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For those who are going to China or planning to go soon, this post will provide you with all the Mandarin words and phrases you’ll need to survive your stay in China. Enjoy.
Language barrier can cause serious trouble when you go traveling to a foreign country – especially to China. You might get away using English in big cities, but it’s always better to know some basic Chinese phrases. In more remote places and second- or third-tier cities, which you might want to visit to get a glimpse of a more ‘traditional’ Chinese culture, people most likely will not understand you if you speak English. Such places likely will not have signs in English, either.
So you plan to travel to China in the near future, it’s better to have a “survival kit” of basic Chinese words and phrases that can help you build a simple conversation with the locals.
For your convenience, we’ve divided them into 5 categories by context.
这个 (zhège), this
The most useful phrase that people use everyday. Whenever you want to choose something, you can just point at it and say “这个”.
菜单 (càidān), menu
买单 (mǎidān), to play the bill
Two main things you need when go to the restaurant. Simply say “menu” when you arrive at a restaurant and get seated, and “bill” – when you leave.
我要 (Wǒ yào…), I want…
This sentence starter goes perfectly well with “this”, “这个 (zhège)”. Want something? Just say “我要 (wǒ yào)”, point at it and add “this”. You will get “我要这个 (Wǒ yào zhège)”, or “I want this”.
服务员 (fúwùyuán), waiter
The simple trick you can use to draw the attention of the busy waiter – call him by saying 服务员 (fúwùyuán).
点菜 (diǎncài) ,to order food
If you want to specify what you would like to order food, use this short phrase. You can even combine the two words together: 服务员，点菜! (Fúwùyuán, diǎncài!）- Waiter, (I’d like to) order!
打包 (dǎbāo), to-go; take-out
Sometimes, Chinese portions can be too big. If you’re feeling full way before you finished your meal, it’s always okay to ask the waiter for a doggy bag. Besides that, this word can also be used to order a takeout.
*In case you are wondering what the full sentence “I want this to go?” would sound like — yes, it’s as simple as “我要这个，打包” ( Wǒ yào zhège, dǎbāo)!
筷子 (kuàizi), chopsticks
刀叉 (dāochā), cutlery
If it’s a struggle for you to use chopsticks, 筷子 (kuàizi), you can always ask the waiter to bring you 刀叉 (dāochā) – cutlery, or literally, “knife fork”.
在哪 (zài nǎ) Where?
It’s a simple question that literally translates as “in where?”. You can just point at a place on the map or show a picture, and ask this. Note that the structure of this sentence is different from English. First you name the place, and then add “在哪” (zài nǎ): “Shopping mall在哪？”
入口 (rùkǒu), entrance
出口 (chūkǒu), exit
When you come to China, you will soon notice the signs with these two words near exits and entrances.
卫生间 (wèishēngjiān), restroom/toilet
Certainly, a useful word to know. There’s usually a sign in shopping malls, but just in case you struggle to find it, you can always ask: “卫生间在哪?” (Wèishēngjiān zài nǎ?) – Where’s the restroom?
公交车 (gōngjiāochē), public bus
地铁 (dìtiě), subway
To say “subway station”, simply add the word “station” – 站 (zhàn), after it: 地铁站 (dìtiězhàn).
打车 (dǎchē), to take a taxi
Taxi is the most comfortable way to get around the city – especially if there’s no subway.
45路 (lù), bus number 45
The word 路 (lù) works as “number” for buses. You can also add the word “bus” after it: 45路公交车 (45 lù gōngjiāochē).
1号线 (hào xiàn), Subway Line 1
The word 号线 (hào xiàn) literally means “number line”, and is used to refer to subway lines: 1号线，13号线, etc. For convenience, subway lines in major Chinese cities are usually numbered.
微信 (wēixìn), Wechat
WeChat is the most popular chat and online payment app in China. Its ubiquitous functions will let you do anything from chatting with friends to ordering train, plane or movie tickets. Note: you will need a Chinese bank card to enable Wechat wallet.
支付宝 (zhīfùbǎo), Alipay
Alipay is as popular as WeChat – but mostly in the field of online payments. Note: you will also need a Chinese bank card to enable payments via Alipay.
刷卡 (shuākǎ), to pay via credit/debit card
If you don’t have a Chinese bank card, in some chain stores you can still pay with your foreign card – or in Chinese, 刷卡 (shuākǎ), literally, “swipe card”.
现金 (xiànjīn), cash
In case the store does not accept foreign cards, you can still pay with cash – 现金 (xiànjīn).
买 (mǎi), to buy
卖 (mài), to sell
Pay attention to the difference in tones between these two words – they are very easy to confuse. In most daily situations, you can stick to 买 (mǎi), third tone – whenever you want to buy something. It goes well with the phrase you learned before, 我要 (wǒ yào…), “I want to”. You can now build a pretty long phrase: “我要买这个” (wǒ yào mǎi zhège) – “I want to buy this”.
水 (shuǐ), water
You can’t go on a long trip without a few bottles of water – 水 (shuǐ).
贵 (guì), expensive
便宜 (piányi), cheap
If you are not in a supermarket with price tags, but in a market with flexible prices, and you think that something is too expensive – you can try saying 贵 with an appropriate dissatisfied intonation, to express that something is “too expensive”.
Learn these common conversation starters for your daily exchange with locals. It’s always nice to be polite!
你好 (nǐ hǎo) Hi
谢谢 (xièxie) Thank you
对不起 (duìbuqǐ) Sorry
不好意思 (bùhǎo yìsi) Excuse me
不客气 (bùkèqì) No problem
请帮我一下 (qĭng bāng wǒ yīxià) Could you please help me…
好的 (hǎode) Ok; All right
不要 (bùyào) No need; I don’t want
If you think that you still need to learn more, we will be happy to help you! That’s Mandarin welcomes everyone with the passion of learning Chinese. Our professional teachers will help you in every step of your learning journey. We can help you to find the best course option meeting all your requirements and goals.