon as possible. But every student knows that in a teacher’s dictionary, “two minutes” is mere rhetoric. 

6.Forgetting to bring it means you didn’t do it 没带就是没写

Homework is the most deadly weapon a teacher can wield. If they’re lucky, students may get piles of homework from their teachers—more than they can finish. The next morning when students are required to hand in their work, they open their bags, take out all the notebooks, and then put on an innocent expression, saying “I forget to bring it!” But students never realize that their teachers had been students before they became teachers. What they are doing has been done so many times by their predecessors. So, in response, their teachers simply raise their eyebrows and announces: “Forgetting to bring it means you didn’t do it!” Normally the students will then be required to complete their work straightaway and hand it in. A letter to their parents will also accompany them home. The lesson is, don’t play tricks on your teacher!

7.Don’t think I can’t see you from here 不要以为我在上面什么都看不见

Discipline is necessary in school. That’s just a given. Students should always keep quiet and listen to the teacher in class. No talking, no daydreaming. When students talk with each other, the teacher on the platform (used to tower over students) will stop them angrily. When teachers discipline students, they often add a serious warning: “Don’t think I can’t see you from here!” Even now, I still don’t know if it was a bluff or not.

8.One minute late means an hour wasted 全班60个人, 你迟到一分钟, 就是耽误大家一个小时

Being late is of course a serious mistake. You interrupt the class, don’t show enough respect to the teacher, and waste everyone’s time. But your teacher will manipulate the offense in a different way. When you knock on the door and say you are sorry, the teacher will tell you: “You are one minute late, so we have waited one minute for you. There are 60 students in our class, so the time you have wasted is one hour!”

9.You are the worst class I have ever taught 你们是我教过最差的一届学生

It sounds really inappropriate, but almost every teacher has said this sentence. Students can be naughty, rebellious, and can easily gain the title of “worst”. Maybe when they graduate, teachers will tell them at the ceremony, “You are the best students I have ever taught.” Worst or best, apart from the teachers themselves, nobody knows the truth. But we all understand the teachers’ philosophy—modesty helps one go forward, whereas conceit makes one lag behind. They keep telling you you are not good enough, to spur you to become better.

In Chinese education, there are lots of sayings like “Strict teachers produce outstanding students.” When you are a student, your teacher is your class enemy, your nightmare. But when they leave you, you begin to miss them and everything they have done for you. So, if you can think of any of your teachers today, please send them a gift (the non-bribery kind) and wish them a happy Teachers’ Day.


Cover Image from Douban