36 Essential Chinese Phrases for Mastering Your Mandarin

Essential Chinese phrases and symbols.

36 Chinese Phrases That Will Have You Speaking Like a Pro in No Time

Traveling abroad may be intimidating when the language of your destination is foreign to you. 

Many travelers (incorrectly) believe that they need to attain fluency before they can dare to speak the language. As a consequence, they avoid learning the language altogether, leading to potential language barriers while visiting another country.

Mastering a new language isn’t a prerequisite for learning or using some key phrases – this is particularly true for languages that are substantially different from Western ones, like Mandarin Chinese. 

In fact, Mandarin Chinese, in particular, is useful to learn since it’s the most spoken language in the world, with 1.31 billion speakers making up 16% of the world’s population.

Remember, a little language knowledge can certainly go a long way, making your travel experience even richer!

Let’s explore this!

Why Learn a Language?

Relying on English-speaking people in other countries isn’t as foolproof as you think. While nearly 2 billion people speak English as either their native or second language, that still leaves almost 6 billion who don’t speak it at all. 

Learning a language can help you navigate other countries, making it easy to avoid language barriers and ensure you don’t end up ordering the wrong thing on a menu!

Even if your hosts do speak English, learning their native language is still a polite way of showing that you’re interested in the culture and don’t rely on others to speak your language. 

Plus, learning common Chinese phrases can have more benefits than just being able to navigate your next vacation. 9 in 10 employers rely on employees who can speak languages other than English. 

One study even found that speaking a second language can add between 11% and 35% to your annual salary. 

With that in mind, let’s dive into some basic Mandarin phrases that you can wow the locals with during your next trip to China. 

Do I Have to Learn Chinese Symbols to Speak Chinese?

Chinese languages comprise tens of thousands of characters. Each character is made up of strokes rather than letters. 

Unlike English, there’s no alphabet, so there’s no opportunity to spell words according to their sounds or understand a word by breaking it down by letter. This means learning Mandarin involves a lot of memorizing. 

Many English speakers put off learning Chinese because the alphabet is entirely different from the one used in languages such as English, Spanish, and French. Not only does the alphabet use entirely different symbols, but the way it’s pronounced differs, too. 

In Chinese, the intonation of a particular word can change its entire meaning. There are five tones – four main ones plus a ‘neutral’ tone – removing emphasis from any specific part of the word. 

Take the words 买 (Mǎi) and 卖 (Mài). 

The first character has the third tone, which means ‘to buy.’ The second character, on the other hand, uses the fourth tone, which means ‘to sell.’ 

While intonation must still be learned correctly, there is a simple way to get around the difference in ‘alphabets’ between Chinese and English. 

Chinese linguists developed pinyin, a system that transforms Chinese characters into a Latin alphabet to make it easier to understand for English speakers and speakers of other languages derived from Latin. 

Understanding pinyin will allow you to speak and understand many Chinese phrases with pronunciation on the right part of the word, from Chinese greeting phrases to Chinese phrases with deep meaning, without having to read characters. 

Plenty of language-learning apps and tools will also write out the words phonetically, so you get an idea of exactly how they’re pronounced. So, without further ado, let’s jump into our list of Chinese phrases with pronunciation. 

Chinese Phrases for Beginners

Here, we’ll list some must-learn Chinese phrases in pinyin with the Chinese characters alongside them and an easy pronunciation guide. Let’s begin!

Chinese Greetings and Common Phrases

Naturally, while traveling, you’ll want to make conversation with people you come across and introduce yourself. Here are some greetings and introductory phrases to make it easy. 

  1. 你好 Nǐhǎo (Nee-haow) – Hello 

This is probably the word you’ll find yourself using the most during your visit to China. From waiters to hotel staff, greeting everyone with nǐhǎo is the polite way to say hello in Chinese

  1. 早上好 Zǎoshang hǎo (Dzow shung haow) – Good morning

This phrase is used the same way as its English translation – to greet somebody during the morning hours. You can also just say Zǎo – Chinese speakers will know what you mean.

