121 Common Chinese Phrases To Survive Your First Conversation With A Native Speaker
Are you learning Chinese?
And maybe planning a travel adventure to China?
Or do you want to be able to speak to Chinese people in your local community?
Even a little bit of Chinese will go a long way!
Besides practical communication, learning some Chinese can make a big difference to your ability to make meaningful connections and experience Chinese culture.
Many of these common Chinese phrases are expressions I wish I’d learned much earlier. They're everyday phrases that you’ll hear in real life but might not find in your textbook.
If you already have some familiarity with Mandarin Chinese Pinyin and tones, you can go ahead and skip right to the phrases.
Otherwise, you’ll find some very useful info in the next section, so keep reading below! In either case, by the time you've finished this post, you'll have all the expressions you need to chat to a native Chinese person for the first time.
What Do You Need To Know About Chinese Pronunciation?
First, what do you need to know about Chinese pronunciation?
For each phrase in this article, you’ll see there are a few parts.
Here’s the first phrase as an example:
你好！Nǐhǎo! – Hello!
Let’s break that down.
- First, you have the written form: the Chinese characters. 你好！
- Can’t read Chinese yet? No problem! Next to the characters, you’ll see a pronunciation guide.
- This is written according to a standardised system called Pinyin. That’s the Nǐhǎo part.
- Next, you have the English translation, plus any usage tips you might need to know.
- Finally, you’ll see a rough pronunciation guide based on English sounds – here it’s (Nee how). It’ll help if you want the basics super quick – however, it’s very approximate!
Many sounds in Chinese, particularly consonants, have no exact equivalent in English. That’s why Pinyin exists – to give a reliable pronunciation guide for learners.
I highly recommend familiarising yourself with Pinyin and the Chinese sounds it represents. It’ll help you so much in sounding more like a native speaker, and is essential if you want to progress past the basics.
Check out this table to listen to the sound of any word in Pinyin.
What Are Chinese Tones?
You may have noticed some markings on the vowel sounds in the Pinyin example above: Nǐhǎo.
These represent the “tone” of each syllable.
Spoken Chinese is a tonal language.
This means that changes in your voice pitch while pronouncing a vowel sound form part of the meaning of a word.
So, even if two words sound exactly the same except for the tone, a different tone = a different meaning.
There are 5 (-ish) tones in Mandarin – 4 main tones plus a de-emphasized “neutral” tone.
The tone markings in Pinyin visually represent the pitch contour that your voice makes when pronouncing the vowel.
Here are the tones and how they are written:
- 1st tone = flat tone mā (or ma1)
2nd tone = rising tone má (or ma2)
- 3rd tone = falling-rising tone mǎ (or ma3)
- 4th tone = falling tone mà (or ma4)
- 5th tone = neutral tone ma (or ma5 or ma0)
Check out this post for more info on how to master Chinese tones.
Let's Get Talking Chinese
Ok, now that we’ve covered the pronunciation basics – let’s get talking!
Here are the categories of phrases that you will learn below:
- Greetings & small talk
- Getting to know you
- Being polite
- “I don’t understand!”
- Asking for directions
- Transport in China
- Eating out
- Solving problems
- Special occasions
- Saying goodbye
Common Chinese Phrases To Greet People
The backbone of social interactions – we all need greetings to start off a conversation right!
- #1 你好！Nǐhǎo – Hello!
- #2 你好吗？Nǐhǎo ma? – How are you?
- #3 很好 Hěn hǎo – Good
- #4 还好 Hái hǎo – Pretty good
- #5 不太好 Bù tài hǎo – Not so good
- #6 早上好 Zǎoshang hǎo – Good morning
- #7 晚上好 Wǎnshang hǎo – Good evening
- #8 晚安 Wǎn’ān – Good night
Common Chinese Phrases For Getting To Know People
If you’re visiting China, you’ll generally find people are very friendly and not shy about asking questions! Here are some basics to help you connect with people you meet.
Pronunciation note: in this guide, the “or” sound represents the vowel sound in the English word “or,” but without an audible “r” sound at the end. In other words, the way it typically sounds in a British accent, rather than an American one.
If in doubt, check the Pinyin and go have a listen!
- #9 你叫什么名字？Nǐ jiào shénme míngzi? – What’s your name? (Informal)
- (Nee jyaow shun muh ming dzrr)
- #10 我叫__ Wǒ jiào__ – My name is…
- #11 您贵姓？Nín guìxìng? – What is your surname? (Formal)
- #12 我姓__ Wǒ xìng__ – My surname is…
- #13 你多大？Nǐ duōdà? – How old are you?
