Survival Chinese – 99 Basic Chinese Words and Phrases for Total Beginners

basic Chinese words and phrases

Whether you are an aspiring beginner at Chinese, a seasoned traveler planning to visit China, or maybe you are looking for ways to connect with your Chinese-speaking friends, knowing the basic Chinese words and phrases can be incredibly useful. Of course, you also want to learn some survival Chinese if you work and live in China. Though you will meet some locals who can speak English, starting a conversation with them in their language will make a world of difference to your Chinese experience. 

Believe it or not, Mandarin Chinese starts out pretty easily. A few basic vocabulary words and sentence patterns will get you by in many situations. This is different from other languages such as French or German that require you to memorize chunks of grammatical technicalities – tenses, conjugations, cases, genders… before you can say even the simplest sentences.  

Whatever your reasons for learning Chinese are, we’ve got your back!

In this guide, we’re going to teach you some basic, real Chinese to help you survive in China or other Chinese speaking countries. We chose 99 of the most essential, basic Chinese words and phrases you’ll hear and use in daily situations and put them to a vocabulary list. We’ll take you through them one by one, telling you what they mean, how they are pronounced, when you can use them, and everything else you want to know about them. We’ll also let you in on 10 simple, cool Chinese phrases you can use instantly to make you sound like a native speaker already.

No doubt, knowing these basic Chinese words and phrases will help you be on the firm ground even if you’re just at the very beginning of your Chinese learning journey, but before we start in with the list, there is one thing that you should know and be aware of:

The Chinese “alphabet” is not the same as the English one (it’s phonetic though). If you’re completely new to Chinese, try familiarizing yourself with Pinyin first. Pinyin is the Mandarin romanization for pronunciation. The markings above the Pinyin indicates the tone. Pinyin will help you learn how to pronounce Chinese words properly and will make reading a lot easier.

All right! Let’s get started with our list! Trust me, these words and phrases will come in handy and give you all the right tools to interact with the locals.

Editor’s note: before we dive in, if you’re looking for an online Chinese course for beginners, here’s the course we actually recommend: YoyoChinese – a course taught in plain English.

Basic Greetings in Chinese

basic greetings in Chinese

You can’t expect to start a Chinese conversation without knowing some words and phrases for greetings. Let’s start with the most basic ones.

1. Hello/Good day 你好

Pronunciation: Nǐhǎo

You may know this phrase already. “ni hao” literally means “you good”, and is used in the sense of “wishing you are good”. It’s the most basic way to greet people in Chinese (more often to strangers and nodding acquaintances than to people one is familiar with). It’s safe to use the phrase at any time of the day.

2. Hello (on the phone) 喂

Pronunciation: Wèi

Use this particular greeting instead of “ni hao” when you answer a phone call (but never use it in other situations).

3. How are you? 你好吗?

Pronunciation: Nǐ hǎo ma?

“ma” is kind of like a question marker in Chinese. If “ni hao” means “you good”, then “ni hao ma?” simply means “are you good?”. To keep the conversation going, you can use this basic Chinese question after greeting.

4. Very good 很好

Pronunciation: Hěn hǎo

You can respond with this basic phrase if someone says “ni hao ma?” to you.

5. Not so good 不太好 

Pronunciation: Bú tài hǎo

Having a rough day? Then “bu tai hao” it is!

6. Morning! 早!

Pronunciation: Zǎo!

Forget about “zaoshang hao”. A simple “zao” is the most natural way people greet each other in the morning in China.

7. Good night 晚安

Pronunciation: Wǎn’ān

Chinese people don’t say “good afternoon” or “good evening” that often like one would in English, so let’s jump straight to “good night” – “wan’an”. Use it at the end of the day when you leave someone for the last time or when you go to bed.

8. Goodbye  再见

Pronunciation: Zàijiàn

No polite conversation can end without a good old goodbye or “zaijian”. Another parting phrase you’ll frequently hear in Chinese would be 拜拜 (báibái), a loanword from English (bye-bye) popular among young people.

Here’s a recap of the basic Chinese words and phrases you should know to greet people and say goodbye in Chinese.

