- Phrasebooks for other varieties of Chinese are listed at China#Talk.
Mandarin Chinese is the official language of Mainland China and Taiwan, and is one of the official languages of Singapore. In English, it is often just called "Mandarin" or "Chinese". In China, it is called Putonghua (普通话), meaning "common speech", while in Taiwan it is referred to as Guoyu (國語), "the national language." In Singapore, it is referred to as Huayu (华语). It has been the main language of education in the People's Republic of China (excluding Hong Kong and Macau) and Taiwan since the 1950s. While not an official language, it is also commonly studied and spoken by the ethnic Chinese minority in Malaysia.
Note that while the spoken Mandarin in the above places is more or less the same, the written characters are different. Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau all still use traditional characters, whereas Mainland China and Singapore use a simplified derivative.
China is host to a wide variety of related languages (often referred to as dialects), of which Standard Mandarin is just one register. Within the Chinese language family, there are 7-10 major branches, each of which contain their own varieties of languages. Languages from different branches (such as Mandarin and Cantonese) are completely mutually unintelligible, whereas languages within the same branch (such as Standard Mandarin and Sichuanese) may share limited intelligibility.
Despite the wide variance in Chinese languages, they all share the same standardized writing system (using either Traditional or Simplified character sets). This is made possible by the fact that the Chinese writing system is logographic, meaning individual characters represent ideas as opposed to phonetic sounds. What this means is that one character which would be pronounced completely differently in any number of Chinese languages will all be written identically and understood to mean the same thing. Therefore speakers of different Chinese languages who are completely unable to understand each others' spoken speech can effectively communicate via writing. The challenge with a logographic writing system, however, is the huge number of characters required to adequately represent different words: The average Chinese dictionary indexes ~20,000 characters, with an educated Chinese person likely knowing around ~8,000, while a typical newspaper requires the reader to know at least 3,000 characters.
Following the establishment of the People's Republic of China (PRC), formal simplifications were made to a large number of common characters in order to reduce the number of strokes required to write them, with the aim of increasing literacy. This has led to a two current standards for Chinese writing: Simplified and Traditional characters. Simplified characters are the standard for Singapore and the mainland PRC, whereas Traditional characters are retained as the standard in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan.
About one fifth of the people in the world speak some form of Chinese as their native language. It is a tonal language that is related to Burmese and Tibetan. The Vietnamese language (which uses a distinctive version of the Latin alphabet) has borrowed many words from Chinese and at one time used Chinese characters as well. In addition, the Dungan language, which is spoken in some parts of Russia, is considered to be a variant of Mandarin but uses the Cyrillic alphabet instead of Chinese characters.
The writing system is used by other countries as well, although the languages are not related. The Korean writing system historically used Chinese characters, but completely adopted their own 'Hangul' system since the 1950's. South Koreans still learn the basics of Chinese characters, and some basic Chinese characters are still occasionally used and widely understood; Japanese uses a mixed writing system comprising of Chinese characters and its own 'kana' system, although over time the meaning of some characters has diverged significantly from those used in China.
Standard Mandarin is based on the Mandarin dialect of the Beijing area, and is almost universally understood and spoken (in conjunction with local languages) across China and Taiwan as a result of being the primary language of education and the media. Travelers headed to the special administrative regions (SARs) of Hong Kong or Macau will largely encounter native Cantonese speakers. Mandarin is largely understood in the SARs, though speaking ability varies widely, and particularly in Hong Kong, the use of Mandarin is a touchy political issue. Those heading for Taiwan or southern Fujian may find the Minnan dialect useful as well.
Chinese is infamous for being difficult to learn. While English speakers will initially have problems with the tones, acquiring vocabulary (since Chinese has few loan words from European languages), and recognizing the many different characters, the grammar is refreshingly simple. Most notably, Chinese grammar does not have conjugation, tenses, gender, plurals or other complicated grammatical rules found in other major languages such as English or French.
The pronunciation guide below uses Hanyu pinyin, the official romanization of the People's Republic of China and Taiwan. Until recently, Taiwan used the Wade-Giles system, which is quite different, then switched to Tongyong pinyin, only slightly different from Hanyu pinyin, and now officially uses Hanyu pinyin just like the People's Republic.