- #14 我三十岁 Wǒ sānshí suì – I’m thirty (years old)
- #15 你来自哪里？Nǐ láizì nǎli? – Where do you come from?
- #16 我来自中国 Wǒ láizì zhōngguó – I come from China
- #17 你是哪国人？– Nǐ shì nǎ guó rén? – Which country are you from?
- #18 我是中国人 Wǒ shì zhōngguó rén – I’m Chinese (literally, “I’m a Chinese person”)
- #19 我是外国人 Wǒ shì wàiguó rén – I’m a foreigner
- #20 老外 Lǎowài – Foreigner (a common slang term!)
- #21 很高兴认识你 Hěn gāoxìng rènshi nǐ – Nice to meet you
- (Hun gaow shing run shrr nee)
Pro tip: you usually use this last phrase when saying goodbye to someone after meeting them for the first time, rather than immediately after being introduced.
If you’re visiting China, your home country is quite likely to come up in conversation – find the Chinese name of your country here!
Common Chinese Phrases For Being Polite
As humans, we’re generally out to make a good impression – here’s some help on that front!
Even if you don’t have much vocabulary yet, these words are bound to help your conversations go more smoothly.
- #22 谢谢！ Xièxiè! – Thank you!
- (Shyeah shyeah) (Pronunciation tip: the “x” sound in Chinese is really somewhere in between “s” and “sh” in English.)
- #23 非常感谢！ Fēicháng gǎnxiè! – Thank you so much!
- #24 不用谢 Bù yòng xiè – You’re welcome (literally, “no need for thanks”)
- #25 不客气 Bù kèqì – You’re welcome (literally, “no need to be so polite”)
- #26 不好意思 Bù hǎoyìsi – Excuse me, sorry (To get attention, for getting past, for mild apologies)
- #27 对不起 Duìbuqǐ – Sorry (A more emphatic apology)
- #28 请问…? Qǐngwèn…? – Could I ask…? (A polite way to preface a question)
- #29 麻烦你了Mǎfan nǐ le – Sorry to bother you
- #30 没问题 Méi wèntí – No problem
- #31 好的！Hǎo de! – OK!
Common Chinese Phrases To Say: “I Don’t Understand!”
Ever been in a situation where you were listening to a native speaker and just kept nodding and smiling, when really had no idea what they were saying?
Here’s how to avoid that. The simplest way to get people to help you understand is to ask them!
- #32（你）听得懂吗？(Nǐ) tīngdedǒng ma? – Do you understand?
- #33（我）听得懂 (Wǒ) tīngdedǒng – I understand
- #34（我）听不懂！(Wǒ) tīngbudǒng – I don’t understand!
- #35（你）会说中文吗？(Nǐ) huì shuō zhōngwén ma? – Do you speak Chinese?
- (Nee hway shwor jong wun ma)
- #36（你）会说英文吗？(Nǐ) huì shuō yīngwén ma – Do you speak English?
- (Nee hway shwor yeeng wun ma)
- #37（我）不会说中文 (Wǒ) bù huì shuō zhōngwén – I don’t speak Chinese
- (Wor boo hway shwor jong wun)
- #38（我）会说 (Wǒ) huì shuō – Yes, I can speak it
- #39 可以说得慢一点吗？Kěyǐ shuō de màn yīdiǎn ma? – Could you speak more slowly?
- (Kuh yee shwor duh mun yee dyen ma)
- #40 __ 什么意思？__ shénme yìsi? – What does __ mean?
- #41 __怎么说？__zěnme shuō? – How do you say __?
- #42 （我）不知道 (Wǒ) bù zhīdao – I don’t know
Common Chinese Phrases For Asking For Directions
Sometimes asking the locals is still the best way to find something!
We’re so used to relying on map apps these days. But it pays to have some useful phrases up your sleeve. This is especially the case since Google services don’t work in mainland China.
Check out local alternative Baidu Maps for your navigation needs. Or better yet, keep reading for tips on navigating the old-fashioned way.
- #43 不好意思，可以问个路玛? Bù hǎoyìsi, kěyǐ wèn ge lù ma? – Excuse me, could I ask for some directions?