English Chinese Pinyin
Hello/Good day 你好 Nǐhǎo
Hello (on the phone) Wèi
How are you? 你好吗? Nǐ hǎo ma?
Very good 很好 Hěn hǎo
Not so good 不太好 Bú tài hǎo
Morning! 早! Zǎo!
Good night 晚安 Wǎn’ān
Goodbye 再见 Zàijiàn

 

Basic Chinese Words & Phrases to Express Politeness

polite words in Chinese

Chinese culture is built around politeness and courtesy. The basic words of politeness can go a long way. These Chinese phrases will surely come in handy during the conversation if you don’t want to offend anyone.

9. Thank you 谢谢

Pronunciation: Xièxie

If there’s a second word to know besides “ni hao”, this would be it.

10. You’re welcome 不客气

Pronunciation: Bú kèqi

Respond with this phrase when someone says “xiexie” to you. Alternatively, you can reply with 不用谢 (bú yòng xiè) – literally “no need to thank”.

11. Please (do sth) 请… 

Pronunciation: Qǐng…

You can add this in front of a request if you want to add an extra layer of politeness.

12. May I ask… 请问…

Pronunciation: Qǐng wèn…

If you need to grab someone’s attention to ask a question, such as asking for the restroom, directions, or a similar favor, start with “qǐng wèn”, then follow it up with what you want to ask.

13. Excuse me 不好意思

Pronunciation: Bù hǎo yìsi

“bu hao yisi” literally means “embarrassed”, that is, one is embarrassed with a situation or for having caused the situation. It’s a casual way of saying “sorry” in Chinese when the situation doesn’t really warrant a “sorry”. You can use the phrase, for instance, if you bump into someone on a crowded subway or when you need to interrupt someone.

14. I’m sorry 对不起

Pronunciation: Duìbuqǐ

When apologizing for more serious inconveniences, you can use the phrase ”dui bu qi”. Hearing a foreigner attempt to apologize in your spoken tongue will add that extra layer of respect.

15. It doesn’t matter 没关系

Pronunciation: Méi guānxi

This is normally how you respond to an apology in Chinese.

16. No problem 没问题

Pronunciation: Méi wèntí

Everything works out fine? Then “mei wenti!”

Here’s a quick summary of the basic polite words and phrases in Chinese.

English Chinese Pinyin
Thank you 谢谢 Xièxie
You’re welcome 不客气 Bú kèqi
Please (do sth) 请… Qǐng…
May I ask… 请问… Qǐng wèn…
Excuse me 不好意思 Bù hǎo yìsi
I’m sorry 对不起 Duìbuqǐ
It doesn’t matter 没关系 Méi guānxi
No problem 没问题 Méi wèntí

 

Survival Chinese Words & Phrases

survival Chinese words phrases

If you want to survive your trip to China, you’ve got to learn a few more basic words beyond the initial greeting to get you by. So, here is a list of the survival Chinese words you need to memorize right away.

17. I 我

Pronunciation: Wǒ

It’s important to know some basic Chinese pronouns. If it’s your first time hearing these words, then you should familiarize yourself with them as soon as you can. 

Chinese doesn’t differentiate between the subject (doer of the action) and object (undergoer of the action), so you can use “wo” for both “I” and “me”, for instance, “wo shi…” (I am…), “shi wo” (it’s me).

18. You 你

Pronunciation: Nǐ

“ni” refers to the singular “you” in Chinese. If you are talking to more than one person, you can use “nimen”, the plural “you” instead.

19. He/She/It 他/她/它

Pronunciation: Tā

Fun fact: while “he”, “she”, and “it” are represented by different characters, they are pronounced exactly the same in Chinese. You’ll need to rely on the context to figure out whether someone is referring to the male “ta” or female “ta” during a conversation.

(An interesting phenomenon is that Chinese people, when speaking English, often use “he” instead of “she” or the other way around by mistake, because they’ve never had to pay attention to the phonetic difference in their own language.)

20. This 这个

Pronunciation: Zhè ge

21. That 那个

Pronunciation: Nà ge

To point things out in Chinese, you can use the above two basic words (known as demonstrative pronouns). Note that people in northern China often pronounce “nà ge” as “nèi gè”.