Pinyin allows very accurate pronunciation of Mandarin for those who understand it, although the way that it uses letters like q, x, c, z and even i is not at all intuitive to the English speaker since some of these sounds do not exist in English or many other languages. Thus, studying the pronunciation guide below carefully is essential. After you master the pronunciation you will need to move on to the next challenge: using accurate tones whilst speaking.
While Hanyu pinyin is immensely useful as a pronunciation guide for Mandarin learners, it is much less useful as a form of written communication, as many Chinese cannot read pinyin, and even those that do will often find it awkward. So stick to Chinese characters for written communication.
Some pinyin vowels (especially "e", "i", "ü") can be tricky, so it is best to get a native speaker to demonstrate. Also, beware of the spelling rules listed in the exceptions below.
- as in father; otherwise, pronounced as in "awesome"
- a in ian and yan
- as "e" in "bet" or "text" (just the English short "e" sound)
- unrounded back vowel (IPA [ɤ]), similar to duh; in unstressed syllables, a schwa (IPA [ə]), like idea
- as in see or key;
after ch, sh, zh, c, s, z or r, not really a vowel at all but just a stretched-out consonant sound
- as in more
after b, p, m, or f, as in war
- as in soon; but read ü in ju, qu, yu and xu
- as in French lune or German grün
These are the most important vowel combinations in Chinese:
- as in pie
- as in pouch
- as in pay
- as in ya
- ia in ian (but not iang)
- as in 'yes
- as in meow
- as in yes
- as in Pyongyang
- as in yodel
- as in mow
- as in want
- as in war
Chinese stops distinguish between aspirated and unaspirated, not unvoiced and voiced as in English, and Chinese lacks voiced stops. Aspirated sounds are pronounced with a distinctive puff of air as they are pronounced in English when at the beginning of a word, while unaspirated sounds are pronounced without the puff, as in English when found in clusters.
Place a hand in front of your mouth and compare pit (aspirated) with spit (unaspirated) to see the difference. Note that the list below only gives approximate pronunciations, as many of these consonants have no equivalent in English. As Mandarin does not have voiced stops or affricates, all the consonants listed in the "unaspirated" column should be pronounced unvoiced.
as in spot
as in pit
as in stop
as in tongue
as in skin
as in king
as in itchy
as in cheap
as in jungle
as in chore
as in pizza
as in rats
Here are the other consonants in Chinese:
- as in mow
- as in fun
- as in none or none
- as in lease
- as in her
- as in sheep, but softer than sh
- as in shoot
- as in fair
- as in sag
- as in sing
- as in wing but silent in wu. Before a, ai, ang, eng, and/or o
- as in yet but silent in yi, yu
If you think that is a fairly intimidating repertoire, rest assured that many Chinese people, particularly those who are not native Mandarin speakers, will merge many of the sounds above (especially c with ch and z with zh). Other sounds that you may hear merged, depending on the region, include s with sh, f with h, l with n, l with r, and n with ng.
There are a fairly large number of niggling exceptions to the basic rules above, based on the position of the sound:
- as u-, so 五百 (五百) wubai is pronounced "ubai"
- as i-, so 一个 (一個) yige is pronounced "ige"
- as ü-, so 豫园 (豫園) Yuyuan is pronounced "ü-üan"
How do I put my tone marks?
If you are confused by how to put tone marks above the Hanyu Pinyin, follow the steps below:
Always insert tone marks above the vowels. If there is more than one vowel letter, follow the steps below:
(1) Insert it above the 'a' if that letter is present. For example, it is rǎo and not raǒ
(2) If not, insert it above 'o'. For example, guó and not gúo
(3) Insert it above the letter 'e' if the letters 'a' and 'o' are not present. For example, jué and not júe
(4) If only 'i', 'u' and 'ü' are the only present letters, insert it in the letter that occurs last. For example, jiù and not jìu, chuí and not chúi. Note, if the vowel present is ü, the tone mark is put in addition to the umlaut. For example, lǜ
There are four tones in Mandarin that must be followed for proper pronunciation. Never underestimate the importance of these tones. Consider a vowel with a different tone as simply a different vowel altogether, and you will realize why Chinese will not understand you if you use the wrong tone — mǎ is to mā as "I want a cake" is to "I want a coke". Be especially wary of questions that have a falling tone, or conversely exclamations that have an "asking" tone (eg jǐngchá, police). In other words, pronounced like does not imply meaning. While Mandarin speakers also vary their tone just like English speakers do to differentiate a statement from a question and convey emotion, it is much more subtle. Do not try it until you have mastered the basic tones.
