Zoning out and daydreaming in Chinese

We all daydream, it’s impossible to stop, and probably beneficial so long as you don’t do it too much, or at critical times. I actually ‘zoned out’ a few times while deciding how to approach this post, which was originally one part of a larger article until I split it up narrowing the focus. And that’s what this post is about now, words to describe focus, or lack thereof.

The following two words, in my experience, don’t have a clear distinction in English. In both cases daydreaming would probably be fine to use. Though for the first word I’ve chosen ‘zone out’ as a suitable definition, since the meaning of this term is to be simply not paying attention, to be in an empty state, rather than actually thinking about something else, or ‘dreaming’.

发呆(發呆)

Pinyin: fā dāi
English: to stare blankly, to zone out

发 means to show something, a facial expression, which in this case is empty or expressionless, 呆, which also means stupid or foolish.

Example usage:

请你在说一次,我刚在发呆了(請你在說一次,我剛在發呆了)

Qǐng nǐ zài shuō yīcì, wǒ gāng zài fādāile

Could you please repeat that? I just zoned out for moment then.

It sounds a little strange in English, but I often hear people say something along these lines.

白日梦(白日夢)

Pinyin: bái rì mèng
English: a daydream

This word is exactly the same a the English daydream, 白日 being daytime, and 梦 being a dream. You make a dream 做梦, so a suitable example would go something like:

我上课无聊时都会做白日梦(我上課無聊時都會做白日夢

Wǒ shàngkè wúliáo shí dūhuì zuò báirìmèng

When I’m bored in class I always daydream

If you have just become distracted from what you should be doing then use 分心 instead. 分 means to divide and 心 is your heart, so if you divide your heart amongst many things you can’t be focused on one, so you must be distracted. Maybe you don’t want to admit you were 在发呆中 so you can use this instead 😉

分心

Pinyin: fēn xīn
English: to be distracted, to distract from

使用电脑工作时,就很容易被网路分心(使用電腦工作時,就很容易被網路分心)

Shǐyòng diànnǎo gōngzuò shí, jiù hěn róngyì bèi wǎng lù fēnxīn

When using the computer for work, it’s easy to become distracted by the internet

That’s enough distraction, so how about actually focusing on something? This word also uses heart 心, but instead of dividing it, we focus it.

专心(專心)

Pinyin: zhuānxīn
English: to concentrate, to focus

专心是成功的要素(專心是成功的要素)

Zhuānxīn shì chénggōng de yāo sù

Focus is an essential factor of success

A more down-to-earth, 口語 way to say the same thing:

如果你要成功的话,你一定要专心(如果你要成功的話,你一定要專心)

Rúguǒ nǐ yào chénggōng dehuà, nǐ yīdìng yào zhuānxīn

If you want to be successful you’ve got to focus

There are more ways to say focus and pay attention, such as 专注, and 注意, so if you’d like to add more examples please leave a comment.

2 responses to “Zoning out and daydreaming in Chinese

  1. I like your blog a lot and I share some of the posts to my students here in the United States. Thank you for putting effort to share so much useful information.

    I found a typo in this post, so I thought I would like to let you know. Sorry if I seem like to enjoy correcting mistakes…, forgive me. 🙂

    So…, “請你在說一次” , “在” should be replaced with “再”。 Just a typo I am sure:)

    Thank you again for putting such a great blog on the internet.

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