A few years back, I took a few weeks out of the Written Chinese Office to spend some time traveling around China with my parents and husband. I was really impressed by how quickly they picked up words and asked what they meant. Even on the first day, they were already saying 你好 (Hello) and 谢谢 (Thanks). I have to admit that it took me a lot longer to master these basic phrases when I first arrived in China.
You can hear what they thought of their first few days in China on the Two White Chicks in China podcast.
The following phrases are for complete beginners of Chinese or those who wish to have some basics under their belt to travel in China. Unless you’re really interested in learning the Chinese language, you might not want to put a whole lot of time into studying Chinese, especially if it’s for a short time or you have a tour guide for your trip.
However, just like learning to say bonjour in French or Danke schön in German, you can just as quickly learn these essential Chinese phrases too!
Each Chinese phrase below links to our Online Written Chinese Dictionary, where you can click on each word to hear the pronunciation and a more detailed breakdown of a character.
If you’re entirely new to Chinese, it’s worth noting that the Chinese ‘alphabet,’ known as Pinyin, is not the same as the English one, so listening to how words are pronounced is essential.
If you are interested in learning Chinese characters from scratch, take a look at our character worksheets.
Essential Chinese Phrases
1. Thank you! (xiè xie) 谢谢！
A simple way to say thank you.
2. You’re welcome. (bú yòng xiè) 不用谢。
Translated as ‘no need for thanks,’ this a typical response to 谢谢 (thanks).
3. Hello (nǐ hǎo) 你好。
Hello, in Chinese, combines the words ‘you’ and ‘good.’ To ask someone ‘How are you?’, add the character’ 吗. ‘ This character is used when asking a question:
How are you? (nǐ hǎo ma) 你好吗?
5. Not OK/ Not Good (bù hǎo) 不好
6. May I ask… (qǐng wèn) 请问…
7. I’m sorry (duì bu qǐ) 对不起
In this phrase, 对 (duì) also means ‘right’ and is often used in the same way we would use ‘yeah’ in English.
It is common in Chinese for short words such as 对 (right), and 好 (OK) are often repeated three times for emphasis.
8. Good Morning (zǎo shang hǎo) 早上好
9. Good Evening (wǎn shàng hǎo) 晚上好
10. Good Night (wǎn ān) 晚安
11. I’m… (wǒ jiào…) 我叫。。。My name is
12. I’m extremely grateful (fēi cháng gǎn xiè) 非常感谢
13. I’m sorry to trouble you. (má fan nǐ le) 麻烦你了
14. No problem. (méi wèn tí) 没问题
Chinese Phrases to Uses When Meeting New People
Here are a few basic phrases you can if you meet people on your travels or when you first arrive in China.
15. I’m Chinese. (wǒ shì zhōng guó rén) 我是中国人。
This literally translates to, ‘I’m a Chinese person.’
16. What country are you from? (nǐ shì nǎ guó rén) 你是哪国人？
17. I‘m from the USA. (wǒ lái zì měi guó) 我来自美国。
If you don’t know how to say your country, you can go to our Online Dictionary and search for it. You’ll be able to see the Chinese characters, Pinyin, and learn how to pronounce the name correctly.
18. Nice to meet you. (hěn gāoxìng rènshi nǐ) 很高兴认识你。
Use this when saying goodbye if you have met someone for the first time.
Chinese Phrases for Traveling
19. Do you speak English? (nǐ huì shuō yīng yǔ ma?) 你会说英语吗？
If you’re traveling around China, you should try and get this question mastered because you can never assume that everyone will speak English. On the other hand, you’ll probably find plenty of people who make an effort to practice their English with you!
If you ask this question, you need to understand their reply, as they might not say ‘yes’ or ‘no’!
If they can’t speak English, they will probably respond with:
20. I can’t speak (bú huì) 不会。
When you first pick up the nuances of a new language, use the following phrase to ask them to speak slowly.
21. Can you speak more slowly? (kě yǐ shuō de màn yī diǎn ma?) 可以说得慢一点吗？
22. (I) can not speak Chinese. ((wǒ) bù huì shuō zhōng wén) (我) 不会说中文。
23. (I) don’t know. ((wǒ) bù zhī dao) (我) 不知道。
24. Where is the bathroom/washroom/toilet? (xǐ shǒu jiān zài nǎ lǐ?) 洗手间在哪里？
This is a pretty significant phrase, especially if the bathroom sign isn’t in English. Most people will point you in the correct direction!