- 1. first tone ( ā )
- flat, high pitch that is more sung instead of spoken.
- 2. second tone ( á )
- low to middle, rising pitch that is pronounced like the end of a question phrase (Whát?).
- 3. third tone ( ǎ )
- mid-low to low: for two consecutive syllables in the third tone, the first syllable is pronounced as if it is in the second tone. For example, 打扰 dǎrǎo is pronounced as dárǎo. (When stressed, the third tone is sometimes pronounced mid-low to low to high, dipping pitch.)
- 4. fourth tone ( à )
- high to low, rapidly falling pitch that is pronounced like a command (Stop!).
- 5. fifth tone
- neutral pitch that is rarely used by itself (except for phrase particles) but frequently occurs as the second part of a phrase.
- English phrase
- Simplified characters (Traditional characters) Hanyu Pinyin
To be or not to be?
Chinese does not have words for "yes" and "no" as such; instead, questions are typically answered by repeating the verb. Here are common examples:
- 你好。 (你好。) Nǐ hǎo.
- Hello. (only on the telephone)
- 喂。 (喂。) Wéi. (In Singapore, the English "hello" is typically used instead)
- How are you?
- 你好吗？ (你好嗎？) Nǐ hǎo ma? 身体好吗？(身體好嗎？) Shēntǐ hǎo ma?
- Fine, thank you.
- 很好, 谢谢。 (很好，謝謝。) Hěn hǎo, xièxie.
- May I please ask, what is your name?
- 请问你叫什么名字？ (請問你叫什麼名字？) Qǐngwèn nǐjiào shěnme míngzi?
- What is your name?
- 你叫什么名字？ (你叫什麼名字？) Nǐ jiào shénme míngzi?
- My name is ______ .
- 我叫 _____ 。 (我叫 _____ 。) Wǒ jiào ______ .
- Nice to meet you.
- 很高兴认识你。 (很高興認識你。) Hěn gāoxìng rènshí nǐ. / 幸会。 (幸會。) Xìng huì.
- 请。 (請。) Qǐng.
- Thank you.
- 谢谢。 (謝謝。) Xièxie.
- You're welcome.
- 不客气。 (不客氣。) Bú kèqi.
- Excuse me. (getting attention)
- 请问。 (請問。) qǐng wèn.
- Excuse me. (begging pardon)
- 打扰一下。 (打擾一下。) Dǎrǎo yixià / 麻烦您一下。 (麻煩您一下。) Máfan nín yíxià.
- Excuse me. (coming through)
- 对不起。 (對不起。) ‘’Duìbùqǐ’’ / 请让一下。 (請讓一下。) Qǐng ràng yixià
- I'm sorry.
- 对不起。 (對不起。) Duìbuqǐ.
- It's okay. (polite response to "I'm sorry")
- 没关系。 (沒關系。) méiguānxi.
- 再见。 (再見。) Zàijiàn
- Goodbye (informal)
- 拜拜。 (拜拜。) Bai-bai (Byebye)
- I can't speak Chinese.
- 我不会说汉语。 (我不會說漢語。) Wǒ bú huì shuō hànyǔ.
- Do you speak English?
- 你会说英语吗？ (你會說英語嗎？) Nǐ huì shuō Yīngyǔ ma?
- Is there someone here who speaks English?
- 这里有人会说英语吗？ (這裏有人會說英語嗎？) Zhèlĭ yǒu rén hùi shuō Yīngyǔ ma?
- Help! (in emergencies)
- 救命！ (救命!) Jiùmìng!
- Good morning.
- 早安。 (早安。) Zǎo'ān.
- Good evening.
- 晚上好。 (晚上好。) Wǎnshàng hǎo.
- Good night.
- 晚安。 (晚安。) Wǎn'ān.
- I don't understand.
- 我听不懂。 (我聽不懂。) Wǒ tīng bu dǒng.
- Where is the toilet?
- 厕所在哪里？ (廁所在哪裡？) Cèsuǒ zài nǎli?
- Where is the bathroom（polite)?
- 洗手间在哪里？ (洗手間在哪裡？) Xǐshǒujiān zài nǎli?
- How do you say ____?
