Stories of Chinese Proverbs

Proverbs in different languages

Cindy Tracy

I saw this on the omniglot website and had to share. Some of these sayings are really thought-provoking. If you want to understand them in the original language, please check out our language learning products at


قوّة الإنسان فى عقله و لسانه
(qūwatu l-ʾinsāni fi ʿaqlihi wa lisānihi)
The stength of a person is in his intelligence and his tongue.


Limba dultsi multu adutsi
sweet language brings much


Hep brezhoneg, breizh ebet
Without Breton there is no Brittany Ma yezh eo ma bro My language is my country
- Pêr-Jakez Helias


Човекът е толкова пъти човек, колкото езика знае
(Čovekãt e tolkova pãti čovek, kolkoto ezika znae)
the more languages you know, the more you are a person

Chinese (Classical)

書不盡言 言不盡意
(Shū bù jìn yán yán bù jìn yì)
Writing cannot express all words, words cannot encompass all ideas.
- Confucius

學而時習之 不亦說乎
(xué ér shí xí zhī, bù yì yuè hū)
Is it not enjoyable to learn and practice what you learn?
- Confucius

Chinese (Mandarin)

(Tiān bù pà, dì bù pà, zhǐ pà Guǎngdōng rén shuō Pŭtōnghuà)
I fear neither heaven nor earth, I only fear Cantonese speakers trying to speak Mandarin.

(xué yì mén yǔyán, jiù shì duō yí ge guānchá shìjiè de chuānghu.)
To learn a language is to have one more window from which to look at the world.

Chinese (Cantonese)

(Tìn m̀h gìng, deih m̀h gìng, jí gìng bākfòng yàhn góng Gwóngdùngwá m̀hjeng)
I fear neither heaven nor earth, I only fear Mandarin speakers speaking Cantonese badly.


Kolik jazyků znáš, tolikrát jsi člověkem.
The more languages you know, the more you are human. or lit.
"As many languages you know, as many times you are a human being"
- refers not just to the ability to communicate in different languages, but also the ability to share in various spiritual spheres of different cultures.
- Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk


Translators are like ninjas. If you notice them, they're no good.
- Etgar Keret (אֶתְגָּר קֶרֶת)

It's no coincidence that in no known language does the phrase "As pretty as an airport" appear.
- Douglas Adams

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.
- Joseph Addison

Language is the means of getting an idea from my brain into yours without surgery.
- Mark Amidon

By words the mind is winged.
- Aristophanes

As a hawk flieth not high with one wing, even so a man reacheth not to excellence with one tongue.
- Roger Ascham

He that travelleth into a country before he hath some entrance into the language, goeth to school, and not to travel.
- Francis Bacon

Belladonna, n.: In Italian a beautiful lady; in English a deadly poison. A striking example of the essential identity of the two tongues.
- Ambrose Bierce

There is no such thing as an ugly language. Today I hear every language as if it were the only one, and when I hear of one that is dying, it overwhelms me as though it were the death of the Earth.
- Elias Canetti

When I use a word [...] it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.
- Humpty Dumpty, Through The Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll

I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my dog.
- Emperor Charles V

England and America are two countries divided by a common language.
- George Bernard Shaw

Words are the leaves of the tree of language, of which, if some fall away, a new succession takes their place.
- John French

Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow.
- Oliver Wendell Holmes

Every language is a temple, in which the soul of those who speak it is enshrined.
- Oliver Wendell Holmes

When you go to a country, you must learn how to say two things: how to ask for food, and to tell a woman that you love her. Of these the second is more important, for if you tell a woman you love her she will certainly feed you.
- Louis L'Amour

Not only does the English Language borrow words from other languages, it sometimes chases them down dark alleys, hits them over the head, and goes through their pockets.
- Eddy Peters

Any time you think some other language is strange, remember that yours is just as strange, you're just used to it.
Linguistic Mystic