25. I’m sorry, I don’t understand. (bù hǎo yì si, wǒ méi tīng dǒng) 不好意思， 我没听懂。
There may be times when someone speaks to you in Chinese, and you have no idea what they’re saying. No need to be rude; be honest and say so!
Someone may also ask you:
*没有 (méi yǒu) is a simple phrase that you will almost certainly begin to hear EVERYWHERE. Not only is it a helpful phrase to be able to speak and listen out for, but when spoken, it sounds like ‘mayo.’
Use it also to say ‘no’ or ‘I don’t have (something).’
I relied heavily on the phrase 听不懂 (tīng bu dǒng) instead of studying, but it’s a helpful phrase to know.
28. 是的 (shì de)
If you can understand, you can reply using 是的 (shì de), which means ‘yes,’ or
29. 听懂了 (tīng dǒng le) I understand what you are saying.
30. Please excuse me. (jiè guò yī xià) 借过一下。
If you find yourself squashed on the metro and the doors open on the other side, you can politely use this phrase to have them move aside for you!
31. Wait a moment / hang on a sec (děng yī xià) 等一下。
You may not use this phrase yourself, but you’ll probably hear it spoken frequently.
An alternative version of this phrase is 等一等 (děng yī děng) ‘wait a minute.’
32. Where do you want to go? (qù nǎ lǐ?) 去哪里？
33. I want to go to… (wǒ yào qù) 我要去。。。
For example, I want to go to the train station. ((wǒ yào) qù huǒ chē zhàn) (我要)去火车站。
Just swap out 火车站 for another place such as hotel 酒店.
34. I want to buy a ticket. (wǒ yào mǎi yī zhāng piào) 我要买一张票。
35. How many stops do I go? (yào zuò jǐ zhàn) 要坐几站？
Learn more phrases for booking a hotel in Chinese.
Asking For Directions in Chinese
These Chinese phrases for asking for directions maybe for those of you who already have some Chinese under your belt, but you can give them a whirl in a taxi if you know the route.
36. How do I get there? (zěn me zǒu?) 怎么走？
37. How do I get from the hotel to the mall? (cóng jiǔ diàn dào shāng chǎng zěn me zǒu) 从酒店到商场怎么走？
38. Turn left. (wǎng zuǒ guǎi) 往左拐。
39. Turn right. (wǎng yòu guǎi) 往右拐。
40. Go straight ahead. (yī zhí zǒu) 一直走。
Chinese Phrases for Restaurants & Cafes
41. Welcome (huān yíng guāng lín) 欢迎光临
You’ll often hear this when you enter a restaurant or a store.
42. Please can you give me a menu? (qǐng gěi wǒ cài dān ma?) 请给我菜单吗？
43. 点菜 diǎn cài (I’m) ready to order.
44. Waiter/Waitress (fú wù yuán) 服务员
45. I want this one (wǒ yào zhè ge) 我要这个
I want…(wǒ yào) 我要。。。
Combine the above expression with the following items:
…a beer 。。。(yī píng pí jiǔ) 一瓶啤酒。
…a cup of coffee 。。。(yī bēi kā fēi) 一杯咖啡。
…a bottle of water 。。。(yī píng shuǐ) 一瓶水。
46. This one (zhè ge) 这个
47. That one (nà ge) 那个
48. The bill, please. Thank you. (jié zhàng, xiè xie) 结账，谢谢。
49. You may also say 买单, 谢谢. (mǎi dān, xiè xie.)
The first character, 买 (mǎi), means ‘to buy.’
50. How much is it? (zhè ge duō shao qián?) 这个多少钱？
Even if you haven’t learned all the numbers in Chinese, you will either receive a paper bill in a restaurant or be shown the price on a calculator (it’s pretty handy, especially if you want to haggle the price).