- ____ 怎么说？ (____ 怎麼說？) ____ zěnme shuō?
Asking a question in Chinese
There are many ways to ask a question in Chinese. Here are two easy ones for travelers...
Exception - 有没有？ （有沒有？） yŏu méi yŏu? - Do you have? (literally - have not have?)
- Leave me alone.
- 不要打扰我。 (不要打擾我。) búyào dǎrǎo wǒ
- I don't want it! (useful for people who come up trying to sell you something)
- 我不要！ (我不要！) wǒ búyào!
- Don't touch me!
- 不要碰我！ (不要碰我！) búyào pèng wǒ!
- I'll call the police.
- 我要叫警察了。 (我要叫警察了。) wǒ yào jiào jǐngchá le
- 警察！ (警察！) jǐngchá!
- Stop! Thief!
- 住手！小偷！ (住手！小偷！) zhùshǒu! xiǎotōu!
- I need your help.
- 我需要你的帮助。 (我需要你的幫助。) wǒ xūyào nǐde bāngzhù
- It's an emergency.
- 这是紧急情况。 (這是緊急情況。) zhèshì jǐnjí qíngkuàng
- I'm lost.
- 我迷路了。 (我迷路了。) wǒ mílù le
- I lost my bag.
- 我的包丢了。 (我的包丟了。) wǒ de bāo diūle
- I lost my wallet.
- 我的钱包丢了。 (我的錢包丟了。) wǒ de qiánbāo diūle
- I'm sick.
- 我生病了。 (我生病了。) wǒ shēngbìng le
- I've been injured.
- 我受伤了。 (我受傷了。) wǒ shòushāng le
- I need a doctor.
- 我需要医生。 (我需要醫生。) wǒ xūyào yīshēng
- Can I use your phone?
- 我可以打个电话吗？ (我可以打個電話嗎？) wǒ kěyǐ dǎ ge diànhuà ma?
Going to the doctor
- 医生 (醫生) yīshēng
- 护士 (護士) hùshi
- 医院 (醫院) yīyuàn
- Chinese medicine
- 中药 (中藥) zhōngyào
- Western medicine
- 西药 (西藥) xīyào
- I am sick.
- 我生病了。 (我生病了。) wǒ shēngbìng le
- My _____ hurts.
- 我的 ____ 疼/痛。 ( 我的 ____ 疼/痛。) wŏde ____ téng/tòng
- 疼/痛 (疼/痛) téng/tòng
- 不舒服 (不舒服) bù shūfu
- 痒(痒) yǎng
- Sore (In muscle strains)
- 酸(酸) suān
- 发热 (發熱) fārè / 发烧 (發燒) fāshāo
- 咳嗽 (咳嗽) késòu
- 打喷嚏 (打噴嚏) dǎ pēntì
- 拉肚子 (拉肚子) lā dùzi / 泻肚子 (瀉肚子) xiè dùzi
- 呕吐 (嘔吐) ŏu tù
- Running nose
- 流鼻涕 (流鼻涕) liú bítì
- 痰 (痰) tán
- 割伤 (割傷) gēshāng / 伤口 (傷口) shāngkǒu
- 烧伤 (燒傷) shāoshāng
- 手 (手) shǒu
- 手臂 (手臂) shǒubì / 胳膊 (胳膊) gēbo
- 手指 (手指) shǒuzhǐ
- 手腕 (手腕) shǒuwàn
- 肩膀 (肩膀) jiānbǎng
- 脚 (腳) jiǎo
- 脚趾 (腳趾) jiáozhǐ
- 腿 (腿) tuǐ
- 指甲 (指甲) zhǐjia
- 身体 (身體) shēntǐ
- 眼睛 (眼睛) yǎnjīng
- 耳朵 (耳朵) ěrduo
- 鼻子 (鼻子) bízi
- 脸 (臉) liǎn
- 头发 (頭髮) tóufa
- 头 (頭) tóu
- 脖子 (脖子) bózi / 颈项 (頸項) jǐngxiàng
- 喉咙 (喉嚨) hóulóng
- 胸 (胸) xiōng
- 肚子 (肚子) dùzi / 腹 (腹) fù
- 腰 (腰) yāo
- 屁股 (屁股) pìgu
- 背 (背) bèi
- Medical Insurance
- 医疗保险 (醫療保險) yīliáo bǎoxiǎn
- Doctor's fees
- 医生费 (醫生費) yīshēng fèi
- 处方 (處方) chǔfāng / 药方 (藥方) yàofāng
- 药 (藥) yào
- 药店 (藥店) yàodiàn
Chinese people use a set of gestures for the numbers 1-10. They're a useful way to communicate prices and quantities, especially if you're having trouble understanding or pronouncing the Chinese word for a number. The gestures vary a bit by region.