  1.  晚上好 Wǎnshang hǎo (Wun shung haow) – Good evening

Just like greeting somebody in the morning, you can greet somebody in the evening with this popular phrase. 

  1. 晚安 Wǎn’ān (Wun un) – Good night

This isn’t used for greeting people during the evening, but instead for saying goodnight to your conversation partner when they’re going to bed. 

  1. 再见 Zàijiàn (Dzye jyen) – Goodbye

This is a simple and polite way to bid someone farewell. 

  1. 你好吗? Nǐhǎo ma? (Nee-haow-ma) – How are you?

If you want to take a greeting to the next level, ask how somebody is in Chinese using this common phrase. 

  1. 很好 Hěn hǎo (Hun haow) – Good

When somebody asks you how you are, this is how you tell them you’re doing well. The logical next step is to ask them back – Nǐhǎo ma?

  1. 你叫什么名字 Nǐ jiào shénme míngzi?(Nee jeow shun muh ming dzrr)?  – What’s your name?

Chatting to somebody and want to find out more about them? Ask for their name, with this common Chinese phrase. 

  1. 我叫… Wǒ jiào… (Woh jeow)– My name is…

This literally translates to ‘I’m called’, more like the Spanish me llamo.

  1. 很高兴认识你 Hěn gāoxìng rènshi nǐ (Hun gaow shing runshir nee) – Nice to meet you

Use this phrase to give a polite compliment to somebody you’ve just met. 

  1. 是 = Shì (Sheh) – Yes

If you want to respond to a question in the affirmative, use this simple phrase to say yes in Chinese

  1.  不是 Búshì (Bu-sheh) – No

There are various ways to say ‘no’ in Mandarin, but this is probably the most commonly used. It’s put in front of the word for yes, and translates to something like ‘not be’ in English. 

Chinese Polite Phrases

There are times when you’ll want to be especially polite to your Chinese hosts with phrases like ‘please’, ‘thank you’, and ‘you’re welcome’. Let’s take a look at some of the most common Chinese polite phrases to ensure you’re minding your manners while on vacation. 

  1. 你会说英文吗? Nǐ huì shuō yīngwén ma? (Nee hway shwor yeeng wun ma) – Do you speak English?

Before launching straight into English when you’re speaking to a Chinese person, it’s polite to check that they actually understand the language, first. 

  1. 谢谢 Xièxiè (Shieh shieh) – Thank you 

This is probably one of the most important phrases you’ll learn during your time in China. Whether it’s expressing gratitude to the waiter who brought your meal or your taxi driver, it’s only polite to say thank you to those who help you. 

  1. 不用谢 Bù yòng xiè (Bu yong shieh) – You’re welcome 

Respond with this phrase when people thank you – it literally translates as ‘no need for thanks.’ You can also say Bù kèqì, which means ‘no need to be so polite’. 

  1. 不好意思 Bù hǎoyìsi (Bu haow yee srr) – Excuse me, sorry

This is the best phrase to use for getting attention or getting past somebody on public transport, for example. 

  1. 对不起 Duìbuqǐ (Dway bu chee) – Sorry 

Use this phrase when you want to apologize, not for expressing empathy.

  1. 请问…? Qǐngwèn…? (Cheeng wun) – Could I ask…? 

This is a polite preface for a question. 

 Chinese Phrases for Shopping

If you fancy enjoying some retail therapy while in China, you’ll probably want to be able to ask questions or understand numbers in Chinese. Here are some phrases that can come in handy the next time you hit the shops. 

  1. 多少钱?Duōshǎo qián? (Dwoh shaow chyen)– How much is it?

When you’re at a market, or the price is unclear, ask this to find out. You can also just ask the slightly shorter version – Duō shǎo?

  1. 可以刷卡吗?Kěyǐ shuākǎ ma? (Kuhyee shak a ma?) – Can I use a card?

If you’d prefer to pay by card, here’s how to find out if the retailer accepts it. 

