Chinese is a beautiful (yet challenging) language. In addition to words, phrases and verb conjugations, you’ll need to learn an entirely new alphabet that’s comprised of symbols. Luckily, we’ve got you covered. These common Chinese phrases will get you started if you’re traveling east for business or pleasure.
Common Chinese Phrases: Greetings and Formalities
Looking for a crash-course in Mandarin? Don’t have time to learn an entirely new alphabet in a few weeks or days? These common Chinese phrases will get you started in case you’re traveling to China for a short trip. They’ll also impress your friends (and possibly even Chinese clients!). One of the best tips for learning a new language is immersing yourself in the culture.
Excuse me: láojià (劳驾)
Goodbye: zàijiàn (再见)
Hello: nǐ hǎo (你好)
How are you?: nǐ hǎo ma (你好吗)
I’m sorry: duì bu qǐ (对不起)
My name is: wǒ de míngzì shì (我的名字是)
Nice to meet you: hěn gāoxìng jiàn dào nǐ (很高兴见到你)
No: méiyǒu (没有)
No good: bù hǎo (不好)
Okay: hǎo (好)
Please: qǐng (请)
Thank you: xiè xie (谢谢)
Yes: shì (是)
You’re welcome: bú yòng xiè (不用谢)
Symbols Vs. Letters
The hardest part about learning common Chinese phrases is that you need to learn an entirely new alphabet in addition to new words — if you want to read and write in Mandarin. If you simply plan on memorizing the phonetic pronunciation of the word, you don’t really need to mess around with Chinese symbols too much.
The biggest difference between Chinese symbols and Western letters is that each symbol doesn’t represent a singular letter; it represents an entire concept. In addition to learning the symbols and words, you’ll also want to learn the more than 400 syllables that make up the language.
Each Chinese syllable is also comprised of two parts: the sheng and yun (generally a syllable and a consonant). There are 21 shengs and 35 yuns in Chinese.
The best way to learn each? Take it step-by-step (and get some help along the way!).
Eating out in China can be slightly more challenging than in other countries (if you’re a westerner). Things move really fast in a Chinese restaurant and it’s easy to get mixed up. There are also many customs that westerners aren’t used to. You generally won’t ever need to ask for a menu because they’re almost always provided right away.
Tipping is also not very common in most areas of China (especially ones that aren’t very touristy). Yet many westerners still want to leave gratuities, and leaving a small amount is appropriate.
Table for one: Yī zhuō (一桌)
How many people?: jǐ wèi (几位)
Have you eaten?: nǐ chī fàn le ma (你吃饭了吗)
I’d like a menu: bāng máng ná yī fèn cài dān (帮忙拿一个菜单)
I’m hungry: shí wǒ (饿)
What would you like?: Nín yào shénme？(您要什么)
Eat: chī ba (吃吧)
Waiter: fú wù yuán (服务员)
Gratuity: xiǎo fèi (费)
May I have the bill? mǎi dān (买单)
Spicy: là (辣)
Common Lodging Phrases
If you’re checking into a large hotel in a touristy area, you won’t need to communicate in Chinese. Most hotel staff now know enough English to communicate with guests. But if you’re staying in a budget hotel or a hotel in a remote area, you might need a little Mandarin to get by. You might also need to know a little Mandarin if you’re checking into an Airbnb or home share. Many DIY hoteliers don’t know other languages — and generally don’t need to.
Besides, you’ve come this far… why not try out your newfound skills with a local?
For these phrases, we have not included the Chinese characters along with the pinyin pronunciations as you won’t generally need to read or recognize these symbols as they won’t be posted on hotel signs generally.
I’m checking in: wǒ yào bàn rù zhù
I have a reservation: wǒ yù dìng le fáng jiān
I’d like to make a reservation: wǒ xiǎng yùdìng jīntiān wǎnshàng de fàndiàn
Do you have any vacancies?: yǒu kōng fáng jiān?
How do I get to the metro? Wǒ zěnme qù dìtiě
I need clean towels: Wǒ xūyào gānjìng de máojīn
I’m checking out: wǒ yào tuì fáng
Travel Phrases in Mandarin
Here are some common Chinese phrases you might need to use for basic travel throughout the country. If you’re trying to catch a taxi or pay for a souvenir, these will be extremely helpful. Of course, you can always download a translation app, such as the Vocre app, available on Google Play for Android or the Apple Store for iOS – to help you out, should you get stuck.
Where is the bathroom: Xǐshǒujiān zài nǎlǐ? (洗手间在哪里)
How much?/what is the cost?: Duō shǎo? (多少)
I don’t understand: Wǒ bù míngbái (我不明白)
Train: Péiyǎng (培养)
Taxi: Chūzū chē (出租车)
Car: Qìchē (汽车)
Wallet: Qiánbāo (钱包)
Bus: Zǒngxiàn (总线)
If you’re traveling to China soon, check out some of our other resources for travel, including the best travel apps for last-minute travel.
Headed to other areas of Asia? Check out our guide on Malay to English translation.