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.
- Abraham Lincoln

Perhaps of all the creations of man language is the most astonishing.
- Giles Lytton Strachey

Language is an anonymous, collective and unconscious art; the result of the creativity of thousands of generations.
- Edward Sapir

Own only what you can carry with you; know language, know countries, know people. Let your memory be your travel bag.
- Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.
- Mark Twain

They spell it Vinci and pronounce it 'Vinchy': foreigners always spell better than they pronounce.
- Mark Twain

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.
- Nelson Mandela

He that has many languages to express his thoughts, but no thoughts worth expressing, is like one that can write all hands, but never the better sense, or can cast up any sum of money, but has none.
- Samuel Bulter (1612-1680)

Absolutely nothing is so important for a nation's culture as its language.
- Wilhelm von Humboldt

Language is the spiritual exhalation of the nation.
- Wilhelm von Humboldt

Has a nation anything more precious than the language of its fathers?
- Johann Herder

a sensible conclusion is that languages are 'difficult' in inverse proportion to the strength of motivation for learning them
- Reg Hindley

The loss of languages is tragic precisely because they are not interchangeable, precisely because they represent the distillation of the thoughts and communication of people over their entire history.
- Marianne Mithun

We infer the spirit of the nation in great measure from the language, which is a sort of monument to which each forcible individual in a course if many hundred years has contributed a stone.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

No man should travel until he has learned the language of the country he visits. Otherwise he voluntarily makes himself a great baby, - so helpless and so ridiculous.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Language is the most massive and inclusive art we know, a mountainous and anonymous work of unconscious generation.
- Edward Sapir

I am sorry when any language is lost, because languages are the pedigree of nations.
- Dr Johnson

The world is a mosaic of visions. With each language that disappears, a piece of that mosaic is lost.
- François Grosjean

Language embodies the intellectual wealth of the people who use it.
- Kenneth Hale

Language exerts hidden power, like a moon on the tides.
- Rita Mae Brown, Starting From Scratch, 1988

Language is the armory of the human mind, and at once contains the trophies of its past and the weapons of its future conquests.
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Language is wine upon the lips.
- Virginia Woolf

Americans who travel abroad for the first time are often shocked to discover that, despite all the progress that has been made in the last 30 years, many foreign people still speak in foreign languages.
- Dave Barry

Men imagine that their minds have the command of language, but it often happens that language bears rule over their minds.
- Francis Bacon

Two languages in one head - no one can live at that speed! Good lord man. You're asking the impossible!
- Eddie Izzard

Broadly speaking, short words are best, and the old words, when short, are best of all.
- Winston Churchill

I personally believe we developed language because of our deep inner need to complain.
- Jane Wagner

Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say infinitely when you mean very; otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.
- C. S. Lewis


Ĉian ofendadon de homo pro tio, ke li apartenas al alia gento, lingvo, religio aŭ socia klaso mi rigardas kiel barbarecon.
I consider as barbaric any offence to a human being because he belongs to a different people, language, religion or social class.
- Ludoviko Zamenhof


Il faut tourner sa langue sept fois dans sa bouche avant de parler.
One must turn the tongue seven times in the mouth before speaking = Think before you speak.

Le langage est une peau : je frotte mon langage contre l'autre. C'est comme si j'avais des mots en guise de doigts, ou des doigts au bout de mes mots. Mon langage tremble de désir.
Language is a skin : I rub my language against the other. It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words. My language trembles with desire.
- Roland Barthes

Un homme qui parle trois langues est trilingue. Un homme qui parle deux langues est bilingue. Un homme qui ne parle qu'une langue est anglais.
A man who speaks three language is trilingual. A man who speaks two languages is bilingual. A man who speaks only one language is English.
- Claude Gagnière

La parole a été donnée à l'homme pour déguiser sa pensée.
Language was given to man to disguise his thoughts.
- Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord

Quand on voyage sans connaître l'anglais, on a l'impression d'être sourd-muet et idiot de naissance.
When you travel without knowing English, you have an idea of what it's like to be deaf, dumb and stupid.
- Philippe Bouvard


