Chinese Phrases: Learning the Basics

Chinese phrasesTaking the time out of your life to learn a new language is one of the most rewarding experiences you will have in your life, but it’s also one of the hardest. Attempting to learn the Chinese language (referred to as Mandarin) can often be the most challenging, since it’s considered one of the hardest to master as a second language.

The notoriously difficult Chinese language ranks among Arabic, Korean, and Japanese as the most challenging for English speakers largely because of the many differences between the structures of these languages.  It’s quite common to get flustered as a beginner since it’s hard to know where to start, which is why it’s necessary to have tools like Udemy’s Mandarin lessons for beginners!

Tones 

An important thing to remember when learning to speak Mandarin Chinese for the first time is tone levels, since each syllable in the language exists in four tones that must be followed properly in order for you to be understood. Not everyone is actually used to tonal languages, especially those who speak English, since we primarily use tones to convey emotions – not to change the meanings of words themselves.

However, in China, one must never underestimate the importance of these four tones. If you find that you’re not coming across clearly with what you’re attempting to say, you may have used the wrong tone. Beware of questions that have the falling tone, or even exclamations that have that particular “asking” tone. Those can easily get confused.

  • First tone is high and goes neither up nor down.
  • Second tone rises (as if you were asking someone a question).
  • Third tone goes down and then up (as if you were surprised).
  • Fourth tone goes down (as if you were angry).

Chinese Dialect  

Despite some big differences in other areas, Chinese dialects almost always use the exact same set of characters when both writing and reading. Formal written Mandarin is universal, though there happens to be vast differences when these dialects are written conversational form.  Even though formal written Chinese is actually the same everywhere, there are differences when it comes to dialects that are written in a colloquial form.

A Helpful Pronunciation Guide 

The official romanization of China is “Hanyu pinyin”, which is what we’ll use while helping you learn some basic phrases in Chinese.  Hanyu pinyin is an extremely accurate pronunciation of Mandarin if the intended speaker understands how it works. It’s common that an English speaker doesn’t fully understand how pinyin uses certain letters like c, q, x, z, and i. and that even after you study the guide carefully and practice, you still may not be understood. This is why using these tones is important. Hanyu pinyin vowels can be pretty complex, so it’s best to enlist the help of a native speaker who can demonstrate for the learner. It’s also good to learn from the pros as well, which is why this elementary class for Chinese pronunciation is so helpful.

a: pronounced as in “ahhhh” like how it’s said when saying “far”.

a in an: pronounced as a short “a” sound, like in “hat”.

e: this is an unrounded back vowel, very similar to the word “duh”.

i: as in “me”.

o: spoken like “tore”.

u:  spoken like “noon”.

Diphthongs 

A diphthong is a gliding vowel. It can be literally interpreted as having “two tones”, and occurs when two adjacent vowel sounds occur within the same syllable (the bolded words indicate how you would pronounce the word in Mandarin).

a: spoken as in “lie”.

ao: pronounced like “pouch”.

ei: pronounced like “day”.

ia: pronounced like “ya”.

iao: pronounced like “meow

ie: pronounced like “yes”.

iong: pronounced like “Pyongyang”

Accent Marks

The accent marks in Mandarin are very different from, say, Spanish accent marks. They look like this when they’re typed out:

ā á ǎ à
ē é ě è
ī í ǐ ì
ō ó ǒ ò
ū ú ǔ ù
ǖ ǘ ǚ ǜ

Basic Greetings

These are all key to get the information you want when speaking to a native speaker of Chinese. We’ll start with some of basic greeting phrases that can and will be used in almost everyday conversations.

