Let’s start with a few basic Chinese phrases you can use in everyday conversations to make sure you communicate efficiently.
#1 不好意思，我听不懂。- Sorry I don’t understand.
Got yourself in a situation where someone’s talking to you but you’re not actually understanding what they’re saying? First off, kudos! Going to speak to locals in Chinese is the best way to get comfortable speaking in Chinese.
But how do you let the other know you’re not quite getting their gist? Instead of shaking your head no, you can say:
Bù hǎo yì si, wǒ tīng bù dǒng.
Sorry I don’t understand.
Try that? Great, now that you’ve let the other know you weren’t quite following what they were saying — without offending them, well done! You can move on to:
#2 你可以讲慢点吗? – Can you speak slowly please?
For situations when: You know some Chinese but you’re not using to people speaking really fast, yet. Maybe you’d be sort of following along what the other was saying, if only they weren’t talking like they’re trying to win a 100 yard sprint. This sentence may solve your troubles:
Nǐ kě yǐ jiǎng màn diǎn ma?
Can you speak more slowly please?
Hang on to this sentence, you might find yourself using it a LOT, because you’ ll find that the Chinese speak really fast sometimes!
#3 你说英语吗? – Do you speak English?
Option #2 sound too tough because your Mandarin Chinese is still too limited to understand full sentences? That’s okay. You tried at least.
For now, try saying this after sentence #1:
Nǐ shuō yīngyǔ ma?
Do you speak English?
It’s perfect for situations when it might be better to switch to English.
#4 我不知道 – I don’t know
Knowing how to say I don’t know in Chinese is both easy and extremely useful. You’ll find yourself using it often, and you’ll hear all kinds of people in China saying:
Wǒ bù zhī dào.
I don’t know.
Never feel embarrassed to say 我不知道 as there exists thousands of “whys” in this world. In Chinese, just like in many languages, saying this is so normal.
Use it: When you need to say you don’t know and want someone to “let you know”!
Part 2 – Chinese phrases: Getting information
Good, you now have learned a few common Chinese expressions to get you started having conversations with native Chinese speakers. Let’s move on to basic Chinese phrases that’ll get you the information you want.
#5 这个用汉语怎么说？ – How do you say that in Chinese?
You’re an adventurer and China’s full of unknown things you’re going to want to discover and adopt in your daily life. As such, you’re going to be always curious to know how to say this or that in Chinese. This sentence is perfect for you:
Zhè ge yòng hàn yǔ zěn me shuō?
How do say that in Chinese?
Use it when: you want to know what this thing is!
Bonus : Pointing and asking questions is a great way to build your vocabulary and learn lots of new words in Chinese. So get yourself talking!
#6 请问，这里 有 wifi 吗？- Excuse me, is there any wifi here?
A wireless connection is kind of the most important thing when you’re far away from your home and family so you can keep in touch with them often. When in a coffee shop, a bar, a restaurant, a spa, your hotel, you can ask:
请问，这里 有 wifi 吗?
Qǐngwèn，zhèlǐ yǒuwifi ma?
Excuse me, is there any wifi here?
If the 服务员 fúwùyuán waiter answers there is, you can also ask what the wireless code is:
密码 是 多少?
Mìmǎ shì duōshao?
What’s the password?
#7 厕所在哪里？ – Where are the restrooms?
A must when travelling, exploring unknown places, knowing where the toilets are! Ask this to get instructions on how to reach the restrooms.
Cèsuǒ zài nǎlǐ? Where are the restrooms? A good thing to know (if the people going in and out aren’t enough help):
- Look for 男 Nán for the men’s restroom
- Look for 女 Nǚ for the ladies’ room
- Another good word to know is 洗手间 xǐshǒujiān.
Méi yǒu wèishēngzhǐ le
(and remember to always have tissues with you just in case because you may find yourself saying this more than you expected).
#8 请问现在几点了？- What time is it please?
You the kind of person always forgetting to bring your watch or to give juice to your cell phone? Then this question will come in extra handy:
Qǐng wèn xiàn zài jǐ diǎn le?
What time is it please?
You never know when this question may be useful to ask. It’s also terribly helpful to make sure you’re organizing your time well and are on time!
Part 3 – Chinese Phrases : Shopping
This part is dedicated to two very common and helpful phrases to know in Chinese when going shopping, because we know how much you like shopping!
#9 这个多少钱？- How much is it?
Knowing how to ask for a price is a basic skill you’ll be quickly mastering if you go travel or live in China; You’ll be most likely using it everyday in your daily life!
So, to enquire how much something costs, say:
Zhè ge duō shǎo qián?
How much is it?
This sentence is very useful to know; You absolutely need this sentence to buy things in China!