22. Yes 是的

Pronunciation: Shì de

23. No 不是

Pronunciation: Bú shì

Technically, Chinese doesn’t have specific words that correspond directly to “yes” and “no” when used in isolation. To answer a question properly, even the simplest one, you need some basic knowledge of Chinese grammar. (read this grammar point here)

The good news is that you can get by just using “shi de” for “yes” and “bu shi” for “no”. They may not be strictly correct, and you may even find people giggling, but you’ll be understood in most situations.

24. Good/Okay 好的

Pronunciation: Hǎo de

Respond with “hao de” when you accept someone’s request, suggestion, invitation, or when they ask for a favor and you don’t mind helping. That way, you’ll sound friendly and adorable.

Just make sure you don’t use “hao de” to replace “shi de”. (if someone asks you if you are Mr. Johnson, answering with “okay” will sound silly)

25. Not Good/Not Okay 不好

Pronunciation: Bù hǎo

If you are not in the mood, simply answer with “bu hao”. As you can probably guess, “bu” is a negation word in Chinese that makes a statement negative. (read more here)

26. Maybe 有可能

Pronunciation: Yǒu kěnéng

You may also give an ambiguous answer by saying “you keneng” – literally “there’s a possibility”.

27. Now 现在

Pronunciation: Xiànzài

It’s necessary to know some basic time words in Chinese. Since there is no so-called “tense” in Chinese, people rely heavily on time words such as “now”, “yesterday”, “tomorrow” to differentiate whether something happens in the present, past, or future.

28. Today 今天

Pronunciation: Jīntiān

29. Yesterday 昨天

Pronunciation: Zuótiān

30. Tomorrow 明天

Pronunciation: Míngtiān

31. Restroom/Toilet 厕所

Pronunciation: Cèsuǒ

There are several ways to say “restroom” in Chinese, among which “cesuo” is the most common one. If you have a problem memorizing the entire string of words to say “where is the restroom?” in Chinese, you can simply say “cesuo?” Most people will give you the same response anyway.

32. Help! 救命!

Pronunciation: Jiùmìng!

Hopefully, you won’t have to use this phrase, but it’s necessary to know in case of unknown emergencies.

Here’s a quick recap of the words and phrases you’ll need in your next Chinese survival situation.

English Chinese Pinyin
I
You
He/She/It 他/她/它
This 这个 Zhè ge
That 那个 Nà ge
Yes 是的 Shì de
No 不是 Bú shì
Good/Okay 好的 Hǎo de
Not good/Not okay 不好 Bù hǎo
Maybe 有可能 Yǒu kěnéng
Correct/Right Duì
Now 现在 Xiànzài
Today 今天 Jīntiān
Yesterday 昨天 Zuótiān
Tomorrow 明天 Míngtiān
Restroom/Toilet 厕所 Cèsuǒ
Help! 救命! Jiùmìng!

 

Basic Chinese Numbers  

basic Chinese numbers

The Chinese numbers, which belong to the Indo-Arabic based decimal system, are not difficult to learn. Their construction follows rules that will allow you to memorize them easily.

Here are the basic Chinese numbers.

33. One 一

Pronunciation: Yī

34. Two 二

Pronunciation: Èr

There are actually two words that correspond to the number “2” in Chinese: “èr” and “liǎng”, and they are used for different circumstances. You can find out when to use which here.

35. Three 三

Pronunciation: Sān

36. Four 四

Pronunciation: Sì

Numerology plays a vital role in Chinese lives. Locals lay great emphasis on the use of numbers which, according to their culture, may be considered lucky or unlucky.

The number “4” is a dreaded number in Chinese superstition and a very unlucky number. This is because it is almost homophonous with the Chinese word “sǐ” which means “death”. Chinese avoid number “4” and “14” when they choose phone numbers, room numbers, or select dates of ceremonies.

37. Five 五

Pronunciation: Wǔ

38. Six 六

Pronunciation: Liù

39. Seven 七

Pronunciation: Qī

40. Eight 八

Pronunciation: Bā 

“8” is the most favored number in China. It’s associated with wealth, luck, success, and status.

41. Nine 九

Pronunciation: Jiǔ

42. Ten 十

Pronunciation: Shí

43. One hundred 一百

Pronunciation: Yì bǎi

44. One thousand 一千

Pronunciation: Yì qiān

Once you’ve mastered the basic numbers we listed above, you’ll instantly know how to say all the other numbers. All you need is some first grade math (here is how you can do it)

Below is a quick rundown of the basic Chinese numbers we’ve just covered.