Wer fremde Sprachen nicht kennt, weiß nichts von seiner eigenen.
Those who know no foreign language knows nothing of their mother tongue.
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Die Grenzen meiner Sprache bedeuten die Grenzen meiner Welt.
The limits of my language are the limits of my universe.
- Ludwig Wittgenstein

Sie verkaufen und ich kaufe, sprechen wir deutsch. Aber Sie kaufen und ich verkaufe, dann sprechen wir Ihre Sprache.
When you're selling and I'm buying, we speak German. But when you're buying and I'm selling, then we speak your language.
- attributed to Willi Brandt

Die Sprache verkleidet den Gedanken. Language clothes thought. - Ludwig Wittgenstein Der Mensch gebärdet sich, als sei er Bildner und Meister der Sprache, während doch sie die Herrin der Menschen bleibt.
Man acts as though he were the shaper and master of language, while in fact language remains the master of man.
- Martin Heidegger


Ἡ γλώσσα δὲν ἔχει κόκκαλα καὶ κόκκαλα τσακίζει
(I glóssa den éhi kókala ke kókala tsakízi)
Language/Tongue has no bones but it breaks bones.


I ka 'ōlelo no ke ola; i ka 'ōlelo no ka make
In the language there is life; in the language there is death


הֵחַיִּים והַמָווֶת בְּיָד הַלָשׁוֹן
Life and death are in the hands of the tongue = mind what you say, for it might have great consequence


एक भाषा की बोली दूसरी की गाली | (ek bhaashaa kii boli doosrii kii gaalii)
A normal word in one language is an abusive word in other language


Nyelvében él a nemzet.
The nation lives through its language.
- Gróf Széchenyi István


Ti táo nga mannaríta, awán ti ania nga magapuánanna.
A man that talks too much accomplishes little.


Bahasa menunjukkan bangsa.
Language represents the nation.

Bahasa jiwa bangsa.
Language is the soul of a nation.

Irish (Gaelic)

Tír gan teanga, tír gan anam.
A country without a language is a country without a soul.

Is fearr Gaeilge bhriste, ná Béarla cliste.
Broken Irish is better than clever English.


Un vocabolario può contenere solo una piccola parte del patrimonio di una lingua.
A dictionary can embrace only a small part of the vast tapestry of a language.
- Giacomo Leopardi

Lingua toscana in bocca romana.
Tuscan language in a Roman mouth.
- a popular saying concerning the origins of the Italian language, meaning that its grammar sprang from the dialect spoken in Tuscany, while Roman people have the best pronunciation.


말이 씨가 된다.
A word becomes a seed = what you say is what you get


Consuetudo certissima est loquendi magistra.
Usage is the best language teacher.
- Marcus Fabius Quintilianus

Lingua mortua sola lingua bona est.
The only good language is a dead language.

Cave quid dicis, quando, et cui.
Beware what you say, when, and to whom.

Bene legere saecla vincere.
To read well is to master the ages.
- Professor Isaac Flagg

Qui habet aures audiendi audiat He who has ears for hearing, let him listen
- from Regula Sancti Benedicti, Prologus (Prologue to the Rule of Saint Benedict)

Notitia linguarum est prima porta sapientiae.
Knowledge of languages is the doorway to wisdom.
- Roger Bacon


Bahasa jiwa bangsa.
Language is the soul of a race.


Çheer gyn çhengey, çheer gyn ennym.
A country without language is a country without an name/identity.

Gyn çhengey, gyn çheer
No language, no country

Tra haink ny skibbyltee boghtey stiagh hie yn Ghaelg magh.
When the tourists came in, the Manx language went out.

Ta çhengey ny host ny share na olk y ghra.
A silent tongue is preferable to speaking evil.

Ta dooiney creeney smooinaght ooilley ny te gra, agh t'an ommidan gra ooilley ny te smooinaght.
A wise man thinks all he says, but a fool says all he thinks.

