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Useful Chinese Phrases

Yunnan province is an area of great cultural and linguistic diversity. Many of the minority people living in Yunnan do not speak Mandarin as a first language, and some don't speak Mandarin well at all. For example, many Tibetans living in Xianggelila speak the local Tibetan dialect as a first language. This dialect is unique to the area, and dialects from as nearby as Deqin are mutually unintelligable. Adding to the melee is the fact that the Chinese normally spoken in Yunnan is based on the Kunming dialect, which is itself based on, but not the same as, Mandarin Chinese. From a practical point of view though, you will still best be able to communicate with the people here using Mandarin Chinese.

We are collecting here some basic phrases which you may find useful when travelling through China. Feel free to print this page out and use it while communicating. Sometimes, it may be difficult to get the pronunciation of a particular phrase correct, and pointing at the Chinese characters can sometimes be a more effective way of getting your meaning across. We've marked in bold or italics some corresponding parts of each phrase in English, Pinyin and Chinese. For the most part, if you want to replace one of these segments in English, you simply replace the corresponding segment in Chinese as well with the right word from a dictionary, for example.

A key point to remember is to not be afraid of trying to say things. In most travelling situations, the person (ticket seller, hotel staff) you're talking to is only expecting to hear one of a handful of different words, and with this context, it's possible to mispronounce something fairly drastically and still be understood.

This phrasebook is under construction. If you'd like to know how to say something generally useful in Mandarin that's not listed here, please suggest it to us.

Basic Phrases (and Responses)

Helloníhăo你好
How are you? [Good/Okay/Bad] hăoma? [wŏ hén hăo/hái kéyĭ/wŏ bù hăo] 好吗? [我很好/还可以/我不好]
Byezàijiàn再见
Thank you [You're welcome] xièxiè [búkèqi] 谢谢 [不客气]
Excuse me (sorry) [No Problem]duìbúqì [méiguānxì]对不气 [没关系]
Excuse me (I have a question)qĭngwèn请问
Where's the toilet?cèsuŏ zài nálĭ?厕所在哪里?
How much? (money)duōshăo qián?多少钱?
Thiszhèige这个
Thatnèige那个
Shall we go?/Let's gozŏuba?走吧?
I don't understand (what you said)tīngbùdŏng听不懂
Can you speak English? huì jiăng yīngwén ma? 会讲英文吗?
Please give me a pair of chopsticks.qĭng géi wŏ yī shuāng kuàizi请给我一双筷子
Please give me two bottles of beer.qĭng géi wŏ liăng píng píjĭu请给我两瓶啤酒

Basic Generic Responses

I don't want it (this, that, these, those)búyào不要
Yes/I agree/I heard youèn (pronounced "uh or uhn", 4th tone)

Numbers

There are two forms of the number "two" (2) in Mandarin. The first one, èr (二), is used when reciting telephone numbers, counting from 1 to 10, and for the tens and digits places in large numbers like "two thousand two hundred twenty two". The other form, liăng (两), is used when counting anything (2 minutes, 2 yuan, 2 bottles of beer, 2 people), as well as the hundreds and greater places in large numbers in colloquial speech.
0líng〇 or 零
1
2 (number)èr
2 (things)liăng
3sān
4
5
6lìu
7
8
9jĭu
10shí
11shíyī十一
12shíèr十二
13shísān十三
27èrshíqī二十七
100yībăi一百
101yībăilíngyī一百零一
110yībăiyīshí一百一十
114yībăiyīshísì一百一十四
1000yīqiān一千
2222liăngqiānliăngbăièrshíèr两千两百二十二

Internet

Internet Cafewăngbā网吧

Time

Nowxiànzài现在
Todayjīntiān今天
2:34 pmxìawŭliăngdiănsānshísì下午两点三十四
11:00 amshàngwŭshíyīdiănzhōng上午十一点钟
Tomorrowmíngtiān明天
Yesterdayzuótiān昨天
Day after tomorrowhòutiān后天
Day before yesterdayqiántiān前天
3 days later (3 days from now)sāntiān yĭhòu三天以后
2 months before (2 months ago) liăng gè yuè yĭqián两个以前
Decembershíèryuèfen十二月份
November 28shíyīyuèèrshíbā十一月二十八
November 28 (generally when written)shíyīyuèèrshíbārì11月28日
November 28 (optionally when spoken)shíyīyuèèrshíbāhào十一月二十八号

Money

How much is this?zhèige duōshăo qián?这个多少钱?
Cheapest (literally: most cheap) zuìpíanyíde 便宜
Get money (out of a bank account/using credit card) qián

Toilets

Men/Womennán/nǚ男/女
Toilet Paperwèishēngzhĭ卫生纸

Transportation

I want to go to Kunming wŏ yào kūnmíng 我要昆明
Train station huŏchē zhàn 火车
Hard seat (train) yìngzuŏ
Soft seat (train) ruănzuŏ
Hard sleeper (train) yìng
Soft sleeper (train) ruăn
Public Bus gonggongqiche 公共汽车
Taxi dishi 的士

Accommodation

Hotel fàndiàn/jĭudiàn/bīn'guăn 饭店/酒店/宾馆
Hostel kèzhàn/lǚguăn 客栈/旅馆
Single Room dānrénfáng 单人房
Double Room shuāngrénfáng 双人房
Dormitory Room duōrénfáng 多人房

Departures

Take care baozhong 保重
Safe Trip yilu ping'an 一路平安

You May Hear

Welcome! huānyíng guānglín 欢迎光临
Is the food okay? [Yes/No] hăochī ma? [hăochī/bùhăochī] 好吃吗?[好吃/不好吃]
Do you understand? (meaning) [Yes/No] míngbái ma? [míngbái/bùmíngbái] 明白吗? [明白/不明白]
Do you understand? (listening) [Yes/No] tīngdedŏngma? [tīngdedŏng/tīngbùdŏng] 听得懂吗? [听得懂/听不懂]
Foreigner lăowài 老外
Good friend hăopéngyŏu 好朋友
Smoke? [Thanks/I don't smoke] xī yān ma? [xièxiè/wŏbúxīyān] 吸烟吗? [谢谢/我不吸烟]

You May See

Entrance rùkŏu 入口
Exit chūkŏu 出口
Car (on a train) chē
Center (as in Shopping Center) zhōngxīn 中心
China zhōngguó 中国
Road
Street jiē

Recommended Phrasebooks

Lonely Planet Mandarin, 4th Edition

For those in the beginning stages of learning the language, or even just hoping to get around in China, a good Mandarin phrasebook is essential. I have personally used the Lonely Planet Mandarin Phrasebook, 4th Edition, which was indispensable on my first trip to China.

Lonely Planet Mandarin, 5th Edition

In particular, I recommend against the 5th Edition, simply because it has replaced romanizations in Pinyin, standard in any other modern book on Chinese (including the 4th edition), with its own incompatible homegrown variant.

Rough Guide Mandarin, 2th Edition

I haven't used the Rough Guide Mandarin Chinese, 2nd Edition in the "field", but I have flipped through it. The translations looked good, and phrases are organized alphabetically by "key word". This organization is better suited toward your communicating things to Chinese people than the other way around.