Chinese numbers are very regular. While Western numerals have become more common, the Chinese numerals shown below are still used, particularly in informal contexts like markets. The characters after the slash are generally used in financial contexts, such as writing cheques and printing banknotes.
- 〇 (〇) / 零 (零) líng
- 一 (一) / 壹 (壹) yī (幺 yāo is sometimes used when reading numbers like ID card or telephone numbers, but never in writing)
- 二 (二) / 贰 (貳) èr (两(兩) liǎng is used when specifying quantities)
- 三 (三) / 叁 (參) sān
- 四 (四) / 肆 (肆) sì
- 五 (五) / 伍 (伍) wǔ
- 六 (六) / 陆 (陸) liù
- 七 (七) / 柒 (柒) qī
- 八 (八) / 捌 (捌) bā
- 九 (九) / 玖 (玖) jiǔ
- 十 (十) / 拾 (拾) shí
- 十一 (十一) / 拾壹 (拾壹) shí-yī
- 十二 (十二) / 拾贰 (拾貳) shí-èr
- 十三 (十三) / 拾叁 (拾參) shí-sān
- 十四 (十四) / 拾肆 (拾肆) shí-sì
- 十五 (十五) / 拾伍 (拾伍) shí-wǔ
- 十六 (十六) / 拾陆 (拾陸) shí-liù
- 十七 (十七) / 拾柒 (拾柒) shí-qī
- 十八 (十八) / 拾捌 (拾捌) shí-bā
- 十九 (十九) / 拾玖 (拾玖) shí-jiǔ
- 二十 (二十) / 贰拾 (貳拾) èr-shí
- 二十一 (二十一) / 贰拾壹 (貳拾壹) èr-shí-yī
- 二十二 (二十二) / 贰拾贰 (貳拾貳) èr-shí-èr
- 二十三 (二十三) / 贰拾叁 (貳拾參) èr-shí-sān
- 三十 (三十) / 叁拾 (參拾) sān-shí
- 四十 (四十) / 肆拾 (肆拾) sì-shí
- 五十 (五十) / 伍拾 (伍拾) wǔ-shí
- 六十 (六十) / 陆拾 (陸拾) liù-shí
- 七十 (七十) / 柒拾 (柒拾) qī-shí
- 八十 (八十) / 捌拾 (捌拾) bā-shí
- 九十 (九十) / 玖拾 (玖拾) jiǔ-shí
Shí kuài or sì kuài?
In southern China, many speakers don't distinguish the sh and s sounds, which means that in these areas, the only reliable difference between shí (ten) and sì (four) is the tone. So if you're talking to someone from southern China, it's important to listen for the tone when they tell you a number, lest you think something costs 4 yuan when it's really 10.
For numbers above 100, any "gaps" must be filled in with 零 líng, as e.g. 一百一 yībǎiyī would otherwise be taken as shorthand for "110". A single unit of tens may be written and pronounced either 一十 yīshí or just 十 shí.
- 一百 (一百) / 壹佰 (壹佰) yī-bǎi
- 一百零一 (一百零一) / 壹佰零壹 (壹佰零壹) yī-bǎi-líng-yī
- 一百一十 (一百一十) / 壹佰壹拾 (壹佰壹拾) yī-bǎi-yī-shí
- 一百一十一 (一百一十一) / 壹佰壹拾壹 (壹佰壹拾壹) yī-bǎi-yī-shí-yī
- 二百 (二百) / 贰佰 (貳佰) èr-bǎi (written) or 两百 (兩百) liǎng-bǎi (colloquial)
- 三百 (三百) / 叁佰 (參佰) sān-bǎi
- 五百 (五百) / 伍佰 (伍佰) wǔ-bǎi
- 一千 (一千) / 壹仟 (壹仟) yī-qiān
- 二千 (二千) / 贰仟 (貳仟) èr-qiān (written) or 两千 (兩千) liǎng-qiān (colloquial)
Numbers starting from 10,000 are grouped by in units of four digits starting with 万 (萬) wàn (ten thousand). "One million" in Chinese is thus "hundred ten-thousands" 一百万 (一百萬), and "one billion" is "ten hundred-millions" 十亿 (十億).