English Chinese Pinyin
One
Two Èr
Three Sān
Four
Five
Six Liù
Seven
Eight Bā 
Nine Jiǔ
Ten Shí
One hundred 一百 Yì bǎi
One thousand 一千 Yì qiān

 

Simple Chinese Phrases for Small Talk  

simple Chinese phrases for small talk

Now, here are a few more simple Chinese words and phrases you’ll need to lead a conversation and keep it going.

45. Have you eaten? 吃了吗?

Pronunciation: Chī le ma?

Don’t be bewildered when locals ask you “have you eaten?” or “chi le ma?”. This is not an invitation to dinner. Instead, it’s a traditional way of people greeting each other in China, which is quite common among the older generation (they love it!).

Quick note: To use this greeting, you need to have a certain degree of familiarity with the Chinese speaker, as it’s most often used between friends and neighbors. Saying this to strangers will leave them befuddled.

46. I’ve eaten 吃了

Pronunciation: Chī le

The phrase “chi le ma?” is usually just used to start a conversation (similar to how native English speakers might say “How’s it going?” or “What’s up?”), the speaker may not really care whether or not you’ve had your lunch or dinner.

But in case you encounter this question, you should know how to respond. There are two ways you can do it:

If you’ve eaten – “chi le”.

47. I haven’t eaten yet 还没吃

Pronunciation: Hái méi chī

And if you haven’t – “hai mei chi”.

48. And you? 你呢?

Pronunciation: Nǐ ne?

“ni ne?” is a simple and quick way to bounce back the question that you’ve just been asked in Chinese. This is equivalent to saying “and you?” or “what about you?” in English.

49. What’s your name? 你叫什么名字?

Pronunciation: Nǐ jiào shénme míngzì?

You can use this basic phrase to ask the name of the person you’re talking to in Chinese.

Just take note that in Chinese culture, only people having a close personal relationship address each other by their full name or first name. It’s okay to use the phrase to a kid, or when you are introduced to a friend of a friend, meeting peers at school, workplace or a party, but don’t use it in formal occasions, to your client, people who are older than you, or senior in rank than you in an organization… ask their family name instead. (Read how here)

50. My name is… 我叫…

Pronunciation: Wǒ jiào…

An appropriate self-introduction starting with your name is the first step for people to know you. There are several ways you can do it. “wo jiao…” is the easiest one. This phrase means “I’m called…” literally. (read here to learn other ways of introducing your name)

51. Where are you from? 你是哪里人?

Pronunciation: Nǐ shì nǎlǐ rén?

Chinese people are always keen to know where the foreigner they are interacting is from, so you’ll hear this all the time. Literally, the phrase means “You are where person?”.

A common variation of this question is 你是哪国人?(Nǐ shì nǎ guó rén?) – literally, “You are which country person?”.

52. I’m from… 我是…人

Pronunciation: Wǒ shì … rén

This is how you can start answering this type of question. Try to learn your country name in Chinese and slip it in the middle of the sentence.

For example,

  • 我是意大利
    Wǒ shì Yìdàlì rén.
    I am from Italy.

53. Nice to meet/see you 很高兴见到你

Pronunciation: Hěn gāoxìng jiàn dào nǐ

What an important phrase to learn! You can use it the first time you meet someone as well as when you meet again.

Here’s a quick summary of the simple vocabulary you need for small talk in Chinese.

English Chinese Pinyin
Have you eaten? 吃了吗? Chī le ma?
I’ve eaten 吃了 Chī le
I haven’t eaten yet 还没吃 Hái méi chī
And you? 你呢? Nǐ ne?
What’s your name? 你叫什么名字? Nǐ jiào shénme míngzì?
My name is… 我叫… Wǒ jiào…
Where are you from? 你是哪里人? Nǐ shì nǎlǐ rén?
I’m from… 我是…人 Wǒ shì … rén
Nice to meet/see you 很高兴见到你 Hěn gāoxìng jiàn dào nǐ

 

Basic Chinese Phrases & Sentences to Get around

basic Chinese to get around

Imagine that you’re in China. What should you say when you suddenly need to ask for help? Or if you want to buy something at a local market? In this case, It’s crucial to know basic Chinese phrases and sentences so that you’ll be able to get around or cope with problems once they crop up.

