A country with such variety, China has a little bit of something for everyone. Beijing has the Forbidden City, and Tiananmen Square. Shanghai has Huangpu river cruises and the Jade Buddha temple, and of course there is so much more to see in between! Whether you’re going there for work or pleasure, these phrases will help you get settled and express yourself.
1. 你好 (nǐ hǎo) or您好 (nín hǎo)
The first one is informal and the second is formal, so pay attention to the situation you’re in and the age of the person you’re addressing. Always go with formal if you’re unsure of the situation. It never hurts to be too polite.
2. 你會說英語嗎？(nǐ huì shuō yīngyǔ ma?)
Meaning: Do you speak English?
You’d be surprised at how many people would say yes to this in metropolitan cities but the more rural you go, the more language you’ll need. Try to keep in mind a lot of smiling and a friendly attitude will go far with the Mandarin you do know.
3. 乾杯! (gān bēi)
This literally means ‘dry glass’, but is a great thing to say when toasting new friends you met in the Old French Concession in Shanghai!
4. 谢谢！(xie xie)
Meaning: Thank you very much!
Make sure to bow when you say this, as it is considered impolite not to.
5. 這個多少錢？(zhège duōshǎo qián?)
Meaning: How much is this?
Keep this in mind when travelling through markets or when approached by vendors. Often prices are negotiable.
6. 洗手间在哪里？ (xǐshǒujiān zài nǎli?)
Meaning: Where’s the bathroom?
Though you may find yourself face to face with a squat toilet, with this phrase you’ll at least be able to ask where to find it. Try to carry toilet paper with you wherever you go, just in case.
7. 我不要 (wǒ búyào!)
Meaning: I’m not interested/I don’t want it!
This is a particularly handy phrase for people on the street hawking their wares. Often sellers or vendors can be very persistent so don’t be afraid to turn them down with a strong tone (with or without a smile depending on your preferences).
8. 请打表 (qǐng dǎbiǎo)
Meaning: Please use the meter.
It’s not terribly common for you to run into a taxi driver who won’t use the meter, but if your request is met with hostility or a shake of the head, ask the driver to stop and chose another taxi. It’s also handy to make sure to carry small bills on you (as the driver often won’t make change for larger bills) and your destination written in Mandarin. If you are staying in a hotel, tell the concierge where you want to go and they will write your destination for you.
9. 你有没有英文菜单？ (nǐ yŏu méi yǒu yīngwén Càidān?)
Meaning: Do you have an English menu?
If you’re not sure what to order, why not try 烤鸭 (Kaoya; or what we might call Peking roast duck), or三杯鸡 (Sanbeiji; three cup chicken). Both are absolutely delicious!
10. 我吃素的 (wǒ chī sù de).
Meaning: I’m a vegetarian.
It’s not impossible to find vegetarian cuisine in China, though it may take some flexibility and if you’re a Pescetarian you’re in luck as there are many amazing fish dishes. Vegetarian options are becoming more popular as people are becoming more health conscious in China.
Want to see how your Mandarin measures up before heading to China? Why not check with one of our level tests here?