Chinese survival phrasebook

You are just landed in Wuhan and you don’t speak a word of Chinese…

No, wait, you already know some Chinese words, like chin-chin (this exclamation used to express good wishes before drinking), chop suey (Chinese dish containing beansprouts), feng shui (slang word from feng, wind and shui, water, which qualifies an object or scene which is aesthetically balanced), kung fu (martial art), lychee (the fruit), Shaolin (one of the most important Kungfu clans), Tai Chi (from Mandarin, a form of physical discipline), tofu (soybean curd), wok (Chinese cooking pan), Yin Yang (‘Yin’ meaning feminine, dark and ‘Yang’ meaning masculine and bright)… Hey, see, you already speak a few words of Chinese!

You might quickly notice that Wuhanese do not speak English… so better to have some knowledge to cope with everyday situations!

Chinese pronunciation is sometimes tricky, especially because of the 5 different tones but you’ll get used to it! If you feel like having some more info about Chinese pronunciation:

https://chinesepod.com/tools/pronunciation/section/17

First of all, let’s introduce yourself!

It’s a (very) good beginning and you will certainly get some smiles from Chinese people who definitely appreciate you make the effort to learn their language!

  • Hello. 你好。 Nǐ hǎo.
  • How are you? 你好吗? Nǐ hǎo ma ?
  • Fine, thank you. And you ? 很好, 谢谢。 你呢?Hěn hǎo, xièxie. Nǐ ne ?
  • What is your name? 你叫什么名字? Nǐ jiào shénme míngzi?
  • (Chinese people first say their last name, then their first name!)
  • My name is ______ .  我叫 _____ 。 Wǒ jiào ______ .
  • (You can answer with your last name and then your name or with your name only; Chinese people know foreigners are not familiar with this way of doing!)
  • Where are you from? 你是哪国人? Nǐ shì nǎ guó rén ? 
  • I am French / American / Swedish / Italian / Spanish…  我是 法国 / 美国 / 瑞典 / 意大利 / 西班牙… 人。Wǒ shì Fǎguó / Měiguó / Ruìdiǎn / Yìdàlì / Xībānyá … rén. 
  • Nice to meet you.  很高兴认识你。 Hěn gāoxìng rènshì nǐ
  • Where is the toilet? 厕所在哪里? Cèsuǒ zài nǎli?
  • Where is the bathroom (polite)? 洗手间在哪里? Xǐshǒujiān zài nǎli?

(Yes, we did put the toilets in the basic knowledge!)

You may have noticed that there was no translation for “yes” or “no”. Indeed, Chinese language does not have words for “yes” and “no” as such; instead, questions are typically answered by repeating the verb.

2nd step: fill in all the red tape!

  • Please. 请。 Qǐng.
  • Thank you. 谢谢。 Xièxiè.
  • You’re welcome. 不客气。 Bú kèqi.
  • Excuse me. (getting attention请问 Qǐng wèn
  • Excuse me. (coming through对不起 Duìbùqǐ
  • I’m sorry. 对不起。 Duìbùqǐ.
  • It’s okay. (polite response to “I’m sorry”) 没关系 Méi guānxi.
  • Goodbye. 再见。 Zàijiàn
  • Goodbye (informal). 拜拜。 Bāi-bāi (Bye bye)

3rd step: Explaining you don’t understand (yet) Chinese…

Indeed, that step could also be the very first one…!

  • I can’t speak Chinese. 我不会讲中文。 Wǒ bú huì jiáng zhōngwén.
  • Do you speak English? 你会说英语吗? Nǐ huì shuō Yīngyǔ ma?
  • Is there someone here who speaks English? 这里有人会说英语吗? Zhèlĭ yǒu rén hùi shuō Yīngyǔ ma?
  • I don’t understand (something heard). 我听不懂。 Wǒ tīng bù dǒng.
  • I don’t understand (something read). 我看不懂。 Wǒ kàn bù dǒng.