  1. 我看一下 Wǒ kàn yīxià (Woh kun yee shyah) – I’m just looking

If somebody offers you help or is hassling you to buy, here’s how to tell them you’re just browsing.

  1. 我要这个 Wǒyào zhège (Woh yaow jay guh) – I’ll take this one

Here’s how to point out which item you want to a vendor. 

  1. 太贵了Tài guì le (Tye gway luh) – Too expensive

If you want to try your hand at negotiating at a market, here’s how you say something is too expensive (and indirectly ask for it to be cheaper)!

 Chinese Phrases for Directions

Need to ask for the way somewhere? Here are some handy Chinese phrases for directions. 

  1. 洗手間在哪裡 Xǐshǒujiān zài nǎlǐ? (See-sow-jian zai na-lee?) – Where is the bathroom?

You’ll probably find yourself asking for the bathroom at least once during your trip. Once you get to where you’ve been directed, look out for 男 on the men’s bathroom door and 女 on the women’s. 

  1. 到__怎么走?(Daow __ dzun muh dzoh) Dào ___ zěnme zǒu? – How do you get to the __?

Need to get somewhere but don’t know how? This is the easiest way to ask for directions. 

  1. 直走 Zhí zǒu (jir dzoh) – Go straight ahead

You’ll hear this when the instruction is to go straight on. 

  1.  右Yòu zhuǎn (Yoh jwun) – Turn right
  2. 左转 Zuǒ zhuǎn (Dzwor jwun) – Turn left
  3. 过马路 Guò mǎlù (Gwor ma lu) – Cross the street
  4.  在这儿/在这里 Zài zhèr/Zài zhèlǐ (Dzye jurr/Dzye juh lee) – It’s here.

You can understand when Chinese locals are pointing you in the direction of your destination or, become enough of a pro, that you’re handing out directions yourself!

Chinese Phrases for Eating Out

To help you navigate eating and drinking out in Chinese, here are some common phrases you’ll hear in a restaurant. 

  1. 请给我一个坐两位的餐桌 Qǐng gěi wǒ yí gè zuò liǎng wèi de cān zhuō (Ching geh woh yee geh zoh liang we de cen jwo) – Table for two please. 

You’ll need this phrase when asking for a table when you first enter a restaurant. If the group size is more or less than two, you’ll need to swap out liǎng for another number. 

  1. 几位? Jǐwèi? (Jee way) – How many people?

When you arrive at the restaurant or try to book over the phone, they’ll ask how many people you need a table for. To respond, put the number at the front of wèi. So three people would be Sānwèi. 

  1. 我想看一下菜单 Wǒ xiǎng kàn yíxià càidān (Woh shyung kun yee shyah tsay dun) – I’d like to look at the menu

This is a way to request to see the menu. 

  1. 我要… Wǒ yào… (Woh yaow) – I’ll have…

Add on whichever option from the menu you’d like at the end of the phrase. This is how you order food. 

  1. 请把账单给我好吗? Qǐng bǎ zhàng dān gěi wǒ hǎo ma? (Ching ba jang dan geh woh haow ma) – Can I have the bill, please?

Use this when you’d like to pay at the end of the meal. The simplified version is Mǎi dān, which is just as polite. 

  1. 好吃 Hǎo chī (How chir) – Delicious

Chinese people are proud of their cuisine, so use this phrase to complement your food after a meal. 

 Now, Go Forth and Practice!

So, there you have it. Now you understand some basic Chinese phrases, you can impress on your next trip to China or wow your boss with your ability to communicate with Chinese clients. 

To enhance your Chinese language learning experience, consider attending Chinese classes in Seattle offered by NewConcept Education. Our systematic curriculum, allowing you to learn Mandarin a whopping 3 X faster than traditional courses. 

Got a trip to China coming up in just a couple of weeks? 

No problem! With this revolutionary learning method, you’ll grasp simplified Chinese phrases to know in time for your vacation. Remember, practice makes perfect. 

And you’re never too old to learn something new!

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