First time going to China? Lucky you! You’re going to have such an amazing time there! What? You’re excited but a little worried because you don’t know many useful Chinese phrases? You know how to say [zh zh=”你好” py=”nǐhǎo” en=”hello”], [zh zh=”谢谢” py=”xièxie” en=”thank you”], [zh zh=”不客气” py=”búkèqi” en=”you’re welcome”], and [zh zh=”请” py=”qǐng” en=”please”] in Mandarin Chinese, but these don’t seem enough? If you have some time before you go, we suggest you learn Chinese a little more (we know a great place). No time, you’re leaving next week? Worry not; we’ve got your back. We’ve prepared 20 survival sentences that you’ll find yourself using all the time in China! This Mandarin survival kit has everything you need to face anything. Learn these 20 phrases and know that, whatever happens, you’ll be ready to deal with it! Ready?
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Part 1 – Chinese phrases: Everyday basics
Let’s start with a few basic Chinese phrases you can use in everyday conversations to make sure you communicate efficiently. Also, download the Chinese Phrasebook app we’ve made to find all the essential Chinese sentences to know.
#1 不好意思，我听不懂。- Sorry, I don’t understand.
Have you got yourself in a situation where someone’s talking to you, but you do not understand what they’re saying? First off, kudos! Speaking to locals in Chinese is the best way to get comfortable speaking in Chinese.
But how do you let the other know you’re not quite getting their gist? Instead of shaking your head no, you can say:
[zh py=”Bù hǎo yì si, wǒ tīng bù dǒng.”]
[zh en=”Sorry, I don’t understand.”]
Try that? Great, now that you’ve let the other know you weren’t quite following what they said without offending them, well done! You can move on to:
#2 你可以讲慢点吗? – Can you speak slowly, please?
For situations when: You know some Chinese but you’re not used to people speaking fast, yet. Maybe you’d be following what the other was saying if only they weren’t talking like they’re trying to win a 100-yard sprint. This sentence may solve your troubles:
[zh py=”Nǐ kě yǐ jiǎng màn diǎn ma?”]
[zh en=”Can you speak more slowly, please?”]
Hang on to this sentence; you might use it a LOT because you’ll find that the Chinese speak fast sometimes!
#3 你说英语吗? – Do you speak English?
Is option #2 sound too harsh because your Mandarin Chinese is still too limited to understand entire sentences? That’s okay. You tried, at least. But, now you know that you need to improve your listening comprehension skills in Chinese!
For now, try saying this after sentence #1:
[zh py=”Nǐ shuō yīngyǔ ma?”]
[zh en=”Do you speak English?”]
It’s perfect for situations when it might be better to switch to English.
#4 我不知道 – I don’t know
Knowing how to say I don’t know in Chinese is both easy and extremely useful. You’ll find yourself using it often, and you’ll hear all kinds of people in China saying:
[zh py=”Wǒ bù zhī dào.”]
[zh en=”I don’t know.”]
Never feel embarrassed to say 我不知道 as there exist thousands of “whys” in this world. In Chinese, just like in many languages, saying this is normal.
Use it: When you need to say you don’t know and want someone to “let you know”!
Part 2 – Chinese phrases: Getting information
Good, you now have learned a few common Chinese expressions to get you started having conversations with native Chinese speakers. Next, let’s move on to basic Chinese phrases to bring you the information you want.
#5 这个用汉语怎么说？ – How do you say that in Chinese?
You’re an adventurer, and China’s full of strange things you’ll want to discover and adopt in your daily life. As such, you’re always curious to know how to say this or that in Chinese. This sentence is perfect for you:
[zh zh=” 这个用汉语怎么说?”]
[zh py=”Zhè ge yòng hàn yǔ zěn me shuō?”]
[zh en=”How do you say that in Chinese?”]
Use it when: you want to know what this thing is!
Bonus: Pointing and asking questions is a great way to build your vocabulary and learn many new Chinese words. So get yourself talking!
#6 请问，这里 有 wifi 吗？- Excuse me, is there any wifi here?
A wireless connection is the most important thing when you’re far away from your home and family so you can keep in touch with them often. When in a coffee shop, a bar, a restaurant, a spa, your hotel, you can ask:
[zh zh=”请问，这里 有 wifi 吗?”]
[zh py=”Qǐngwèn，zhèlǐ yǒuwifi ma?”]
[zh en=”Excuse me, is there any wifi here?”]
If the [zh zh=”服务员” py=”fúwùyuán” en=”waiter”] answers there is, you can also ask what the wireless code is:
[zh zh=”密码 是 多少?”]
[zh py=”Mìmǎ shì duōshao?”]
[zh en=”What’s the password?”]
#7 厕所在哪里？ – Where are the restrooms?
A must when traveling, exploring unknown places, knowing where the toilets are! Ask this to get instructions on how to reach the restrooms.
[zh py=”Cèsuǒ zài nǎlǐ?”]
[zh en=”Where are the restrooms?”]
