top of page

Helpful Mandarin Chinese Words and Phrases to Learn Before Traveling to China

Updated: Oct 26, 2023

Learning basic Mandarin Chinese phrases, words, and slang doesn't have to be as daunting as it seems. - By Karen I. Chen

Basic Mandarin Chinese Words and Phrases

Hello: Nǐhǎo (Nee how)

If there's only one word you learn, this is it. Use this to greet everyone from your taxi driver to your waiter to the receptionist at the hotel front desk.

Thank you: Xièxiè (Shieh-shieh)

If there's a second word to know, this would be it. Always be a polite tourist.

You're welcome: Bù kèqì (Boo kuh-chi)

Respond with this if someone says "xièxiè (shieh-shieh)" to you.

Good morning: Zǎo (Zhow)

Instead of saying both hello (nǐhǎo) and good morning, you can greet someone with just zǎo in the morning.

Goodnight: Wǎn ān (One-un)

This is typically used when you're actually going to bed.

My name is…: Wǒ jiào... (Wuh jeow...)

This literally means "I am called..."

My friend's name is...: Wǒ de péngyǒu jiào… (Wuh duh pung-yo jeow...)

If you're traveling with a friend, you can now introduce him or her as well. If someone calls you "peng you," don't worry: they're just calling you a friend.

Useful Chinese Slang and Mandarin Phrases for Travelers

Where is the bathroom: Xǐshǒujiān zài nǎlǐ? (See-sow-jian zai na-lee?)

This literally translates to "Where is the hand-washing room?" so you can mimic the motion of washing your hands to help your chances of being understood. You will see 男 on the door for the men's bathroom and 女 on the door of the women's.

How much?: Duō shǎo? (Dwuh shauw?)

Use this phrase to ask the price of something at a street market in China, Taiwan, or Singapore.

Too expensive: Tài guìle! (Tie gway luh!)

Impress them further by trying to haggle in Chinese — because you're usually given the tourist price first. (Keep in mind that it's appropriate to haggle for souvenirs, clothing, shoes, and accessories in markets, but food is typically sold at a fixed price.)

Make it cheaper: Piányí yī diǎn. (Pian-yee yee dian.)

Combine this phrase with the one above and you're well on your way to becoming a fluent haggler in Chinese.

Very beautiful: Hĕn piàoliang (Hen peow-liung)

China is such a beautiful country, and you might want to tell your cab driver on the Bund, "Shanghai hĕn piàoliang" or remark to your tour guide, "Guilin hĕn piàoliang," while admiring the karst mountains.

Delicious: Hào chī (How chir); Very delicious: Hěn hào chī (Hen how chir)

The food is a main attraction in Chinese-speaking countries. Use this phrase to praise your host, the waiter, the chef at a restaurant, or the cook at a street stand. If you're especially impressed with the food, you can even say "Tài hào chīle (tie how chir luh)", which means "Too delicious."

Check, please: Măi dān (My dahn)

Try saying this at the end of your meal.

I don't understand: Wǒ bù dǒng (Wuh boo dong)

A good phrase to remember, as you will likely need it.

Let's go!: Wǒmen zǒu ba! (Wuh-men zoew bah!)

You can use this to signify you're ready to leave or to prompt your companions to get going.

Common Mandarin Chinese Words

Yes: Shì (Sheh)

No: Bù shì (Bu-sheh)

Good: Hǎo (How)

Bad: Bù hǎo (Boo-how)

Today: Jīntiān (Jeen-tian)

Tomorrow: Míngtiān (Meeng-tian)

Yesterday: Zuótiān (Zwuh-tian)

Goodbye: Zàijiàn (Zhai-jian)


While the prospect of learning a new language might seem daunting or even mystifying, making an effort to pick up a few useful words and phrases should be a key part of your trip planning process, whichever part of the world you're visiting.

Of course, some languages are easier to get the hang of than others and in most places, there are also various dialects to consider. Mandarin Chinese is the most widely spoken and is the official language of China — which is why we're focusing on words and phrases from this language rather than other dialects — but in Hong Kong and Guangdong province, Cantonese is spoken. In Shanghai, the local dialect is Shanghainese. In Fujian province, a dialect called Min is spoken, which has eight different sub-dialects within the province. And in Taiwan, many people, especially those from older generations, speak Taiwanese. Unfortunately, these dialects aren't mutually intelligible; knowing Mandarin doesn't help with understanding other dialects because they are different sounding languages with few, if any, similarities.

Chinese languages are made up of tens of thousands of characters, and each character is made up of specific strokes, rather than a combination of letters. As there is no alphabet, you cannot simply spell out words according to their sounds or read a word simply by stringing together the letters. Learning Chinese really is a process of straight memorization. To put things in perspective, in order to read and write at an elementary school level, you would need to know about 2,500 characters that, when combined, can create many thousands of more words.

And there's yet another complication in learning the language: Chinese is tonal. In the same way that you would use tone for emphasis or emotion in English, every word in Chinese has a specific tone that determines its meaning. In other words, the same sound can be said with up to five different intonations, which each have five different meanings.

Take the word "mother" (mā 媽) for example. If pronounced with a different tone, it can mean "numb" (má 麻), "horse" (mǎ 馬), "to scold" (mà罵), or a grammar particle that goes at the end of yes and no questions (ma 嗎).

Because Chinese characters are so complex, pinyin was developed by Chinese linguists as an official romanization system for the pronunciation of Mandarin. It converts Chinese characters into a familiar and readable format, using just the 26 letters of the English alphabet, thus enabling English-speaking learners to learn to speak Chinese without needing to recognize characters.

In fact, you've already read pinyin above with the different variations of "ma."

So while no one ever said learning Chinese would be easy, it's still entirely possible to pick up a few basic Chinese words and phrases to help you get around on your next trip to a Chinese-speaking country.

Source from here

9 views0 comments


bottom of page