  • Hello: Nǐ hǎo.
  • How are you?: Nǐ hǎo ma?
  • Fine, thank you: Hěn hǎo, xiéxie.
  • May I ask what your name is?: Qǐngwèn nǐjào shěnme míng?
  • What is your name?: Nǐ jiào shénme míngzi?
  • My name is _____: Wǒ jiào _____
  • Nice to meet you: Hěn gāoxìng rèshì nǐ.
  • Please: Qǐng.
  • Thank you: Xiéxié.
  • You are welcome: Bú kéqi.
  • I’m sorry: Duìbùqǐ.
  • Goodbye: Zàijiàn
  • Goodbye (spoken informally): Bai-bai
  • I don’t speak Chinese: Wǒ bú huì shuō zhōngwén
  • Do you speak English?: Nǐ huì shuō Yīngyǔ ma?
  • Is there anyone here who speaks English?: Zhèlĭ yǒu rén hùi shuō Yīngyǔ ma?
  • Help!: Jiùmìng!
  • Good morning: Zǎo’ān.
  • Good evening: Wǎnshàng hǎo.
  • I do not understand: Wǒ tīng bù dǒng.
  • Where is the bathroom?: Xǐshǒujiān zài nǎli?

Numbers 

Numbers are often the first thing that those learning a foreign language will study, as they are very basic and can be incredibly useful in communicating with more skilled speakers. Numbers are also some of the easiest things to learn, especially in Chinese, as their numbers are very regular and consistent. 

  • 0: ling
  • 1: yī
  • 2: èr
  • 3: sān
  • 4: sì
  • 5: wǔ
  • 6: liù
  • 7: qī
  • 8: bā
  • 9: jiǔ
  • 10: shí
  • 11: shí-yī
  • 12: shí-èr
  • 13: shí-sān
  • 14: shí-sì
  • 15: shí-wǔ
  • 16: shí-liù
  • 17: shí-qī
  • 18: shí-bā
  • 19: shí-jiǔ
  • 20: èr-shí
  • 30: sān-shí
  • 40: sì-shí
  • 50: wǔ-shí
  • 60: liù-shí
  • 70: qī-shí
  • 80: bā-shí
  • 90: jiǔ-shí
  • 100: yī-bǎi
  • 200: liǎng-bǎi
  • 300: sān-bǎi
  • 500: wǔ-bǎi
  • 1,000: yī-qiān

Time

It’s necessary to understand time wherever you go, especially when you’re trying to communicate with a native speaker. 

  • Now: xiànzài
  • Later: yǐhòu or shāohòu
  • Before: yǐqián
  • Morning: zǎoshàng
  • Noon: zhōngwǔ
  • Afternoon: xiàwǔ
  • Night: wǎnshàng
  • Midnight: bànyè
  • What time is it?: Xiànzài jǐ diǎn?

Emergency Situations 

It’s always safe for a traveler to know the basic phrases in the even that emergency arises so they’re better able to come across verbally to any person who needs to assess the situation. It’s always safe to learn the proper word for an authority in any language – especially if you travel abroad a great deal. This is very important to learn if you need assistance if injured or someone with you is injured, if some unwanted people are harassing you, you need to alert those around you for help, or if you need assistance if you (or someone with you) is injured. Here are some key phrases that will help you:

  • Police!: jǐngchá
  • Leave me alone: búyào dǎrǎo wǒ.
  • Stop! Thief!: zhùshǒu! xiǎotōu!
  • I need your help: wǒ xūyào nǐde bāngzhù.
  • It’s an emergency: zhèshì jǐnjí qíngkuàng.
  • I’m lost: wǒ mílù le.

There’s nothing worse than feeling ill in another country, so it’s best to familiarize yourself with certain terms when seeking medical attention. Going to see a doctor in a foreign world can be frightening, so here are some phrases that will help you communicate with medical professionals:

  • I am sick: wǒ shēngbìng le
  • Painful: tòng
  • Uncomfortable: bù shūfú
  • Itchy: yǎng
  • Cough: fāshāo
  • Runny nose: liú bítì

Transportation 

If you get lost when traveling, you need a helping hand to get from point A to point B.  Here are some common phrases to use:

  • How much is a ticket to ____? : _____ de piào duō shǎo qián?
  • How do I get to _____?: zěnme qù _____?
  • The train station?: huǒchē zhàn?
  • The bus station?: qìchē zǒngzhàn?
  • The airport?: jī chǎng?

Lodging 

When staying in a hotel or any place of lodging, you need to be able to converse with the hotel staff in Chinese so here’s some helpful phrases.