A good thing to know (if the people going in and out aren’t enough help):
- Look for 男 Nán for the men’s restroom
- Look for 女 Nǚ for the ladies’ room
- Another good word to know is [zh zh=”洗手间” py=”xǐshǒujiān” en=”toilet; lavatory; washroom].
[zh py=”Méi yǒu wèishēngzhǐ le”]
[zh en=”There’s no toilet paper left.]
(Remember to always have tissues with you just in case because you may find yourself saying this more than you expected).
#8 请问现在几点了？- What time is it, please?
Are you the kind of person who always forgets to bring your watch or give juice to your cell phone? Then this question will come in extra handy:
[zh py=”Qǐng wèn xiàn zài jǐ diǎn le?”]
[zh en=”What time is it please?”]
You never know when this question may be helpful to ask. But, of course, it’s also terribly beneficial to make sure you’re organizing your time well and are on time!
Part 3 – Chinese Phrases: Shopping
This part is dedicated to two widespread and helpful phrases to know in Chinese when shopping because we know how much you like shopping!
#9 这个多少钱？- How much is it?
Knowing how to ask for a price is a fundamental skill you’ll be quickly mastering if you travel or live in China; You’ll most likely use it every day in your daily life!
So, to inquire how much something costs, say:
[zh py=”Zhè ge duō shǎo qián?”]
[zh en=”How much is it?”]
This sentence is very useful to know; You need this sentence to buy things in China!
#10 太贵了，便宜点。- It’s too expensive, cheaper, please.
Not happy with the price you heard? Then it’s time to try a bit of essential bargaining!
If you only learn one thing about bargaining in China, remember this one:
[zh zh=” 太贵了，便宜点。”]
[zh py=”Tài guì le, pián yi diǎn.”]
[zh en=”It’s too expensive, cheaper, please.”]
Chinese sellers (often) may try to take advantage of customers that don’t know the trends and actual prices of items. Don’t let that faze you, and keep saying this sentence until they cave (or you walk away). We believe in your power to convince them!
Part 4 – Chinese phrases: Going places
Next up in this selection of typical Chinese phrases, you need a few useful travel sentences!
#11 请问怎么去…？- Can you tell me how to go to + place, please?
Confused about where you’re supposed to go? To find your way in China, use this Chinese phrase to ask for directions:
[zh py=”Qǐng wèn zěn me qù…?”]
[zh en=”Can you tell me how to go to + place, please?”]
China is such a vast country that you should always be prepared to ask how to find your way in Chinese.
Bonus sentence: I’m lost.
Why are you asking how to go to a particular place? Is it because you’re lost? Then, this might be a piece of useful information to slip in:
[zh py=”Wǒ mílù le.”]
[zh en=”I’m lost.”]
#12 请问这辆车去哪儿？ / 哪里? Where is this going?
You got on a train, but suddenly it dawns on you-you’re not sure where it’s going. Put your fears to rest with this simple question you can ask your neighbors or the train conductor:
[zh py=”Qǐngwèn zhè liàng chē qù nǎ’er?”]
[zh en=”Excuse me, where is this going?”]
Note: [zh zh=”哪儿？/哪里？” py=”Nǎ’er?/Nǎlǐ?] are two ways to say “where” in Chinese. The first one is more used in the North and the second one in Southern China.
# 13 你要去哪里/哪儿? Where do you want to go?
You snagged a taxi to take you to your next destination; well done! Now, the taxi driver is going to ask you:
[zh py=”Nǐ yào qù nǎlǐ/nǎ’er”]
[zh en=”Where do you want to go?”]
So better be prepared for this question and ready to answer!
Here’s how to answer:
[zh zh=”我要去…” py=”Wǒ yào qù” en=”I want to go + place”]
A tip: if you can’t get the driver to understand where you’re going, these two taxi hacks work well in China:
- have a card ready with the address written down on it — always a good way to make sure the taxi driver knows where you’re going
- Call the place you’re going, explain your situation, and hand the driver your phone. They’ll take care of guiding your driver to your destination.
Part 5 – Chinese phrases: Asking for help
This last part is dedicated to asking for assistance, information, and help. So let’s get the most serious type of help out of our way first:
# 14 救命 – Help!
For something urgent, when you’re in real danger or are facing a very present issue, say — or yell, depending on the gravity of the situation –:
Worst comes to worst; simply yell “Help!” I bet all the people understand this word in this universe.
#15 捉小偷！捉小偷！- Catch the thief
Pickpockets and thieves are an ugly reality, no matter where you go, so better learn this sentence just in case your bag gets snatched or your cellphone was stolen out of your back pocket:
[zh py=”Zhuō xiǎotōu! Zhuō xiǎotōu!”]
[zh en=”Catch the thief! Catch the thief!”]
#16 对不起，打扰了。 – Excuse me, I’m sorry to bother you.
