Chinese is a pretty difficult language for English speakers to learn compared to Spanish or French. However, if you’re going to China, take the time to learn some basics. The words below appear both in Chinese characters and in pinyin, the form of Chinese that can be written with the Roman/English alphabet with the addition of some accent marks that indicate the tone of the word. Because Chinese is a tonal language, to really learn to say things correctly, use a Chinese friend or download a Pimsleur audio course through audible.com and/or use a Chinese app on your smart phone such as the ones pictured above.
你好。 Nǐ hǎo; The standard “hello” greeting. Literally means “you good.”
您好。 Nǐn hǎo; The same “hello” greeting as above, except that 您 (nǐn) is used when addressing elders, or teachers.
喂 Wèi? Hello? This is the first thing that Chinese people say when they answer the phone.
How are you?
你好吗? Nǐ hǎo ma?; Often used following a greeting
您好嗎? Nǐn hǎo ma?; The same as the “Nǐ hǎo ma?” above, again, except that this is used as a more polite form.
你怎么样? Nǐ zěn me yàng?; “What’s up?”, “How are you doing?”
今天你好吗? Jīntiān nǐ hǎo ma?; How are you today?
(最近你好吗? Zuìjìn nǐ hǎo ma?; How is it going recently?
你吃了吗？Nǐ chī le ma?; Have you eaten? It’s a way to express that you care. You can just respond by saying “Chī le, nǐ ne?” (I’ve eaten, how about you?).
去哪儿？Qù nǎ er?; Where are you going? This is a Chinese greeting that’s commonly used when you run into someone. It’s just way that people express that they care by showing interest.
好久不见！Hǎo jiǔ bú jiàn? Long time no see!
Responding to “How are you?”
Wŏ hĕnhăo, xièxie.; I’m doing great, thank you.
Wŏ bútàihăo.; I’m not doing well.
Mămăhūhū.; So-so.This phrase literally means “Horse horse tiger tiger.”
Háixíng.; I’m okay.
Tĭnghăode.; I’m fine.
上午好 Shàngwǔ hǎo; Good morning
nĭ zăo; Good morning
下午好 Xiàwǔ hǎo; Good afternoon
Good evening / Good night
晚安 Wǎn-an; Literally “Peace at night”, Good night.
晚上好 Wǎnshang hǎo; Good evening!
再見 zài jian; Literally “See you again”.
明天見 Míngtian jian; Literally “See you tomorrow”.
拜拜 Baibái; From English “Bye-Bye”. Used in most urbanized parts of mainland China.