Sooner or Later You Will Need This Word

Word of the Week: chí zǎo

I remember the first six months of learning Chinese were pretty tough for me. I was working my arse off but it felt like I was getting nowhere. I just couldn’t make that breakthrough where you start having basic conversations. No matter how many new words I learnt and how much listening practice I did, I just couldn’t understand a thing of what people were saying when they spoke to me in Chinese.

I almost gave up a couple of times. I thought “maybe I’m just not able to learn languages”. But I didn’t give up, I reasoned with myself that learning languages is human nature. Some might have more ability than others but we all have it in our genes to learn languages, it just takes time. I’d also met a lot of Chinese people who could speak really good English, and some of them weren’t particularly intelligent (to put it mildly) so I thought to myself “sooner or later I will get there”.


I even studied calligraphy

In Chinese you can say chí zǎo 迟早 (literally “late early”) to mean “sooner or later”. You can also use zǎo wǎn 早晚 (literally “early late” or “morning evening”) to mean the same thing.

In English the phrase “sooner or later” often comes before the subject of the sentence, but in Chinese chí zǎo and zǎo wǎn usually come before the verb huì or yào, both of which can be translated as “will”.

wǒ chí zǎo huì xué hǎo zhōng wén 我迟早会学好中文

I late early will study good Chinese/ sooner or later I will successfully learn Chinese

And if your aim is to pass the HSK exam then just keep working at it because nǐ chí zǎo huì tōng guò HSK liù jí 你迟早会通过HSK六级 (sooner or later you will pass the HSK6).

When I first came to China I was fresh out of university and continued to go out drinking a lot. After hanging out with Chinese guys a lot I even started to be a “social smoker” but then a colleague told me nǐ chí zǎo yào shàng yǐn 你迟早要上瘾 (sooner or later you will get addicted) so luckily I quit before I really got started.

Beyond perfecting my Chinese I had no long term plans or idea about my future career path, but then again měi gè rén zǎo wǎn yào chéng jiā lì yè 每个人早晚要成家立业 (everyone will want to settle down with a family and career sooner or later).