Now that you know how to yell for help in serious situations, let’s see what you say when asking someone for information or a little help. 救命 is out of the question. Instead, this is a great sentence to know:
[zh zh=” 对不起，打扰了.”]
[zh py=”Duì bù qǐ, dǎ rǎo le.”]
[zh en=”Excuse-me, I’m sorry to bother you.”]
then follow up with your question. Trust us, being polite goes a long way when asking people to help you out.
Use it when: you want to get information but want to make you’re not disturbed too much. Type of help you need regular help, nothing too pressing or urgent.
#17 谢谢您的帮助 – Thank you for your help!
Great, you asked for help and got some very helpful advice. Now it’s time to show your thankfulness!
A simple [zh zh=”谢谢” py=”Xiè xiè” en=”Thank you”] will work fine, of course, but for extra effect, try:
[zh py=”Xiè xiè nín de bāng zhù!”]
[zh en=”Thank you for your help!”]
Each time someone helps you, even if it’s for a tiny thing, remember to tell them to thank you!
Part 6 – Chinese phrases: Being sick
#18 我病了 – I’m sick
Your adventure in China might take a different turn, and because of spicy food, change of weather, or whatever reason, you might be sick. If you need help or be noticed, you have to tell about how you’re feeling. Here’s how to start:
[zh py=”wǒ bìng le”]
[zh en=”I’m sick.”]
Saying this will make it easier for the Chinese people to understand how you feel!
#19 我需要医生 – I need a doctor
You’re sick and not getting better? OK, it’s time for you to go to the doctor.
Don’t know where to find a doctor? Then tell someone:
[zh py=”Jiùmìng! Wǒ xūyào yīshēng”]
[zh en=”Help! I need a doctor!”]
#20 这儿疼 – It hurts here
Great you found a doctor. How do you tell them what you’re feeling? Well, tell them where it hurts to start with, right?
[zh py=”zhè’er téng”]
[zh en=”It hurts here”].
This may be the most valuable Chinese phrase to keep with you all at times, just in case you never know.
This last sentence concludes this careful collection of 20 (and a few bonus sentences) fundamental Chinese phrases to know and survive your first time in China.
Final words: you know now how to survive in Chinese
And this sentence concludes this careful collection of 20 (and a few bonus sentences) fundamental Chinese phrases to know and survive your first time in China. Because you never know what might happen to you during your Chinese adventure, we’ve gathered here the most useful Chinese phrases to survive any situation: bargaining, going to the doctor, apologizing, calling for help, and asking for assistance in China. With these 20+ sentences, the help of the information you need will never be far away.
So, try some of these fundamental Chinese phrases next time you’re in China (we hope you won’t have to use all of them at once) and fully enjoy your journey! And, tell us: did these expressions help you? Do you know some others that would help or help you there?
You’ll also be very interested in the Chinese phrasebook app we’ve made for Android here.
The Nincha Team
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12 replies on “20 fundamental Chinese phrases you need to know”
Is there a mistake in number 19? The characters don’t match the pinyin.
Hi Chad! You’re right, thanks for spotting that! We’ve just changed it. The moral of the story being: don’t let a cat control your computer! 🙂
[…] https://ninchanese.com/blog/2016/03/04/chinese-phrases-to-survive/ […]
This website is very incomplete. The only important chinese sentence isn’t even mentionned : coa ni zu zong shi ba dai.
Who cares about the restrooms, seriously ?
Hi Dan! What a classy sentence 🙂 Thanks for the suggestion however, we’ll use it in the article we’ll write about bad words in Chinese!
[…] You don’t know this sentence? Then check out our last article about useful Chinese phrases to know more […]
[…] For more daily useful Chinese expressions, you can check out our posts about saying yes in Chinese and saying sorry in Chinese as well as this awesome guide to 20 survival phrases. […]
[…] food, read something that’s written on a menu, call a taxi or even asking for a direction, few survival words would be enough. If you want to understand what’s going on TV, on the radio or in the newspapers, you’ll […]
[…] in Mandarin? Knowing how to say goodbye is just as important as knowing how to say hello, yes, no and thank you in Chinese. In fact, knowing how to take leave from someone is part of the basic […]
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Chinese languages in China are Chinese languages are spoken by the ethnic Chinese majority and many minority ethnic groups in China.For an official language of China and Singapore,also known as Mandarin,see Standard Chinese. Mandarin Chinese is the most popular language in China,with over 955 million speakers out of China’s total population of 1.21 billion people.The main spoken form,used officially in China,is called Mandarin.The Chinese language is fascinating and unique.Chinese characters have a meaning independently of the sounds you can make to describe them.Languages spoken by China’s 56 recognized ethnic groups from the official languages (Standard Mandarin, Cantonese, English,Pu’tong’hua普通话, the official language of China).
Now, you’ll practice making sentences by dragging and dropping characters in the correct place. You’re given the sentence in English and you have to make the correct sentence in Chinese. Sounds easy right? I struggled with it. So, if you just learned the difference between ?, now is the time to see how well you really understood what you read.