Traveling to a foreign country is hard enough. But throw in a foreign language into the mix, and you’ve got yourself a difficult trip ahead. But don’t let any of that phase you from missing out on a great adventure! Here are some useful Chinese phrases every traveler should learn.
These are some of the most basic Mandarin greetings you’ll encounter, that you can use with anyone you’ll meet.
Hello: nǐ hǎo (“Nee how”)
Say this with a friendly smile, and you’ll immediately get on the local’s good side. Greet everyone from your hotel receptionist, cab driver, and night market vendor.
Thank You: xiè xiè (“shieh-shieh”)
Just as important as saying hello, is knowing how to say thank you. When you’re a foreigner with little know-how about the country you’re visiting, you’ll be saying this a lot and the locals will appreciate you for it!
You’re welcome: Bù kèqì (“Boo kuh-chi”)
How to respond to “xièxiè.”
I’m Sorry: duì bù qǐ (“Doy boo–chi”)
Locals will probably understand if you miss their social cues, but it’s always nice to be polite and apologize!
My name is…: Wǒ jiào… (“Wuh jeow…”)
Literally means, “I am called…” Introduce yourself to everyone this way!
Yes: Shì (“Sheh”)
No: Bù shì (“Bu-sheh”)
You’ll also be asked questions during your stay, so it’s always useful to know how to say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’
Asking for Help
It’s inevitable to need help when you’re traveling. For the little things like asking for directions, to more serious matters like security or medical emergencies, it always pays to come prepared.
Do you speak English? : nín hùi jiǎng yīng yǔ ma?
Useful if you need to explain or ask for something very specific.
Can you speak slowly?: nǐ kě yǐ shuō màn yì diǎn ma?
Sometimes the locals will try to help you, but speak faster than you can keep up. Politely ask them to talk more slowly.
You can change this phrase up depending on what you need to ask. You can ask for the ‘Train Station,’ the ‘Bus Station’ or even specific places like ‘Din Tai Fung Restaurant.’
Where is the bathroom: Xǐshǒujiān zài nǎlǐ? (“See-sow-jian zai na-lee?”)
We know you’ll find this particular expression very useful!
Eating and Shopping
Since you’ll be dealing with money, it’s best to know some of the local terms so you know exactly what you’ll be paying for.
How much is this? : duō shǎo qián? (“Dwuh shauw chien?”)
Usually used in the street or night markets.
Too expensive! : Tài guìle! (“Tie gway luh!”)
Markets take advantage of tourists and foreigners not knowing that they can haggle for a lower price. It’s generally acceptable to bargain for a cheaper price for goods like clothes and souvenirs at the market. Food, however, is almost always fixed.
Make it cheaper! : Piányí yī diǎn! (“Pian-yee yee dian!”)
Impress the locals even more when you combine all these phrases! Make it a goal to try and make a complete haggle and purchase in Mandarin.
Do you want it spicy? : Yào là ma?
You’ll probably be asked this more than you’ll be saying it. Food in these parts of Asia is typically spicer that what you may be used to. You can respond with either “shì” (“yes”) or “bu shì” (“no”).
Check, please: Măi dān (“My dahn”)
Ask for the bill at the end of your meal.
Delicious: Hào chī (“How chir”) or Very delicious: Hěn hào chī (“Hen how chir”)
Food is a source of pride for many Chinese-speaking nations, so apart from thanking them for the meal, give praise to the waiter, cook, or vendor. This is especially useful at the night market, (READ: 8 Must-Try Delicacies in Taipei’s Shida Night Market) and restaurant.2