The first step to learning how to speak Mandarin is grasping the basic Chinese words and phrases.
Even if you can’t construct a complete sentence together, knowing the important phrases can be incredibly useful. Especially if you plan to visit Asia soon or looking to build a relationship with a Chinese-speaker.
If you’re looking to take your Chinese speaking skills to the next level, then knowing the basic words will be essential.
In today’s post, we’ll share with you the most basic Chinese words and phrases you should know as a beginner. Even if you know zero Chinese right now, this will be a great starting point to kick start your Mandarin journey.
35 Basic Chinese Words and Phrases For Mandarin Beginners
Basic Chinese Greetings
Let’s start with greetings…
1. How are you?
Chinese translation: Nǐ hǎo ma? (Nee-hao-mah?) 你好吗
You may already know this greeting. If it’s your first time hearing it, then you should familiarize yourself with it as soon as you can. It’s the most common way Chinese native speakers will greet one another.
Chinese translation: Wèi (/way/ 喂)
This particular greeting is used when answering a phone call. In English, we also use ‘Hello?’ when answering a call, whereas we would say ‘Hey or Hi’ when meeting in person. Speaking of…
Chinese translation: Nǐhǎo 你好
Another common greeting, and small variation of ‘Ni-hao-ma.’
4. Thank you
Chinese translation: Xièxie. (sshyeah-sshyeah) 谢 谢
The culture in Asia takes great pride in showing politeness and courtesy wherever they go. Prepare to use this word often, particularly as a foreigner in a Chinese-speaking country.
5. Good morning
Chinese translation: 你早 (nǐ zǎo)
Depending on the time of the day, you may want to use this instead of the more commonly used ‘Ni-hao.’ Who knows, you may even surprise someone with your skills.
6. Good afternoon
Chinese translation: 午安 (wǔ’ān)
As you may expect, this is used during the afternoons, just like English.
7. Good night
Chinese translation: 晚安 (wǎnān)
And for night time…
8. See you later
Chinese translation: 回头见。(húi tóu jiàn)
This phrase is used if you plan to see the person in the near future. Perhaps a friend that you see every two weeks to catch up over coffee, you can say: húi tóu jiàn!
9. Excuse me
Chinese translation: 請問 [请问] qǐngwén – to attract attention (“may I ask”)
If you need to grab someone’s attention to ask a question or help them with something, you can say ‘qǐngwén.’ This is important if you’re in a busy and noisy setting.
Chinese translation: 對不起 [对不起] (duìbùqǐ)
Hopefully, you won’t have to use this word too often, but it will come up. As long as you didn’t do anything too horrible, a sincere apology in their native language will likely make things up.
Hearing a foreigner attempt to apologize in your spoken tongue will add that extra layer of respect.
11. Nice to meet you
Chinese translation: 幸會 [幸会] (xìng huì)
You’ll most likely be using this while shaking someone’s hand and looking them in the eye. Performing these multiple actions at the same time may confuse you, so review this phrase once more.
Chinese translation: 請 [请] (qǐng)
Being polite will take you a long way in terms of building a stronger relationship and respect with Chinese speakers. Make sure you’re not using it too often, as the effect will wear off soon.
Common Questions to Ask in Chinese
13. How do you say … in Mandarin?
Chinese translation: … 中文怎麼說? (… zhōngwén zěnme shuō)
This may be one of the most useful Chinese phrases of all. If you’re an eager learner who’s willing to ask questions, this will be the best way to get indirect Chinese lessons with a native speaker.
Like anything, use this moderately since you don’t want to annoy the person you’re with.
14.What is this?
Chinese translation: Zhè shì shénme? (Jer shrr shnn-muh?) 这是什么?
Great for when you’re shopping or at the market. There may be several things you’re not used to seeing given the vast difference in the China marketplace, from food to electronics.
15. Where is the toilet?
Chinese translation: 廁所在哪裡？ [厕所在哪里?] (cèsuǒ zài nǎli?)
This one goes without saying in just about any language, as you can imagine 🙂
16. Where are you from?
Chinese translation: 你是哪國人? (nǐ shì nǎguórén)
A useful question to ask when having a conversation with someone. This could refer to what city in China or another country in Asia they’re from or what nationality they are.
17. I’m from…
Chinese translation: 我是 … 人 (wǒ shì … rén)
Most likely, they’ll ask you after where you’re from. This is how you can start answering that question.
18. Do you speak English?
Chinese translation: 你會說英語嗎? (nǐ huì shuō yīngyǔ ma?)