- (Boo haow yee srr, kuh yee wun guh loo ma)
- #44 到__怎么走？Dào ___ zěnme zǒu? – How do you get to the __?
- #45 __在哪儿？/ __在哪里？__zài nǎr?/__ zài nǎli – Where is the __?
- (__dzye narr/__dzye na lee)
(Pro tip: the first variant, with an “r’’ sound, is more common in Beijing and northern China, while you’ll hear more of the second variant further south.)
- #46 __在那儿/__在那里 __zài nàr/__zài nàlǐ – The __ is over there.
- ( ____ zay naar / _____ zay naa-lee)
Pro tip: Tones are important here! Check out the above two examples:
- 哪儿nǎr means “Where?”
- while 那儿 nàr means “there!”
- #47 在这儿/在这里 Zài zhèr/Zài zhèlǐ – It’s here.
- #48 直走 Zhí zǒu – Go straight ahead
- #49 右转 Yòu zhuǎn – Turn right
- #50 左转 Zuǒ zhuǎn – Turn left
- #51 过马路 Guò mǎlù – Cross the road
- #52 我要去__ Wǒ yào qù__ – I want to go to __ (Also good for directing a taxi or buying a ticket)
Common Chinese Phrases To Talk About Transport
Most larger Chinese cities are very well connected with public transport of all kinds – though rush hour can get pretty crowded! There’s an extensive intercity train network, too.
- #53 一张到北京的票 Yī zhāng dào Běijīng de piào – One ticket to Beijing
- (Yee jung daow bay jeeng duh pyaow)
- #54 两张票 Liǎng zhāng piào – Two tickets
- #55 来回 Lái huí – Return/round-trip
- #56 单程 Dān chéng – One-way
- #57 机场 Jīchǎng – Airport
- #58 火车站 Huǒchēzhàn – Train station
- #59 地铁站 Dìtiězhàn – Metro/subway/underground station
- #60 公交车站 Gōngjiāochēzhàn – Bus stop/station
- #61 出租车 Chūzūchē – Taxi
Common Chinese Phrases For Eating Out
China has an incredibly rich and varied food culture.
Every region has its own cuisine, from the lighter, sweeter flavours of the south to the heavier, savoury sauces of the north.
Food-related vocabulary could be a whole post on its own, so let’s stick to some practical basics!
- #62 几位？Jǐwèi? – How many people?
- #63 一位 Yīwèi – One person (i.e. “a table for one”)
- #64 两位 Liǎngwèi – Two people
- #65 我想看一下菜单 Wǒ xiǎng kàn yīxià càidān – I’d like to look at the menu
- (Wor shyung kun yee shyah tsay dun)
- #66 点菜Diǎn cài – (I’m/we’re) ready to order
- #67 我要… Wǒ yào… – I’ll have…
- #68 服务员！Fúwùyuán! – Waiter!
- #69 买单！Mǎidān! – The bill, please!
Pro tip: In informal eateries in mainland China, short, efficient phrases like those above are the norm and are not considered impolite. In many places, diners simply call out fúwùyuán! to get the server’s attention.
Common Chinese Phrases For Shopping
Shopping at Chinese markets can be a very lively experience, and haggling for a bargain is par for the course in markets and most small shops (not chain stores).
Ready to brush up your bargaining skills?
- #70 这个 Zhège – This one
- #71 那个 Nàge – That one
- #72 我要这个 Wǒyào zhège – I’ll take this one
- #73 我（不）喜欢那个 Wǒ (bù) xǐhuan nàge – I (don’t) like that one
- (Wor boo shee hwun nay guh)
- #74 多少钱？Duōshao qián? – How much is it?
- #75 太贵了！Tài guì le! – Too expensive!
- #76 便宜一点儿！Piányi yīdiǎnr! – A bit cheaper! (To ask for a better price)
- #77 可以刷卡吗？Kěyǐ shuākǎ ma? – Can I use a card?