51. Delicious. (hǎo chī) 好吃
52. Please give me a pair of chopsticks. (qǐng gěi wǒ yī shuāng kuài zi) 请给我一双筷子。
53. I don’t eat… (wǒ bù chī…) 我不吃。。。
If you’re a vegetarian or don’t eat a particular food, you can use this phrase.
For example, 我不吃肉。(wǒ bù chī ròu) I don’t eat meat.
54. (I don’t want it) too spicy. (bù tài là) 不太辣。
55. What would you like to drink? (nǐ xiǎng hē diǎn shén me?) 你想喝点什么？
Cola (kě lè) 可乐
Wine (jiǔ) 酒
Water (shuǐ) 水
56. Cheers! (gān bēi) 干杯
57. Do you want it here or to take away? (zài zhè hē hái shì dài zǒu?) 在这喝还是带走？
58. Here. (zài zhè lǐ) 在这里。
59. Take-away. (dài zǒu) 带走。
60. Take away (dǎ bāo) 打包
This means ‘to wrap up,’ and it’s a widespread way of asking for take-out food or drink.
Keep studying Chinese phrases to use in restaurants to expand your vocabulary.
Chinese Phrases for Shopping
61. It’s too expensive! (tài guì le) 太贵了！
62. (Make it) a little cheaper (pián yi yī diǎn) 便宜一点.
63. Very pretty. (hěn piào liang) 很漂亮
64. I don’t like it. (wǒ bù xǐ huan) 我不喜欢。
65. I like it. (wǒ xǐ huan) 我喜欢。
66. I don’t want it. (bù yào le) 不要了。
67. I’m just looking. (wǒ kàn yī xià) 我看一下。
68. Do you need a bag? (nǐ xū yào dài zi ma?) 你需要袋子吗？
69. I want a bag. (wǒ yào yī gè dài zi) 我要一个袋子。
70. Can I use a card? (kě yǐ shuā kǎ ma?) 可以刷卡吗？
71. Where is the …? (qǐng wèn…zài nǎr?) 请问…在哪儿?
More Phrases for Beginners
72. How do you say that in Chinese? (zhè ge yòng hàn yǔ zěn me shuō?) 这个用汉语怎么说？
If you’re a curious beginner, you can use this phrase to ask someone how to say a particular object in Chinese. This is useful if you’re in your local supermarket or restaurant!
73. I don’t understand. (wǒ bú tài míng bai) 我不太明白。
This is slightly different from saying ‘听不懂,’ which means you don’t understand the spoken language. 明白 means’ clear’ or ‘obvious’ and is an excellent way to explain you don’t understand the person’s meaning.
Alternatively, you can also ask the following:
74. What do you mean? (shén me yì si) 什么意思？
75. Can you explain a little more? I don’t understand what you mean. (kě yǐ jiě shì yī xià ma? Wǒ bú tài míng bai.) 可以解释一下吗？我不太明白。
76. Please repeat that. (qǐng zài shuō yī biàn) 请再说一遍。
Once you start learning Chinese, you’ll need to use this phrase to ask a speaker to repeat specific words or sentences.
Getting Help in Chinese
77. Help! (jiù mìng) 救命！
Hopefully, you won’t need to use this while traveling in China, but it’s good to know how to get the attention of people around you.
78. I’m lost. (wǒ mí lù le) 我迷路了。
79. I need to go to the hospital. (wǒ yào qù yī yuàn) 我要去医院。
Unlike some western countries, if you’re sick in China, you need to go to a hospital to see a doctor, so this phrase might be helpful if you get sick.
80. 我生病了。 (wǒ shēngbìng le) I’m sick.
81. I have a headache. (wǒ tóu téng) 我头疼。
82. Where is the pharmacy? (yào fáng zài nǎ lǐ) 药房在哪里？
Most Chinese pharmacies have both western and Chinese medicines to choose from.
Saying Goodbye in Chinese
83. Goodbye (zài jiàn) 再见
84. Bye! (bài bài) 拜拜
85. See you next time! (xià cì jiàn) 下次见！
Learn more ways to say goodbye in Chinese.
You might also be interested in our other article about being polite in Chinese, 谢谢: 10 Polite Chinese Expressions, and How to Use Them.
The post 85 Useful Chinese Phrases and Sentences for Newbies and Travelers appeared first on Written Chinese.