We’ll start with the most basic Chinese verbs: to want (要 yào), to go (去 qù), to have (有 yǒu), to like (喜欢 xǐhuan). Basic Chinese for travelers is based on these simple verbs. Once you master the following phrases, you’ll have a good foundation for creating Chinese sentences in different circumstances.

54. Do you want (sth)… 要不要…?

Pronunciation: Yào bu yào…?

Use the phrase to ask someone whether he/she wants something.

55. I want… 我要…

Pronunciation: Wǒ yào…

This is how you can start saying what you want in Chinese. Just add the right noun at the end. You may also use this phrase to order food and drinks in a restaurant or a street stand.

For example,

  • 我要这个。
    Wǒ yào zhè ge.
    I want (would like) this.

56. I don’t want (sth) 我不要…

Pronunciation: Wǒ bú yào…

This is how you say you don’t want something in Chinese.

57. I want to go to… 我要去…

Pronunciation: Wǒ yào qù…

Going somewhere? Then this phrase will come in handy when you talk to taxi drivers. Simply mention your destination at the end of the sentence.

58. Do you have (sth)… 有没有…?

Pronunciation: Yǒu méiyǒu…?

You can use this phrase to ask someone whether he/she has something. This is useful if you’re in a local market or restaurant looking for something particular.

59. I have (sth) 我有…

Pronunciation: Wǒ yǒu…

This is how you can say you have something in Chinese.

60. I don’t have (sth) 我没有…

Pronunciation: Wǒ méiyǒu…

This is how you can say you don’t have something in Chinese.

61. I like… 我喜欢…

Pronunciation: Wǒ xǐhuan…

62. I don’t like… 我不喜欢…

Pronunciation: Wǒ bù xǐhuan…

Use the basic expressions “wo xihuan…” and “wo bu xihuan” to talk about your likes and dislikes.  

63. What’s this? 这是什么?

Pronunciation: Zhè shì shénme?

You may see a lot of new things that you don’t even know what they are in China – food, signs, toys, instruments, whatever! This is the phrase to use to point and ask.

64. Where is…? …在哪儿?

Pronunciation: … zài nǎr?

You can navigate your way around China town or any place in China with this basic question. Simply say the name of the place you’re looking for at the beginning.

For instance,

  • 厕所在哪儿
    Cèsuǒ zài nǎr?
    Where is the restroom? (Literally, “Restroom is where?”)

65. How do I get to…? …怎么去?

Pronunciation: … zěnme qù?

Another useful phrase to remember for asking directions in Chinese.

66. At what time? 什么时候?

Pronunciation: Shénme shíhou?

You can use this phrase to ask “at what time?” or “when?”. If you want to ask “what time is it?”, say 现在几点?(xiàn zài jǐ diǎn?)

Once you’ve got the basic numbers under your belt, it’s pretty simple to learn how to tell the time in Chinese. Read here.

67. Very pretty 很漂亮

Pronunciation: Hěn piàoliang

Chinese people love it when you compliment their country, so feel free to stroke their egos a bit with this phrase. For instance, you can say to your tour guide “Shanghai hen piaoliang” while admiring the light show on the Bund. Of you may tell a lady you are trying to impress, “Ni hen piaoliang”. Disclaimer: We make no promises about the outcome.

Below is a summary of these useful phrases and sentences to get around in China.  

English Chinese Pinyin
Do you want (sth)? 要不要…? Yào bu yào…?
I want (sth) 我要… Wǒ yào…
I don’t want (sth) 我不要… Wǒ bú yào…
I want to go to… 我要去… Wǒ yào qù…
Do you have (sth)? 有没有…? Yǒu méiyǒu…?
I have (sth) 我有… Wǒ yǒu…
I don’t have (sth) 我没有… Wǒ méiyǒu…
I like… 我喜欢… Wǒ xǐhuan…
I don’t like… 我不喜欢… Wǒ bù xǐhuan…
What’s this? 这是什么? Zhè shì shénme?
Where is…? …在哪儿? … zài nǎr?
How do I get to…? …怎么去? … zěnme qù?
At what time? 什么时候? Shénme shíhou?
Very Pretty 很漂亮 Hěn piàoliang

 

Basic Chinese Words & Phrases for Shopping

basic Chinese words phrases for shopping

Stuff the following Chinese shopping vocabulary into your pocket to gain a new cultural experience when traveling in China. Whether you are shopping for souvenirs, clothes, or food, you’ll find these basic Chinese phrases useful.

