Mastery of the Chinese language takes a long time and most foreigners in China never become fluent, but you can learn some basic Chinese phrases. Knowing them will definitely make your life easier. These phrases will come in handy at restaurants, stores, and as you explore China. Also, any effort you make at speaking Chinese will show respect for the culture and will help you make friends and be a good ambassador of your country. Plus, learning some Chinese will make you a better English teacher. Make the effort!
Unlike English, Chinese is a tonal language with 5 tones and these can take a while to get used to both hearing and producing. For example, the word ma has 5 different meanings depending on the tone.
Look at what happens in these two sentences with the exact same pronunciation except different tones on shui and jiao.
Xiǎo jie, shuǐ (the third tone) jiǎo (the third tone) yī wǎn duō shao qián?
Miss – how much is a bowl of dumplings?
Xiǎo jie, shuì (the fourth tone) jiào (the fourth tone) yī wǎn duō shao qián?
Miss (prostitute) – how much is it to sleep with you (one night)?
Plus, the English character format of Chinese called pinyin has some tricky pronunciation differences in the way you pronounce vowels and the consonants x, zh, c, and q. Consequently, you really need audio or video instruction to learn to speak any Chinese word correctly. Here’s a good intro video with common phrases you should learn to say.
Hello. 你好。 Nǐ hǎo.
How are you? 你好吗？ Nǐ hǎo ma?
Fine, thank you. 很好, 谢谢。 Hěn hǎo, xièxie.
What is your name? 你叫什么名字？ Nǐ jiào shénme míngzi?
My name is ______ . 我叫 _____ 。 Wǒ jiào ______ .
Nice to meet you. 很高兴认识你。 Hěn gāoxìng rènshì nǐ.
Please. 请。 Qǐng.
Thank you. 谢谢。 Xièxiè.
You’re welcome. 不客气。 Bú kèqi.
Excuse me. (getting attention) 请问 qǐng wèn
Excuse me. (coming through) 对不起 Duìbùqǐ *
It’s okay. (polite response to “I’m sorry”)没关系 (méiguānxi).
Goodbye 再见。 Zàijiàn
Goodbye (informal) 拜拜。 Bai-bai
I can’t speak Chinese. 我不会说中文。 Wǒ bú huì shuō zhōngwén.
Do you speak English? 你会说英语吗？ Nǐ huì shuō Yīngyǔ ma?
Is there someone here who speaks English? 这里有人会说英语吗？ Zhèlĭ yǒu rén hùi shuō Yīngyǔ ma?
Help! (in emergencies)救命！ Jiùmìng!
Good morning. 早安。 Zǎo’ān.
Good evening. 晚上好。 Wǎnshàng hǎo.
Good night. 晚安。 Wǎn’ān.
How do you say ____? 怎么说 ____ ？ Zěnme shuō ____ ?
The thought of visiting China can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Today’s smartphones allow us to communicate with people of different languages with the help of translation apps for your phone like Baidu translate (because all Google apps are blocked in China). But if you know the above phrases, you can save fumbling for your phone and start to communicate.