Chinese Idioms in English – Chinegyu “笨鳥先飛”

Chinese Idioms in English

The Chinese idiom in English or Chengyu 笨鸟先飞 (bèn niǎo xiān fēi) breaks down to stupid (笨 – bèn) bird (鸟 – niǎo) first (先 – xiān) flies (飞 – fēi). Simply translated in English: a ‘stupid bird flies first’ or ‘the clumsy bird flies early’.

These refers to those that have to work hard to compensates for limited ability. It is the slow need to start earlier than others when attempting to complete a task.

Unfortunately, this phrase is usually used self-deprecatingly. When someone comments on how my Mandarin study seems to be paying off, I would say:


Wǒ jiù shì bèn niǎo xiān fēi

I’m just a stupid bird flying early

i.e. I need to put in a lot of effort because I’m not naturally talented.

Chinese Idioms Vocabulary

Chinese Pinyin English translation
bèn to be stupid
niǎo bird
xiān first
fēi to fly
笨鸟先飞 bèn niǎo xiān fēi To work hard to compensates for limited ability

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