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Last updated at 13:31 GMT, Monday, 23 January 2012



Happy Year of the Dragon! But why is it bad news when Neil calls Li a dragon? Find out the colloquial meaning of this word in this week's programme.

A dragon decoration

Why did Neil call Li a dragon?

The script for this programme

Neil: Hello and welcome to The English We Speak from BBC Learning English. I'm Neil. Presenting the programme with me today is Li. She hasn't arrived at the studio yet and I must say that I'm a bit nervous about her arrival. Something's happened to her recently... she's so unfriendly and even frightening. A real dragon!

Li: (Bursts into the studio) What are you saying? Why Neil, why are you not waiting for me? This guy, honestly... right, come on. I haven't got all day. Give me the script... (reads a bit out) Ahh hello, I'm Li... blah, blah, blah... this is rubbish as usual.

Neil: Li, what's the matter with you?

Li: What do you mean? Can we get on with this please?

Neil: What a dragon!

Li: What did you say?

Neil: I said that you're a dragon, Li.

Li: No I'm not, I'm a rooster.

Neil: No, I'm not talking about your Chinese zodiac sign, I mean your personality.

Li: Oh! Oh, thanks!

Neil: What?

Li: I said thank you.

Neil: Li, I called you a dragon. That's not a compliment.

Li: Neil called me a dragon. To us Chinese this is a great compliment, but he says it's not. I wonder what he means...

Neil: Listen to these examples and see if you can get the meaning.

A: I'm never going to make my deadline with this report.

B: You should speak to Kate to get an extension.

A: But I'm too scared of Kate – she's such a dragon.

B: That's true. She's so unfriendly and scary. She'll probably shout at you.

A: (coughing)

B: Oh that doesn't sound good. You should go to the Doctor's.

A: I can't face dealing with that dragon at reception. She's always so rude and aggressive.

B: Yeah, she's the last thing you want to deal with when you're ill.

Li: Ah, now I see that to call someone a dragon in English means something very different to Chinese. In those examples we have just heard they were using it to describe unfriendly and frightening women. Can this be right? Neil, are you calling me unfriendly and scary?

Neil: Erm... yes. Recently.

Li: Not strong, courageous and determined? This is what we mean in Chinese when we call someone a dragon.

Neil: No, I'm afraid not. We use 'dragon' to describe a woman who is unfriendly and frightening.

Li: Oh, that's very interesting.

Neil: Yes it is, isn't it?

Li: Hang on, hang on. What do you mean I'm unfriendly? How dare you call me unfriendly!

Neil: Well, not usually but recently you have been.

Li: You just wait. I will get my revenge on you for this, you little upstart. Who do you think you are?

Neil: Now you're getting scary!

Li: I'll show you what a dragon can do!

Neil: OK, Li I think I'm going to leave now before you start breathing fire.

Li: Breathing fire!? I'll burn you till you're toast!


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