- 一万 (一萬) / 壹萬 (壹萬) yī-wàn
- 一万零一(一萬零一) / 壹萬零壹 (壹萬零壹) yī-wàn-líng-yī
- 一万零二 (一萬零二) / 壹萬零贰 (壹萬零貳) yī-wàn-líng-èr
- 二万 (二萬) / 贰萬 (貳萬) èr-wàn (written) or 两万 (兩萬) liǎng-wàn (colloquial)
- 五万 (五萬) / 伍萬 (伍萬) wǔ-wàn
- 十万 (十萬) / 拾萬 (拾萬) shí-wàn
- 二十万 (二十萬) / 贰拾萬 (貳拾萬) èr-shí-wàn
- 一百万 (一百萬) / 壹佰萬 (壹佰萬) yī-bǎi-wàn
- 一千万 (一千萬) / 壹仟萬 (壹仟萬) yī-qiān-wàn
- 一亿 (一億) / 壹億 (壹億) yī-yì
- 十亿 (十億) / 拾億 (拾億) shí-yì
- 一万亿 (一萬億) / 壹萬億 (壹萬億) yī-wàn-yì or 一兆 (一兆) / 壹兆 (壹兆) yī-zhào
- number _____ (train, bus, etc.)
- number measure word (路(路) lù, 号(號) hào, ...) _____ (火车 (火車) huǒ chē, 公共汽车 (公共汽車) gōng gòng qì chē, etc.)
Measure words are used in combination with a number to indicate an amount of something, similar to how English requires "two pieces of furniture" rather than just "two furniture". w:measure_word When unsure, use 个 (個) ge; even though it may not be correct, you will probably be understood because it is the generic and most common measure word. (One person: 一个人 (一個人) yí ge rén; two apples: 两个苹果 (兩個蘋果) liǎng ge píngguǒ; note that two of something always uses 两 (兩) liǎng rather than 二 (二) èr).
- 半 (半) bàn
- less than
- 少于 (少於) shǎoyú
- more than
- 多于 (多於) duōyú
- 更 (更) gèng
- 现在 (現在) xiànzài
- 以后 (以後) yǐhòu / 稍后(稍後) shāohòu
- 以前 (以前) yǐqián
- 早上 (早上) zǎoshang / 上午 (上午) shàngwǔ
- 中午 (中午) zhōngwǔ
- 下午 (下午) xiàwǔ
- 傍晚 (傍晚) bàngwǎn
- 晚上 (晚上) wǎnshang
- 半夜 (半夜) bànyè / 午夜 (午夜) wǔyè
- What time is it?
- 现在几点？ (現在幾點？) Xiànzài jǐ diǎn?
- It is nine in the morning.
- 早上9点钟。 (早上9點鐘。) Zǎoshàng jǐu diǎn zhōng.
- 3:30 PM
- 下午3点半 (下午3點半) Xiàwǔ sān diǎn bàn / 下午3点30分 (下午3點30分) Xiàwǔ sāndiǎn sānshí fēn
- 3:38 PM
- 下午3点38分 (下午3點38分) Xiàwǔ sāndiǎn sānshíbā fēn
In formal writing, 时 (時) shí is used instead of 点 (點) diǎn to indicate hours when telling time. Therefore, the time 3:30 PM would be written as 下午3时30分 in formal writing. This form is, however, not used in speech.
- _____ minute(s)
- _____ 分钟 (分鐘) fēnzhōng
- _____ hour(s)
- _____ 小时 (小時) xiǎoshí
- _____ day(s)
- _____ 天(天) tiān / _____ 日 (日) rì
- _____ week(s)
- _____ 星期 (星期) xīngqī
- _____ month(s)
- _____ 月 (月) yùe
- _____ year(s)
- _____ 年 (年) nián
- 今天 (今天) jīntiān
- 昨天 (昨天) zuótiān
- the day before yesterday
- 前天 (前天) qiántiān
- 明天 (明天) míngtiān
- the day after tomorrow
- 后天 (后天) hòutiān
- this week
- 这个星期 (這個星期) zhège xīngqī
- last week
- 上个星期 (上個星期) shàngge xīngqī
- next week
- 下个星期 (下個星期) xiàge xīngqī
Weekdays in Chinese are easy: starting with 1 for Monday, just add the number after 星期 (星期) xīngqī. In Taiwan and Singapore, 星期 (星期) is pronounced xīngqí (second tone on the second syllable).