- #78 不要了! Bù yào le! – I don’t want it! (To stop someone hassling you to buy something)
- #79 我看一下 Wǒ kàn yīxià – I’m just looking
Common Chinese Phrases: Numbers
Chinese numbers are very logical. See if you can spot the patterns from the following list:
- #80 零/〇 Líng – Zero
- #81 一 Yī – 1
- #82 二 Èr – 2
- #83 三 Sān – 3
- #84 四 Sì – 4
- #85 五 Wǔ – 5
- #86 六 Liù – 6
- #87 七 Qī – 7
- #88 八 Bā – 8
- #89 九 Jiǔ – 9
- #90 十 Shí – 10
- #91 十一 Shíyī – 11
- #92 十二 Shí’èr – 12
- #93 二十 Èrshí – 20
- #94 二十一 Èrshíyī – 21
- #95 三十 Sānshí – 30
- #96 一百 Yībǎi – 100
- #97 二百/两百 Èrbǎi/Liǎngbǎi – 200
- #98 五百 Wǔbǎi – 500
- #99 六百零五 Liùbǎilíngwǔ – 605
- #100 七百五（十）Qībǎiwǔ(shí) – 750 (The “shí” is usually dropped)
- #101 八百一十五 Bābǎiyīshíwǔ – 815
- #102 九百八十七 Jiǔbǎibāshíqī – 987
- #103 一千 Yīqiān – 1000
More On Chinese Numbers
For more detail on the rules and a complete list of Chinese numbers from 0–1000, check out this page.
Bonus fact: In Chinese culture, the number 8, 八 (bā), is considered lucky, as it sounds a bit like the character 发 (fā) meaning “to prosper” or “become wealthy”.
People are often willing to pay big bucks to get phone numbers, apartment numbers or car license plates with a lot of number 8s in them!
The number 4, 四 (sì), on the other hand, is considered unlucky, as it sounds similar to the word for “death,” 死 (sǐ) – another excellent example of why tones are important!
Common Chinese Phrases For Solving Problems
Speaking of bad luck, every traveller knows that things go wrong from time to time.
It pays to be prepared – supplement your best-laid plans with these contingency phrases.
- #104 可以帮个忙吗？Kěyǐ bāng ge máng ma? – Could you help me?
- (Kuh yee bung guh mung ma)
- #105 我迷路了Wǒ mílù le – I’m lost
- #106 我的钱包丢了 Wǒ de qiánbāo diū le – My wallet is lost/missing
- (Wor duh chyen baow dyoh luh)
- #107 我要去医院 Wǒ yào qù yīyuàn – I need to go to the hospital
- (Wor yaow choo yee yoo-an)
- #108 我生病了 Wǒ shēngbìng le – I’m sick
- #109 我受伤了 Wǒ shòushāng le – I’m hurt/injured
- #110 这里疼 Zhèlǐ téng – It hurts here
Pro tip: Most doctors in China operate out of hospitals rather than private clinics. So you can head to a hospital for a regular doctor’s visit as well as in emergencies.
Common Chinese Phrases For Special Occasions
China has a rich traditional culture featuring many of its own festivals and celebrations, the most famous being Spring Festival or Chinese New Year.
Many Chinese people, at least in urban areas, also celebrate or at least give a passing nod to festivals from elsewhere, such as New Year (as in December 31st), Christmas and Valentine’s Day.
- #111 恭喜恭喜！Gōngxǐ gōngxǐ! – Congratulations!
- #112 生日快乐！Shēngri kuàilè! – Happy Birthday!
- #113 干杯！Gānbēi! – Cheers! (Literally, “dry cup!”)
- #114 新年快乐！Xīnnián kuàilè! – Happy New Year! (For both Chinese New Year and the other one)
- #115 恭喜发财！Gōngxǐ fācái! – May you be prosperous! (A traditional greeting at Chinese New Year)
- #116 祝你好运！Zhùnǐ hǎoyùn! – Good luck!
Common Chinese Phrases For Saying Goodbye
No one likes goodbyes – but there comes a time when we all must say them. Luckily, the word for “goodbye” in Chinese literally means “see you again!”
- #117 再见！ Zàijiàn! – Goodbye!
- #118 明天见！ Míngtiān jiàn! – See you tomorrow!
- #119 下次见！ Xiàcì jiàn! – See you next time!
- #120 拜拜！Bǎibǎi! – Bye!
- #121 一路平安！Yīlù píng’ān! – Safe travels!
Sound Like A Native, Not A Chinese Textbook
There you have it – your all-purpose guide to phrases that will help you through your first conversations in Mandarin.
From finding a bathroom to making a friend, these words and phrases will help you navigate life in Chinese, and not sound like a textbook while you do it.
As the oft-quoted Lao Zi once said, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
These phrases will give you a solid stepping stone to start your own Chinese journey. 一路平安！
How many of these phrases did you know already? Which ones do you think will be the most useful? Let me know in the comments below.
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