Before you go on your trip to China, there are a few things that you might want to keep in mind. Such as the fact that the Chinese have 3 emergency numbers (110 for police, 119 for firemen, and 120 for an ambulance) and the fact that you should always carry tissue packs with you. In addition to that, knowing some basic Chinese phrases will go a long way in helping your trip run smoothly. Here we’ve compiled a list of some of the most basic phrases you might need to know!
“Hello! 你好 (nǐ hǎo!)”
Although rarely used as a greeting between native speakers (after the first introduction) 你好 is a standard phrase for foreigners to learn.
“Thank you! 谢谢 (xiè xiè!)”
This is probably the best phrase to convey politeness and respect.
“You’re welcome! 不客气 (bù kè qì.)!”
Pretty self-explanatory, this is a polite and enthusiastic response to 谢谢.
“Sorry. 对不起 (duì bù qǐ.)”
Another self explanatory phrase, this can be used as an apology or as a simple “excuse me.”
“I don’t know. 不知道 (bù zhī dào.)”
Not only can this phrase be used to convey confusion, it can also be used to make an exit from an unwanted conversation.
“I am from ___. 我是___人 (wǒ shì ___ rén.)”
Admittedly, this is more of a conversation starter than a survival phrase. However when Chinese people meet foreigners, they are immediately curious of where they are from. It’s useful to know your nationality. “I am American” would be “我是美国人 (měi guó rén.)”
“I need help. 我需要帮助 (wǒ xū yào bāng zhù.)”
You can approach someone with this phrase if you need help regarding something. Customer service representatives, waiters, and security guards are more likely to respond well.
“ [Can you] Speak English? 说英文吗？”
A useful phrase if you get lost or get yourself into a tricky situation. The fastest way to resolve it is to find someone who speaks English.
“I can’t understand. 听不懂 (tīng bù dǒng.)”
Saying this phrase is a clear indication that they should talk more slowly or find you an English-speaker.
“How much? 多少钱? (duō shǎo qián?)”
Say this while pointing to what you want to buy.
“Too expensive.” 太贵了 (tài guì le.)”
Vendors at markets in China will automatically increase the price if they see that you’re a foreigner, as they assume all foreigners have money. This phrase will keep them grounded and open the door for haggling.
“I don’t want it.” 我不要 (wǒ bù yào.)”
This is an astronomically useful phrase when there are pushy salespeople trying to get you to buy their product.
“Where is ___? ___在哪里? (__zài nǎ lǐ?)”
“I want to go to the___…. 我要去___… (wǒ yào qù…)”
These phrases are great to use in a taxi, or when asking for directions. Here are some words you can use to fill in the blank.
Toilet厕所 (cè suǒ)
Subway 地铁 (dì tiě)
Airport飞机场 (jī chǎng)
Hotel 酒店 (jiǔ diàn)
“我不吃… I don’t eat… (wǒ bù chī)”
When going to Chinese restaurants, it’s good to be able to tell the staff what foods you prefer not to consume.
Meat. 肉 (ròu)
Vegetarianism is relatively rare in China. By saying “我不吃肉 (wǒ bù chī ròu)” people often assume you are doing so for religious reasons.
Beef or lamb. 牛羊肉 (niú yáng ròu)
The concept of abstaining from red meat is still rather foreign to Chinese people, so instead people often say “Beef or lamb.” Or pork (see below.)
Pork. 猪肉 (zhū ròu)
Because of the large amount of Muslim and Jewish travelers to China, it’s become common for restaurants to ask whether or not you eat pork.
Spicy. 辣 (là)
Many dishes in Chinese cuisine are spicy, especially those from Sichuan. Keep this in mind when you are ordering from a menu.
You can also switch this phrase over to “我要吃… I want to eat… (wǒ yào chī)”
If you have any severe food allergies, we recommend looking them up on Google Translate ahead of time so you can show the staff exactly what you can’t eat.
“Cheers! 干杯 (gān bēi)!”
Use this phrase when clinking glasses or before downing your drink! We admit that this one is not so much of a survival phrase, but you can use it to impress your colleagues and friends!
We hope that list was useful! Let us know what other phrases you think might be useful to know when traveling!
Author Bio: Sara Lynn Hua is a Chinese language researcher for TutorMing. She writes for TutorMing’s blog. She grew up in Beijing, before going to the University of Southern California (USC) to get her degree in Social Sciences and Psychology. When she’s not reading up on Chinese culture, she enjoys crafting and painting.
Blog link: www.tutorming.com/blog