Basic Chinese Words and Phrases for Your Next Trip to China
Mandarin Chinese is a complex language that takes years to master. If you wait to visit China until you speak fluently, you might never make it there at all. Still, it helps to learn at least a few words and phrases before you travel. Not only can key phrases make it easier to get around, they demonstrate respect for the local language and culture.
As you prepare for your adventure in China, take some time to learn the following words and phrases:
1. Ni Hao — Hello
Pronounced ‘knee how,’ this simple term is regularly used as a greeting throughout China. It is commonly associated with tourists due to its simplicity, but locals will by no means be bothered by its use — after all, it’s a friendly greeting that gets the point across quickly. For accurate pronunciation, aim to use a rising tone on ‘ni’ and a falling tone on ‘hao.’
Although casual, this greeting should prove useful in a variety of contexts during your trip. You’re welcome to use it on the street, in stores, at restaurants, and in virtually any other setting imaginable.
2. Xie Xie — Thank You
The phrase ‘xie xie’ can be used to demonstrate your gratitude in a wide range of situations. The term is pronounced “syeh syeh” with the first word starting with high intonation and dropping, while the second is typically said in a neutral tone and without strong emphasis.
3. Wo Bu Dong — I Don’t Understand
As a visitor with limited mastery of the local language, you will likely be forced to use this phrase on a regular basis. It can convey both your lack of understanding of the Chinese language and your lack of understanding of various situations or procedures. This is a simplified phrase; additional words such as ‘ting’ may be added by native speakers. As a visitor, however, your point will be taken quickly if you use this term in its simplest form.
4. Dui Bu Qi — Excuse Me
Get ready to navigate a lot of crowds as you explore China’s dense urban centers. In packed spaces, you’ll commonly hear the phrase ‘dui bu qi,’ which roughly translates to ‘excuse me.’ Don’t hesitate to use this phrase if you accidentally bump into somebody. It indicates that you do not wish to cause offense.
5. Ganbei — Cheers
If you’re fortunate to attend a Chinese gathering, you will likely hear ‘ganbei’ repeated over and over. Toasts represent a key aspect of such gatherings. Directly translated to ‘dry cup,’ the phrase ‘ganbei’ instructs party attendees to empty their glasses.
Of course, understanding the etiquette behind cheers is just as important as the term itself. The host or senior individual at the event will typically toast first. Be sure to hold your glass in your right hand — and only consume your beverage when toasting.
A little effort can go a long way as you strive to demonstrate your appreciation for the Chinese culture. Even a few simple words can demonstrate that you care. Your efforts will be well rewarded as you explore China and interact with locals.