68. How much is it? 多少钱?

Pronunciation: Duōshǎo qián?

Now that you can understand the basic numbers in Chinese, you can use this phrase to ask the price of something at a shop or a street market in China.

69. Too expensive! 太贵了!

Pronunciation: Tài guì le!

Souvenirs, clothes, shoes, accessories, electronics, fruit…almost anything is up for haggling at a Chinese market. You are encouraged to bargain because you are most likely given the tourist price first. Impress the vendors with “Tai gui le!”

70. Make it cheaper! 便宜一点!

Pronunciation: Piányi yì diǎn!

Combine this phrase with the one above and you’re well on your way to becoming a fluent haggler in Chinese!

Here’s a recap of basic Chinese shopping vocabulary.

English Chinese Pinyin
How much is it? 多少钱? Duōshǎo qián?
Too expensive! 太贵了! Tài guì le!
Make it cheaper! 便宜一点! Piányi yì diǎn!

 

Basic Chinese Words & Phrases for Restaurant Dining

basic restaurant dining Chinese words phrases

Who doesn’t love to eat? Explore delicious Chinese food while in China – you won’t be sorry!

Before you head over to a Chinese restaurant, equip yourself with these basic words and phrases so you can order your meal like a native Chinese speaker!

71. Waiter/Waitress 服务员

Pronunciation: Fúwùyuán

The gender-neutral word “fuwuyuan” literally means “service staff”. It can refer to waiter/waitress, attendant, steward/stewardess, shop assistant, and professionals akin to those in Chinese. It’s socially acceptable to say the word loudly in a Chinese restaurant to get fuwuyuan’s attention.

72. Please bring me… 请给我…

Pronunciation: Qǐng gěi wǒ…

Ready to order? Then use this fundamental request. The phrase breaks down to “please” – “qing”, “bring” – “gei”, “me” – “wo”. Same as English!

73. Menu 菜单

Pronunciation: Càidān

Some Chinese restaurants might have English menus – 英文菜单 (Yīngwén càidān). You can always ask if they have one by combining this word with the phrase we’ve learned earlier – “you meiyou…?”:

  • 有没有英文菜单?
    Yǒu méiyǒu Yīngwén càidān?
    Do you have an English menu?

74. Water 水

Pronunciation: Shuǐ

Don’t be surprised if the waiter brings you tea, hot lemon water, or plain hot water when you ask for “shui”. It is a Chinese tradition to serve beverages hot for expelling humidity from the body. If you want iced water, say 冰水 (bīngshuǐ).

75. Chopsticks 筷子

Pronunciation: Kuàizi

When in China, do as the Chinese do…

76. Fork 叉子

Pronunciation: Chāzi

Not a fan of chopsticks? No problem. Ask for “chazi” – “fork”. Another word you may want to know is 刀 (dāo) – “knife”.

77. Tasty 很好吃

Pronunciation: Hěn hǎochī

The Chinese people pride themselves on food. If you are impressed by the food, you can use this phrase to praise the waiter, the chef at a restaurant, or the cook at a street stand.

78. Check, please 买单

Pronunciation: Mǎi dān

Try saying this at the end of your meal.

Below is a summary of the basic Chinese restaurant vocabulary we’ve just covered.

English Chinese Pinyin
Waiter/Waitress 服务员 Fúwùyuán
Please bring me… 请给我… Qǐng gěi wǒ…
Menu 菜单 Càidān
Water Shuǐ
Chopsticks 筷子 Kuàizi
Fork 叉子 Chāzi
Tasty 很好吃 Hěn hǎochī
Check, please 买单 Mǎi dān

 

Basic Chinese Phrases for Understanding and Clarification

basic Chinese for understanding and clarification

The best way to improve your Mandarin Chinese skills is to get out there and make contact with native speakers. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes in the early stages of your journey.

Even if you get stuck in a situation in which you don’t know what to say, don’t worry! We’ve got you covered! Use the following basic words and phrases to navigate your way around Chinese conversations. You won’t be at a loss for a response with these ready-to-go Chinese sentences.