- 星期天 (星期天 ) xīngqītiān / 星期日 (星期日) xīngqīrì
- 星期一 (星期一) xīngqīyī
- 星期二 (星期二) xīngqīèr
- 星期三 (星期三) xīngqīsān
- 星期四 (星期四) xīngqīsì
- 星期五 (星期五) xīngqīwǔ
- 星期六 (星期六) xīngqīliù
In colloquial usage, 星期 (星期) can also be replaced with 礼拜 (礼拜) lǐbài and 周 (周) zhōu, but only 礼拜天 (禮拜天) lǐbàitiān and 周日 (周日) zhōurì are used, while 礼拜日 (禮拜日) or 周天 (周天) are not used.
Months in Chinese are also easy: starting with 1 for January, just add the number before 月 (月) yuè.
- 一月 (一月) yī yuè
- 二月 (二月) èr yuè
- 三月 (三月) sān yuè
- 四月 (四月) sì yuè
- 五月 (五月) wŭ yuè
- 六月 (六月) liù yuè
- 七月 (七月) qī yuè
- 八月 (八月) bā yuè
- 九月 (九月) jiŭ yuè
- 十月 (十月) shí yuè
- 十一月 (十一月) shí yī yuè
- 十二月 (十二月) shí èr yuè
Writing dates in the lunar calendar
If you are attempting to name a date in the Chinese lunar calendar, add the words 农历 (農歷) before the name of the month to distinguish it from the months of the solar calendar, although it is not strictly necessary. There are some differences: The words 日(日) rì/ 号(號) hào are generally not required when stating dates in the lunar calendar; it is assumed. Besides that, the 1st Month is called 正月 (正月) zhēngyuè. If the number of the day is less than 11, the word 初 (初) is used before the value of the day. Besides that, if the value of the day is more than 20, the word 廿 (廿) niàn is used, so the 23rd day is 廿三 (廿三) for example.
When writing the date, you name the month (number (1-12) + 月 (月) yuè), before inserting the day (number (1-31) + 日(日) rì/ 号(號) hào). Note that the usage of 号(號) hào, which is more often used in spoken language, is more colloquial than that of 日(日) rì, which is more often used in written documents.
- 6th January
- 一月六号 (一月六號) yī yuè liù hào or 一月六日 (一月六日) yī yuè liù rì
- 25th December
- 十二月二十五号 (十二月二十五號) shí-èr yuè èr-shí-wǔ hào
- 黑色 (黑色) hēi sè
- 白色 (白色) bái sè
- 灰色 (灰色) huī sè
- 红色 (紅色) hóng sè
- 蓝色 (藍色) lán sè
- 黄色 (黄色) huáng sè
- 绿色 (綠色) lǜ sè / 青色 (青色) qīng sè
- 橙色 (橙色) chéng sè
- 紫色 (紫色) zǐ sè
- 褐色 (褐色) he sè / 棕色 (棕色) zōng sè
- 金色 (金色) jīn se
- Do you have it in another colour?
- 你们有没有其他颜色? (你們有沒有其他顏色?) nǐmen yǒu méiyǒu qítā yánsè ?
Sè means 'colour' so hóng sè is literally 'red colour'. More common for brown and easier to remember is 'coffee colour': 咖啡色 (咖啡色) kā fēi sè
Bus and Train
- How much is a ticket to _____?
- 去______的票多少钱? (去______的票多少錢?) qù _____ de piào duō shǎo qián?
- Do you go to... (the central station)?
- 去不去... (火车站)? (去不去... (火車站)?) qù bu qù... (huǒ chē zhàn)
- How do I get to _____ ?
- 怎么去_____? (怎麼去_____?) zěnme qù _____?
- ...the train station?
- ...火车站? (...火車站?) ...huǒchēzhàn?
- ...the bus station?
- ...汽车站? (汽車站?) ..qìchēzhàn? (China) / ...巴士站? (..巴士站?) ...bāshìzhàn? (Singapore)
- ...the airport?