  • Do you have any rooms available?: Nǐmen yǒu fángjiān ma?
  • I will stay for ____ nights: Wǒ dǎsuàn zhù _____ yè.
  • Do you have a safe?: Nǐmen yǒu méiyǒu bǎoxiǎn xiāng?
  • Can you wake me at ______?: Qǐng míngtiān zǎoshàng _____ jiàoxǐng wǒ.
  • I want to check out: Wǒ xiànzài yào zǒu.

Eating 

It’s always polite to be able to speak when ordering in a restaurant, and it tends to delight those who are attempting to assist you. Here are a few phrases to use when dining out:

  • Can I look at the menu, please?: qǐng gěi wǒ kànkan càipǔ.
  • Do you have an English menu?: nǐ yŏu méi yǒu yīngwén càipǔ?
  • I’m a vegetarian: wǒ chī sù de.
  • Where is the washroom?: xǐshǒujiān zài nǎr?

Bars 

When you feel the need to unwind after a long day, or just want to casually meet up with a group of friends, it’s safe to say you’ll end up in a bar. So here are some helpful phrases: 

  • Do you serve alcohol?: mài búmài jiǔ?
  • Is there table service?: yǒu méiyǒu cānzhuō fúwù?
  • A glass of red/white wine, please: qǐng gěi wǒ yìbēi hóng/bái pútáojiǔ
  • A pint, please: qǐng gěi wǒ yìpǐntuō
  • Another round, please: qǐng zàilái yìlún.
  • When is closing time?: jǐdiǎn dǎyáng/guānmén?

Authority

There are worst-case scenarios in every kind of situation, so it’s always best to prepare in case one of those scenarios occurs. Here are some phrases to use in case you are faced with one of these situations:

  • I haven’t done anything wrong: wǒ méiyǒu zuòcuò shì
  • It was a misunderstanding: zhè shì wùhuì
  • Where are you taking me?: nǐ dài wǒ qù nǎlǐ?
  • Am I under arrest?: wǒ bèibǔle ma?
  • I am an American citizen: wǒ shì měiguó gōngmín.
  • I want to speak with the American embassy: wǒ xīwàng gēn měiguó de dàshǐguǎn liánxì.
  • I want to talk to a lawyer: wǒ xīwàng gēn lǜshī liánxì.

Idioms

In China, idioms are called Chengyu. Traditional Chinese idiomatic expressions that are derived from ancient literature and are usually are passed from generation to generation. According to experts, there are around 5,000 chengyu in the Chinese language. When isolated, chengyu are quite often unintelligible without explanation.  Here are some common idioms:

  • xiǎo dòng bù bǔ, dà dòng chī kǔ

Meaning: A small hole not mended in time will become a big hole much more difficult to mend.

  • Dú wàn juǎn shū bùrú xíng wànlǐ lù.

Meaning: Reading ten thousand books is not as useful as traveling ten thousand miles.

  • Fēng xiàng zhuàn biàn shí, yǒu rén zhú qiáng, yǒu rén zào fēng chē.

Meaning: When the wind of change blows, some build walls, while others build windmills.

  • Fú wú zhòng zhì, huòbùdānxíng.

Meaning: Fortune does not come twice. Misfortune does not come alone.

Business Negotiations

Even after learning the basics, learners can become frustrated if they can’t seem to get the toning down, or pronunciation of a great deal of the words. It’s even more difficult if you’re attempting to negotiate with business to someone who speaks fluent Mandarin, so this handy Udemy course can teach you how to successfully negotiate in China. It’s best to learn some business phrases so you’re able to communicate.

  • State of the economy: jing ji xing shi
  • Consumers: shou ru
  • To compete: jing zheng

Teaching Chinese as a foreign (or rather, a second) language is referred to as duiwai hanyu jiaoxue (simplified Chinese), and most people who enjoy being challenged quite often have a strong desire to learn the language due to his complexity. It requires a great deal of patience from the learner and even from the teacher.

There are a great deal of moving components when it comes to successfully learning the Chinese language since the language is a highly captivating one. Because it’s a collection of dialects rather than just a single language, it can prove rather difficult to learn. But the challenge is well worth it. And it’s always a plus to have someone in your corner that will push you along. Udemy has an amazing course for beginner’s called Survival Chinese Conversation, which can prove to be an essential tool in the learning process. Always remember to stick with it and eventually you’ll be able to master the language!