79. Do you speak English? 你会说英文吗?

Pronunciation: Nǐ huì shuō Yīngwén ma?

If you feel like it’s time to switch to English, you’re free to clarify whether the person you’re talking to speaks English or not. Just say “Nǐ huì shuō Yīngwén ma?”, that is used for “do you speak English?”.

Bottom line: don’t expect people to speak English in China, although some do (e.g. in shops/markets for tourists). On a street level, you have a better shot with youngsters, as English is a subject vastly taught in school (their English might come out awkward and unintelligible though, since most people don’t have opportunities to practice it…)

80. I don’t understand 听不懂

Pronunciation: Tīng bù dǒng

This is a good phrase to remember as you will likely need it.

Note that “ting bu dong” implies that you don’t understand a thing what the speaker says and therefore hope him/her to spare you from the conversation. You typically use this phrase to escape a confusing or uncomfortable situation.

If you actually want to get the conversation rolling, then use other phrases to encourage the speaker to repeat or explain it with simpler words. (learn what you should say instead here)

81. I don’t know 不知道

Pronunciation: Bù zhīdào

Another phrase you’ll likely hear or use. You can use it just like the way you use it in English.

82. I only speak a little Chinese 我只会说一点中文

Pronunciation: Wǒ zhǐ huì shuō yìdiǎn Zhōngwén

Don’t be shy to speak Chinese. It can be intimidating trying to flex your new Chinese muscles, but the locals will surely appreciate your efforts to speak their language!

83. What does…mean? …什么意思?

Pronunciation: … shénme yìsi?

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.

84. How do you say… in Chinese? …中文怎么说?

Pronunciation: … Zhōngwén zěnme shuō?

Curious learners can also use this phrase to ask someone how to say a particular object in Chinese. Like anything, use this moderately since you don’t want to annoy the person you’re with!

85. Please speak more slowly 请说慢一点

Pronunciation: Qǐng shuō màn yìdiǎn

If the person you’re conversing with is speaking too fast, you can ask him/her to slow down a bit using this polite request.

Here’s a rundown of the Chinese phrases you can use when you are lost during a Chinese conversation.

English Chinese Pinyin
Do you speak English? 你会说英文吗? Nǐ huì shuō Yīngwén ma?
I don’t understand 听不懂 Tīng bù dǒng
I don’t know 不知道 Bù zhīdào
I only speak a little Chinese 我只会说一点中文 Wǒ zhǐ huì shuō yìdiǎn Zhōngwén
What does… mean? …什么意思? … shénme yìsi?
How do you say…in Chinese? …中文怎么说? … Zhōngwén zěnme shuō?
Please speak more slowly 请说慢一点 Qǐng shuō màn yìdiǎn

 

Basic Chinese Phrases for Special Occasions

Chinese phrases for special occasions

There are various phrases in Chinese used for special occasions. The following four basic phrases are perfect for you to get off on the right foot! Use them wisely.

86. I love you 我爱你

Pronunciation: Wǒ ài nǐ

This one goes without saying in just about any language, as you can imagine.

87. I miss you 我想你

Pronunciation: Wǒ xiǎng nǐ

Missing someone? Impress him/her with this phrase!

88. Happy birthday! 生日快乐!

Pronunciation: Shēngrì kuàilè!

Free free to use this phrase to express your wishes on your Chinese friend’s birthday.

89. Good luck! 祝你好运!

Pronunciation: Zhù nǐ hǎo yùn!

“zhu ni hao yun”, the basic expression of wishing someone luck in Chinese can be commonly used throughout the day in your interactions with local folks, so it’s a great Chinese phrase to pick up and stuff in your vocabulary pocket.

Here’s a chart for a quick summary.

English Chinese Pinyin
I love you 我爱你 Wǒ ài nǐ
I miss you 我想你 Wǒ xiǎng nǐ
Happy birthday! 生日快乐! Shēngrì kuàilè!
Good luck! 祝你好运! Zhù nǐ hǎo yùn!

 

10 Chinese Phrases to Sound Like a Local

phrases to help you sound like Chinese

So far, we’ve covered quite many basic Chinese words for you to get started, but let’s just look at a few more phrases that will add much more to your ability to wield the Chinese language authentically.