4th step: What to say if you are hungry 

  • Can I look at the menu, please? 请给我看看菜单. Qǐng gěi wǒ kànkan Càidān.
  • Do you have an English menu? 你有没有英文菜单? Nǐ yŏu méi yǒu yīngwén Càidān?
  • (Listen for… Yes, we have one. : 有 yǒu – No, we don’t. : 没有 méi yǒu)
  • I’m a vegetarian . 我吃素的 Wǒ chī sù de 

About the meat (meat : 肉 ròu):

  • Beef – 牛肉 niúru
  • Pork – 猪肉 zhūròu,or sometimes simply ‘肉’ ròu.
  • Mutton – 羊肉 yángròu
  • Chicken – 鸡 jī
  • Fish – 鱼 yú

About other ingredients :

  • Cheese – 奶酪 nǎilào
  • Eggs – 鸡蛋 jīdàn
  • Bread – 面包 miànbāo
  • Noodles – 面条 miàntiáo
  • Fried rice – 炒饭 chǎofàn
  • Dumpling – 饺子 jiǎozi
  • Rice – 米饭 mĭfàn

You’d rather have a drink?

  •  Coffee – 咖啡 kāfēi
  • Black coffee – 黑咖啡 hēi kāfēi
  • Milk – 牛奶 niúnǎi
  • Sugar – 糖 táng
  • Tea (drink) – 茶 chá
  • Green tea – 绿茶 lǜ chá
  • Black tea – 红茶 hóngchá
  • Juice – (水)果汁 (shuǐ)guǒzhī, literally ‘fruit juice’.
  • Water – 水 shuĭ (Chinese people generally drink warn or hot water, so if you ask for water in a restaurant, you’ll probably get a glass of warm water.)
  • Natural mineral water – 矿泉水 kuàngquán shuǐ
  • Beer – 啤酒 píjiŭ
  • Red/white wine – 红/白 葡萄 酒 hóng/bái pútáo jiŭ

And now, it’s time to pay!

  • The check, please. 请结帐。 qǐng jiézhàng

5th step: You want to go somewhere?

Bus an train

  • How much is a ticket to _____? 去______的票多少钱 qù _____ de piào duō shǎo qián?
  • Do you go to… 去不去… (火车站) qù bù qù
  • …to the central station? … (huǒ chē zhàn)
  • …the train station? …火车站? …huǒchē zhàn?
  • …the bus station? …汽车总站? …qìchē zǒngzhàn?
  • …the airport? …机场? …jī chǎng?

Directions

  • How do I get to _____? 怎么去_____ zěnme qù _____?
  • Turn left. 左边转弯 zuǒbiān zhuǎnwān/左拐zuǒguǎi
  • (Left) (左边 zuǒbiān)
  • Turn right. 右边转弯 yòubiān zhuǎnwān/右拐yòuguăi
  • (Right) (右边 yòubiān)
  • Go straight. 一直走 yìzhízŏu
  • Straight ahead. 往前走 wǎngqián zǒu
  • North 北 bĕi / South 南 nán / East 东 dōng / West 西 xī

Taxi

  • Taxi 出租车 chū zū chē
  • Take me to _____, please. 请开到_____。 qǐng kāidào _____。
  • Taxi driver 司机 sījī
  • Please use the meter machine. 请打表 qǐng dǎbiǎo
  •  Please turn up the aircon / heater. 请把空调开大一点。 qǐng kōngtiáo kāi dàdiǎn
  • I’ve reached my destination. 到了dàole

6th step: Numbers!

Good news! Chinese numbers are very regular!

  • 〇 (零) líng
  • 一 (壹) yī
  • 二 (贰) èr (两 liǎng is used when specifying quantities)
  • 三 (叁) sān
  • 四 (肆) sì
  • 五 (伍) wǔ
  • 六 (陆) liù
  • 七 (柒) qī
  • 八 (捌) bā
  • 九 (玖) jiǔ
  • 10 十 (拾) shí
  • 11 十一 shí-yī
  • 12 十二 shí-èr
  • 13 十三 shí-sān
  • 14 十四 shí-sì
  • 15 十五 shí-wǔ
  • 16 十六 shí-liù
  • 17 十七 shí-qī
  • 18 十八 shí-bā
  • 19 十九 shí-jiǔ
  • 20 二十 èr-shí