Chinese for Travelers: 30 Must-Know Phrases

When it comes to traveling to a foreign country, one of the most valuable skills you can have is the ability to communicate with the locals. This is especially true when visiting a country like China, where English is not widely spoken. Learning some basic Chinese phrases and expressions can go a long way in making your trip more enjoyable and rewarding.

Chinese is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, with over 1.3 billion native speakers. It is the official language of China and is also spoken in other countries such as Taiwan, Singapore, and Malaysia. The Chinese language is known for its unique writing system, which uses characters instead of an alphabet. While learning to read and write Chinese characters can be challenging, learning to speak basic conversational Chinese is relatively easier.

Key Takeaways

  • Learning basic Chinese phrases can greatly enhance your travel experience in China.
  • Greetings and expressions like “ni hao” and “xie xie” are essential for polite interactions with locals.
  • Asking for directions in Chinese can help you navigate the city more easily.
  • Knowing how to order food and drinks in Chinese can make dining out a more enjoyable experience.
  • Shopping in Chinese markets can be a fun and unique cultural experience, but bargaining is expected.

Basic Greetings and Expressions

One of the first things you should learn when studying Chinese for travel is basic greetings and expressions. These phrases will help you navigate everyday interactions and make a good impression on the locals. Some common greetings include “nǐ hǎo” (hello), “xiè xiè” (thank you), and “zài jiàn” (goodbye).

Pronunciation in Chinese can be tricky for English speakers, as it involves different tones and sounds. For example, the word “nǐ hǎo” has a rising tone on the first syllable and a falling tone on the second syllable. It’s important to practice these tones to ensure that you are understood correctly.

Asking for Directions in Chinese

Getting around in a foreign country can be challenging, but knowing how to ask for directions in Chinese can make it much easier. Some useful vocabulary for asking directions includes “nǎ lǐ” (where), “zuǒ” (left), “yòu” (right), and “qián miàn” (in front).

Understanding directions in Chinese can be a bit tricky, as it often involves landmarks and specific locations. It’s helpful to have a map or a navigation app on your phone to follow along. Additionally, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification if you don’t understand something. The locals are usually friendly and willing to help.

Ordering Food and Drinks in Chinese

One of the highlights of traveling to China is trying the delicious local cuisine. Knowing how to order food and drinks in Chinese will not only enhance your dining experience but also make it easier to communicate with the waitstaff. Some useful vocabulary for ordering food and drinks includes “cài” (dish), “mǐ fàn” (rice), “pí jiǔ” (beer), and “kā fēi” (coffee).

Reading a Chinese menu can be intimidating at first, as it is often written in characters instead of pinyin (the romanized version of Chinese). However, many restaurants now provide English translations or picture menus for tourists. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also try using translation apps or asking the waitstaff for recommendations.

Shopping in Chinese Markets

China is known for its bustling markets, where you can find everything from souvenirs to clothing to electronics. Knowing some basic vocabulary for shopping in Chinese markets will help you navigate the crowded stalls and negotiate prices. Some useful phrases include “duō shǎo qián” (how much), “piányi yī diǎn” (a little cheaper), and “wǒ yào zhè ge” (I want this one).

Bargaining is a common practice in Chinese markets, so don’t be afraid to negotiate the price. Start by offering a lower price than what is initially quoted and be prepared to walk away if the vendor doesn’t agree. Remember to be polite and respectful during the bargaining process.

Numbers and Currency in Chinese

abcdhe 545

Knowing how to count and understand currency in Chinese is essential for everyday transactions. Some useful vocabulary for numbers and currency includes “yī” (one), “èr” (two), “wǔ” (five), “shí” (ten), “qián” (money), and “yuán” (Chinese currency).

Counting in Chinese is relatively straightforward, as it follows a simple pattern. For example, to say 21, you would say “èr shí yī” (two ten one). It’s helpful to practice counting in Chinese to ensure that you can understand prices and make accurate transactions.

Emergency Phrases in Chinese

While we hope that you never have to use them, knowing some emergency phrases in Chinese can be a lifesaver in unexpected situations. Some useful vocabulary for emergency situations includes “bāng zhù” (help), “yī yuàn” (hospital), “jǐng chá” (police), and “wǒ shī lì le” (I lost my way).

If you find yourself in an emergency situation, try to remain calm and seek help from the locals or authorities. It’s also a good idea to have important phone numbers, such as the local police or embassy, saved in your phone.

Making Small Talk in Chinese

Making small talk with the locals can be a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture and make new friends. Some useful vocabulary for making small talk includes “nǐ jiào shén me míng zì” (what’s your name), “nǐ cóng nǎ lǐ lái” (where are you from), and “nǐ xǐ huān zuò shén me” (what do you like to do).

It’s important to keep in mind that small talk in China may be different from what you’re used to. Personal questions about age, income, or relationship status are considered impolite, so it’s best to stick to more general topics such as travel, food, or hobbies.

Transportation Phrases in Chinese

Getting around in China can be an adventure in itself, but knowing some basic transportation phrases can make it much easier. Some useful vocabulary for transportation includes “chē” (car), “huǒ chē” (train), “jī chǎng” (airport), and “zhàn” (station).

Navigating public transportation in China can be a bit overwhelming, especially in big cities like Beijing or Shanghai. It’s helpful to have a map or a navigation app on your phone to find your way around. Additionally, be prepared for crowded buses and trains, especially during peak hours.

Cultural Tips for Traveling in China

When traveling to a foreign country, it’s important to be aware of the local customs and etiquette. China has a rich cultural heritage, and understanding and respecting their customs will help you have a more enjoyable and respectful trip. Some cultural tips for traveling in China include:

– Greetings: When meeting someone for the first time, it’s customary to shake hands and say “nǐ hǎo.” However, physical contact is not as common among friends or acquaintances.

– Dining etiquette: When dining with others, it’s polite to wait for the host to start eating before you begin. It’s also customary to leave a little bit of food on your plate to show that you are full.

– Gift-giving: If you are invited to someone’s home or if someone does you a favor, it’s customary to bring a small gift as a token of appreciation. Popular gifts include tea, fruit, or small souvenirs from your home country.

– Respect for elders: In Chinese culture, respect for elders is highly valued. It’s important to address older people with proper titles and show deference in your interactions.
Learning Chinese for travelers is a valuable skill that can greatly enhance your travel experience in China. By knowing basic greetings and expressions, asking for directions, ordering food and drinks, shopping in markets, understanding numbers and currency, knowing emergency phrases, making small talk, navigating transportation, and being aware of cultural customs, you will be able to communicate effectively and respectfully with the locals. So, don’t be afraid to dive into learning Chinese before your trip to China. It will not only make your trip more enjoyable but also show the locals that you have taken the time and effort to learn their language and culture.

Sign up for a free trial class here.

Sign up for classes here.

Learn more about our Chinese Summer Camp for Children here.

Learn about our Internship Program in China.

Get free Chinese learning resources.

Learn about China’s 2024 Offical Holiday Schedule

Ønsker du en gratis prøveklasse? Registrer deg!

Bli med på en gratis prøveklasse i kinesisk!

Do you want a Free Trial Chinese Class? Register now!

Join a Free Trial Chinese Class!