90. Long time no see! 好久不见!

Pronunciation: Hǎo jiǔ bú jiàn!

“hao jiu bu jian” is probably the origin of the widespread greeting “long time no see”. Use it to someone you haven’t seen for a long time and it’ll win you some major points.

91. Awesome! 棒极了!

Pronunciation: Bàng jí le!

Being able to express your amazement with words like “awesome” and “cool” can go a long way towards having more natural conversations with others in Chinese. Just like in English, there are multiple ways to express this idea in Chinese. The most commonly used phrase is “bang ji le!” – literally – “extremely great!”.

92. Not bad/It’s all right 还行

Pronunciation: Hái xíng

The phrase “hai xing” literally means “passable”, but it’s is stronger in its positive connotation in Chinese than it is in English. Some similar expressions to this are 还可以 (hái kěyǐ) – “quite okay”, 不错 (bú cuò) – “not wrong”. Though they might sound funny in English, these phrases are used commonly in Chinese for encouragement and praise.

93. Really? 真的吗?

Pronunciation: Zhēn de ma?

If you someone tells you something surprising, you can respond with “zhen de ma?”.

94. No way! 不会吧!

Pronunciation: Bú huì ba!

Use this phrase when you hear something unbelievable! It’s like saying “no way!” in English.

95. Oh my God! 天哪!

Pronunciation: Tiān na!

Most Chinese don’t believe in god because of the traditional values of beliefs in Confucianism (which is a belief in a practice and not a god). To express astonishment in Chinese, simply say “tian na!”. The phrase literally translates to “oh sky!” or “oh heaven!”.  

96. Wait a minute 等一下

Pronunciation: Děng yíxià

There are lots of ways you can tell someone to wait in Chinese, from the formal to the slang. The one phrase that you can use universally is “deng yi xia”.

97. I get it 知道了

Pronunciation: Zhīdào le

The Chinese phrase “zhidao le” appears often in casual conversations. You can use this to signify that you understand or realize something. For instance, when people are explaining something to you, you understand the information and there is no need for repetition, or you can exclaim “zhidao le!” to convey joyous pride when you master a tough concept.

98. Let’s go 我们走吧

Pronunciation: Wǒmen zǒu ba

Use this phrase to signify you’re ready to leave or to prompt your companions to get going.

99. See you soon 回头见

Pronunciation: Huí tóu jiàn

The expression “hui tou jian” is a friendly, casual way to say goodbye to someone in Chinese. Use this popular phrase to end a conversation if you expect to see the person again after a short time or in the near future.

Let’s go over the 10 basic phrases you can use to sound truly Chinese with this chart.

English Chinese Pinyin
Long time no see! 好久不见! Hǎo jiǔ bú jiàn!
Awesome! 棒极了! Bàng jí le!
Not bad/It’s all right 还行 Hái xíng
Really? 真的吗? Zhēn de ma?
No way! 不会吧! Bú huì ba!
Oh my God! 天哪! Tiān na!
Wait a minute 等一下 Děng yíxià
I get it 知道了 Zhīdào le
Let’s go 我们走吧 Wǒmen zǒu ba
See you soon 回头见 Huí tóu jiàn

 

Next Step – Start Learning Chinese

So now you have the right keywords to help you get started on your Mandarin Chinese journey. With these basic but highly useful phrases, you’ll soon find yourself having your first conversation with a native Chinese speaker.

We also recommend you combine what you learn in this article with our other free resources:

The beginner’s trio will make “triple” sure you know all the words and phrases you’ll hear most often, all the words you want to say, and how to put together a complete Chinese sentence with them. You would be able to form a proper conversation naturally with this combination!

If you really wanted to learn Chinese, we’d highly recommend that you start with a structured online course right away, rather than spending numerous hours on Google scouring the Internet for the “best” way to learn Chinese, or reading odd bits and pieces and trying to put them together on your own. (you’ll start optimistic, but then it’ll all get overwhelming and leave you feeling frustrated in the end).

Our advice to you is simple: Just start, right now, today! Pick a structured program like YoyoChinese or ChineseFor.Us that has already proven to be effective. They’ll save you tons of time and keep you on the right track for success from day one!

加油 jiāyóu! (Go! Go! Go!)