English is an international language and one that’s vastly taught in China. You’ll find more often than not, native Chinese speakers will have some knowledge of English.
This shouldn’t be an excuse not to make Mandarin your go-to-communication, especially if you want to improve your skills. However, you can use English as an intermediary if you get stuck in an awkward pause.
19. I don’t understand
Chinese translation:: 我不懂 (wǒ bù dǒng)
Before you resort to speaking English, let the other person know that you can’t understand them in Chinese. Perhaps they can explain in a different way (with more physical descriptions, etc.) to help you grasp what they’re saying.
Getting Around Safely
20. Where is…?
Chinese translation:… zài nǎlǐ? (… dzeye naa-lee?) … 在哪里
Navigate your way around China town or any city in China with this simple question.
Chinese translation: Cèsuǒ.? (tser-swor) 厕所
Like #15, if you don’t want to memorize the entire string of words in Chinese, you can simply remember one word: Cèsuǒ.? Most people will give you the same response anyways.
22. Call the police
Chinese translation: 叫警察! (jiào jǐngchá!)
Hopefully, you won’t have to use this often, but it’s necessary to know in case of unknown emergencies.
23. Leave me alone
Chinese translation: 别管我! (bié guǎn wǒ)
Same goes for this. Definitely important to familiarize yourself and the people you’re traveling with on how to avoid trouble. At the very least, it will let strangers around you recognize that you may not be in a potentially dangerous situation.
Chinese Phrases to Survive Socially
24. How much is this?
Chinese translation: Duōshao qián? 多少钱 (Dwor-sshaoww chyen?)
If you’re an avid shopper or simply a fan of Chinese products and services, get ready to use this. More importantly, you may need to prepare for a lengthy negotiation process.
25. Would you like to dance with me?
Chinese translation: 你要不要跟我跳舞? (nǐ yào bú yào gēn wǒ tiàowǔ)
For the bold and brave that wants to initiate a more intimate relationship with someone at a bar, club, or social setting.
26. Do you come here often?
Chinese translation: 你常来这儿吗? (nǐ cháng lái zhè’er ma?)
OK, this may not be the greatest pickup line in the world, but we never said we were a dating magazine 🙂 If anything, you can use this question in the midst of a conversation, not simply as a conversation starter.
27. What kind of work do you do?
Chinese translation: 你作什么样的工作? (nǐ zùo shén me yàng de gōng zùo)
Many people in China are very career-focused, just like many western nations like the United States. It could be a great way to learn about the person you’re conversing with.
28. That’s hilarious
Chinese translation: 好搞笑 (hǎo gǎo xiào)
Everyone likes to feel that they’re making you laugh. You’ll be sure to win someone over if you can use this Mandarin phrase strategically.
Other useful words and phrases in Chinese
29. Get well soon
Chinese translation: 快點好啦 [快点好啦] (kuài diǎn hào la)
Send a friend or co-worker your love if you know that they’re sick or injured.
30. I love you
Chinese translation: 我愛你 [我爱你] (wǒ ài nǐ)
Make someone’s heart melt by telling them you love them in their native language.
31. I miss you
Chinese translation: 我想你 (wǒ xiǎng nǐ)
If you’re not at the ‘I love you’ stage in the relationship or just simply showing a friend some affection, go with a simple ‘wǒ xiǎng nǐ’.
32. Happy birthday
Chinese translation: 生日快乐 [生日快樂] (shēngrì kuàilè)
Kind of like ‘Shang-ri-la’ the hotel but with ‘Shen.’
33. Happy Chinese New Year
Chinese translation: 恭喜發財 [恭喜发财] (gōngxǐ fācái)
This is an important distinction, as people from China take the Chinese New Year more seriously than the traditional New Year. Just having this date in your calendar will win you some major points.
34. Please speak more slowly
Chinese translation: 麻煩你講慢一點 (máfan nĭ jiǎng màn yīdiǎn)
Always a useful Mandarin phrase to know if someone is talking too fast. Perhaps you can almost understand what they’re saying, but only if they slow down a little bit.
35. I don’t know
Chinese translation: 我不知道 (wǒ bù zhīdào)
This phrase is fairly universal, and you can use it just like the way you use it in English or your native language.
That’s it for our introduction to the basic Chinese words and phrases for you. Hope that it was useful.
Feel free to save this so you can go over it once more when you have the time. There is great power in just understanding the basic words and phrases in any language, so your time spent will be well worth it.
Which of the basic Chinese words or phrases above was your favorite?
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