#10 太贵了，便宜点。- It’s too expensive, cheaper please.
Not happy with the price you heard? Then it’s time to try a little basic bargaining!
If you only learn one thing about bargaining in China, learn this one:
Tài guì le, pián yi diǎn.
It’s too expensive, cheaper please.
It can happen that Chinese sellers (often) try to take advantage of customers that don’t know the trends and real prices of items. Don’t let that faze you, and keep saying this sentence until they cave (or you walk away). We believe in your power to convince them!
Part 4 – Chinese phrases: Going places
Next up in this selection of common Chinese phrases you need, a few useful travel sentences!
#11 请问怎么去…？- Can you tell me how to go to + place, please?
Confused about where you’re supposed to go? To find your way in China, use this Chinese phrase to ask for directions:
Qǐng wèn zěn me qù…?
Can you tell me how to go to + place, please?
China is such a huge country that you should always be prepared to ask how to find your way in Chinese.
Bonus sentence: I’m lost.
Why are you asking how to go to a certain place? Is it because you’re lost? Then, this might be a useful information to slip in:
Wǒ mílù le.
#12 请问这辆车去哪儿？ / 哪里? Where is this going?
You got on a train but suddenly it dawns on you you’re not sure where it’s going. Put your fears to rest with this simple question you can ask your neighbors or the train conductor:
Qǐngwèn zhè liàng chē qù nǎ’er?
Excuse me, where is this going?
Note: 哪儿？/哪里？ are two ways to say “where” in Chinese. The first one is more used in the North, and the second one in Southern China.
# 13 你要去哪里/哪儿? Where do you want to go?
You snagged a taxi to take you to your next destination, well done! Now, the taxi driver is going to ask you:
Nǐ yào qù nǎlǐ/nǎ’er
Where do you want to go?
So better be prepared for this question and ready to answer!
Here’s how to answer:
A tip: if you can’t get the driver to understand where you’re going, these two taxi hacks work well in China:
- have a card ready with the address written down on it — always a good way to make sure the taxi driver knows where you’re going
- call the place you’re going, explain your situation and hand the driver your phone. They’ll take care of guiding your driver to your destination.
Part 5 – Chinese phrases: Asking for help
This last part is dedicated to asking for assistance, information and help. Let’s get the most serious type of help out of our way first:
# 14 救命 – Help!
For something really urgent, when you’re in real danger or are facing a very present issue, say — or yell, depending on the gravity of the situation –:
Worst comes to worst, simply just yell “Help!” I bet all the people understand this word in this universe.
#15 捉小偷！捉小偷！- Catch the thief
Pickpockets and thieves are an ugly reality, no matter where you go, so better learn this sentence just in case your bag gets snatched or your cellphone stolen out of your back pocket:
Zhuō xiǎotōu! Zhuō xiǎotōu!
Catch the thief! Catch the thief!
#16 对不起，打扰了。 – Excuse-me, I’m sorry to bother you.
All right, now that you know how to yell for help in serious situations, let’s see what you say when it comes to asking someone for information or a little help. Obviously 救命 is out of the question. Instead, this is a great sentence to know:
Duì bù qǐ, dǎ rǎo le.
Excuse-me, I’m sorry to bother you.
then follow up with your question. Being polite goes a long way when asking people to help you out, trust us
Use it when: you want to get information but want to make you’re not disturbing too much. Type of help you need: regular help, nothing too pressing or urgent.
#17 谢谢您的帮助 – Thank you for your help!
Great, you asked for help and got some very helpful advice. Now it’s time to show your thankfulness!
A simple will work fine, of course, but for extra effect, try:
Xiè xiè nín de bāng zhù!
Thank you for your help!
Each time someone helps you, even it’s for a tiny thing, remember to tell them thank you!
Part 6 – Chinese phrases: Being sick
#18 我病了 – I’m sick
Your adventure in China might take a different turn and because of spicy food, change of weather or whatever reason, you might be sick. If you need help or to be noticed then you have to tell about how you’re feeling. Here’s how to start:
wǒ bìng le
Saying this will make it way easier for the Chinese people to understand how you feel!
#19 我需要医生 – I need a doctor
You’re sick and not getting better? OK, it’s time for you to go to the doctor.
Don’t know where to find a doctor? Then tell someone:
Jiùmìng! Wǒ xūyào yīshēng
Help! I need a doctor!
#20 这儿疼 – It hurts here
Great you found a doctor. How do you tell them what you’re feeling? Well, tell them where it hurts to start with, right?
It hurts here.
This may be the most useful Chinese phrase to keep with you all at times, just in case, you never know.
This last sentence concludes this careful collection of 20 (and a few bonus sentences) fundamental Chinese phrases to know and survive your first time in China.