Essay:《帮忙》 Helping Out

In this one-paragraph read (HSK 2-3), Little Brother wants to help dad get ready to leave the house, but his contribution falls flat.

In this one-paragraph read (around HSK 2-3), Little Brother wants to help dad get ready to leave the house, but his contribution falls flat.

Some language stuff

一边… 一边… yī biān – This is one of the earliest structures you learn when you start taking classes, so you may have picked this up already, but these two “一边”s tie together two tasks that someone is doing at the same time. Like, definitely do not 一边开车,一边看手机 (Drive a car, while looking at your phone).

手忙脚乱 shǒu máng jiǎo luàn – This phrase means “flustered”, or “in confusion”, and if you look at each character individually, you can see why – if our hands (手) and feet (脚) are busily (忙) and messily (乱) moving around, we’re probably flustered, or frantic. I translated this as “scrambling” in the below essay, because it works in context. This structure, where two similar words are paired with two other similar words to describe lots of frantic activity, is common. Another example of this 东望西看 dōng wàng xī kàn, literally “east gaze west look”, which means “looking around everywhere”, and 胡思乱想 hū sī luàn xiǎng, literally “muddled consider messy think”, or “let one’s imagination run wild”.

yí – A sound that expresses surprise, like “Ack!” or “Agh!”

多么 duō me – Translates as “so”, as in “I so wanted to be there!” or “I so wish he would answer the phone.”

什么也帮不上 shén me yě bāng bu shàng – This structure is hard if you only know one definition of each of these characters, because although these are all individually easy words, three of them are being used with their secondary, slightly less-common definitions. So, let’s break down their most obvious meanings first:

什么 – what?
也 – also
帮 – help
不 – no / not
上 – up / over / above

That makes no sense. So let’s look again with the alternate definitions that are actually being used here, with differences in bold:

什么 – anything / nothing
也 – even
帮 – help
不 – not
上 – rise

Hm, still hard, especially the appearance of “rise”. In this case, 上 does not mean “rise” in the directional sense, like “to rise up in the air”. It means “rise”, as in “rise to the task”. 帮不上 is one of those action + result structures that we see all the time in Chinese. The action is helping (帮), the result is that one “couldn’t rise” (不上) to the task of helping. So, all together, 什么也帮不上 translates to “nothing one can even do to help”.

Source here.

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Show English translation »
Father was going out of town for work, but in the morning he woke up late. He got busy washing his face and brushing his teeth, and elder sister helped him pack his clothes, mother brought him breakfast, and helped him find his notebook. While father ate his breakfast, he felt his pockets, Ack!, where did the train ticket go? Father put down the milk, the cake, and scrambled around looking for the ticket. Little brother so wanted to help father do something, but there was nothing he could do to help. Little brother thought: “How about I help dad eat breakfast.” He climbed up on the stool, took the leftover milk and cake and ate it all up.

4 replies on “Essay:《帮忙》 Helping Out”


This is a great short story. ITs been a while since ive studied Chinese. the explanation of the different phrases at the beginning is also helpful.

Thank you

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