121 Common Chinese Phrases To Survive Your First Conversation With A Native Speaker

121 common Chinese phrases

Are you learning Chinese online?

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?

common Chinese phrases 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! 
(Nee how)

Let’s break that down.

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?

common Chinese phrases 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:

Check out this post for more info on how to master Chinese tones.

learn chinese through story

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:

Common Chinese Phrases To Greet People

common Chinese phrases for greeting people

The backbone of social interactions – we all need greetings to start off a conversation right!

Common Chinese Phrases For Getting To Know People

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!

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

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.

Common Chinese Phrases To Say: “I Don’t Understand!”

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!

Common Chinese Phrases For Asking For Directions

common Chinese phrases for asking 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.

Pro tip: Tones are important here! Check out the above two examples:

  1. 哪儿nǎr means “Where?”
  2. while 那儿 nàr means “there!”

Common Chinese Phrases To Talk About Transport

common Chinese expressions for transport in China

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.

Common Chinese Phrases For Eating Out

common Chinese expressions 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!

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

common Chinese phrases for going 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?

Common Chinese Phrases: Numbers

common Chinese phrases numbers

Chinese numbers are very logical. See if you can spot the patterns from the following list:

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.

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

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.

Common Chinese Phrases For Saying Goodbye

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!”

Sound Like A Native, Not A Chinese Textbook

common Chinese phrases to sound like a native

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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