Yn beeal tutler poagey scrieu yn jouyl.
A gossip's mouth is the devil's postbag.


Toku reo toku ohōho.
My Language, my awakening.


Det er viktig hvilke ord du bruker, men viktigere hvilket språk du bruker. Du kan bytte ut ordene og si nesten det samme, men bytter du ut språket, hjelper det ikke om ordene er like.
Your choice of words is important, but more important is your choice of language. You can replace the words, saying roughly the same, but if you replace the language, it won't help you that the words are the same.

- Joachim Aremk


Mówienie jest srebrem, a milczenie złotem.
Talking is silver, while staying silent is golden.

Chodzi mi o to, aby język giętki Powiedział wszystko, co pomyśli głowa; A czasem był jak piorun jasny prędki, A czasem smutny jak pieśń stepowa, A czasem jako skarga Nimfy miętki, A czasem piękny jak Aniołów mowa
I wish that a dexterous tongue Could say everything that the head could think ...
Juliusz Słowacki, from the poem Beniowski


Minha pátria é a língua portuguesa.
My homeland is the Portuguese language.
- Fernando Pessoa


भाषा प्रशस्ता सुमनो लतेव
केषाम्न चेतांस्यावर्जयति।
(bhāṣā praśastā sumano lateva keṣām na cetāṃsy āvarjayati) Language, auspicious, charming, like a creeper, whose minds does it not win over?
sūkta - traditional maxim

Scottish Gaelic

Am fear a chailleas a chanain caillidh e a shaoghal.
He who loses his language loses his world.

Sluagh gun chanain, sluagh gun anam
A people without a language is a people without a soul

Chan fhiach cuirm gun a còmhradh.
A feast is no use without good talk.


Una lengua natural es el archivo adonde han ido a parar las experiencias, saberes y creencias de una comunidad.
A natural language is the archive where the experiences, knowledge and beliefs of a community are stored.
- Fernando Lázaro Carreter

La lengua es la piel del alma
Language is the skin of the soul.
- Fernando Lázaro Carreter

La pluma es la lengua de la mente
The pen is the tongue of the mind.
- Miguel de Cervantes

Con cada lengua que se extingue se borra una imagen del hombre.
For every language that becomes extinct, an image of man disappears.
- Octavio Paz

Para ser lexicógrafo hay que tener una veta de locura idealista, porque la foto del lenguaje es imposible hacerla.
You need to have a streak of idealistic lunacy in you to be a lexicographer, as it is impossible to take a photo of language.
- Manuel Seco

Yo nunca me he quedado sin patria. Mi patria es el idioma.
I've never been without a country. My language is my country.
- María Zambrano


Ang hindi magmahal sa sariling wika ay higit pa sa hayop at malansang isda.
Those who know not how to love their own language are worse than an animal and a smelly fish.
Jose Rizal, Filipino national hero


Söz gümüşse sukut altındır.
If talking is silver, silence is golden.

Tatlı dil yılanı deliğinden çıkarır.
Sweet language brings even a snake from its hole.

Dilin kemiği yoktur ama kemikleri büker.
The tongue has no bone but it twists the bones. meaning: words may have disastrous effects.

Bir dil bir insan, iki dil iki insan.
One who speaks only one language is one person, but one who speaks two languages is two people.

Скільки мов ти знаєш - стільки разів ти людина
(Skilʼky mov ty znaješ - stilʼky raziv ty ljudyna)
How many languages you know - that many times you are a person.
- Павло Тичина (Pavlo Tychyna)


Cenedl heb iaith, cenedl heb galon.
A nation without a language is a nation without a heart.


אַ שפּראַך איז אַ דיאַלעקט מיט אַן אַרמיי און פֿלאָט
(A shprakh iz a dyalekt mit an armey un flot)
A language is a dialect with an army and navy.
- Max Weinreich

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