- ...飞机场? (...飛機場?) ...jī chǎng?
- 街 (街) jiē
- (路) 路 lù
- Turn left.
- 左转 (左轉) zuǒ zhuǎn / 左拐 (左拐) zuǒguǎi
- Turn right.
- 右转 (右轉) yòu zhuǎn / 右拐 (右拐) yòuguăi
- Go straight
- 直走 (直走) zhízŏu
- I've reached my destination
- 到了 (到了) dàole
- 掉头 (掉頭) diàotóu
- Taxi driver
- 师傅 (師傅) shīfu
- Please use the meter machine
- 请打表 (請打表) qǐng dǎbiǎo
- Please turn up the aircon/heater
- 请把空调开大点儿。 (請把空調開大點兒。) qǐng bǎ kōngtiáo kāi dàdiǎn(r)
- 左边 (左邊) zuǒbiān
- 右边 (右邊) yòubiān
- straight ahead
- 往前走 (往前走) wǎngqián zǒu
- 北 (北) bĕi
- 南 (南) nán
- 东 (東) dōng
- 西 (西) xī
- 出租车 (出租車) chū zū chē (in China) / 计程车 (計程車) jìchéngchē (in Taiwan) / 德士 (德士) dé shì (in Singapore)
- Take me to _____, please.
- 请开到_____。 (請開到_____。) qǐng kāidào _____。
- Do you have any rooms available?
- 你们有房间吗？ (你們有房間嗎？) Nǐmen yǒu fángjiān ma?
- Does the room come with...
- 有没有... (有沒有...) Yǒu méiyǒu…
- ...床单？ (...床單？ ...chuángdān?
- ...a bathroom?
- ...浴室？ (浴室？) ...yùshì? (in China) / ...冲凉房？ (...沖涼房？) ...chōngliángfáng? (in Singapore)
- ...a telephone?
- ...电话？ (...電話？) ...diànhuà?
- ...a TV?
- ...电视？ (...電視？) …diànshì?
- I will stay for _____ night(s).
- 我打算住_____夜。 (我打算住_____夜。) Wǒ dǎsuàn zhù _____ yè.
- Do you have a safe?
- 你们有没有保险箱？ (你們有沒有保險箱？) Nǐmen yǒu méiyǒu bǎoxiǎn xiāng?
- Can you wake me at _____?
- 请明天早上_____叫醒我。 (請明天早上_____叫醒我。) Qǐng míngtiān zǎoshàng _____ jiàoxǐng wǒ.
- I want to check out.
- 我现在要走。 (我現在要走。) Wǒ xiànzài yào zǒu.
The base unit of currency in Chinese is the 元 (yuán), which could be translated as "dollar", or simiply transliterated as "yuan", depending on what currency you are referring to. In financial contexts, such as when writing cheques and printing banknotes, 元 is written as 圆 (圓). One yuan is divided into 10 角 (jiǎo), which is in turn divided into 10 分 (fēn). Collquially, the yuan is often referred to as the 块 (kuài), while the jiao is referred to as the 毛(máo).
- 付 (付) fù
- 现钱 (現錢) xiàn qián / 现金 (現金) xiàn jīn
- credit card
- 信用卡 (信用卡) xìn yòng kǎ
- debit card
- 借记卡 (借記卡) jiè jì kǎ
- 支票 (支票) zhīpiào
- foreign exchange
- 外汇 (外匯) wài huì
- to change money
- 换钱 (換錢) huàn qián
- exchange rate
- 汇率 (匯率) huìlǜ
- Chinese yuan
- 人民币 (人民幣) rén mín bì
- Taiwan dollars
- 新台币 (新臺幣) xīn tái bì / 台币 (臺幣) tái bì
- Hong Kong dollars
- 港币 (港幣) gǎng bì
- Singapore dollars
- 新加坡元 (新加坡元) xīn jiā pō yuán / 新币 (新幣) xīn bì
- Malaysian ringgit
- 马来西亚令吉 (馬來西亞令吉) mǎ lái xī yà lìng jí / 马币 (馬幣) mǎ bì
- US dollars
- 美元 (美元) mĕi yuán / 美金 (美金) mĕi jīn
- 欧元 (歐元) ōu yuán
- British pounds
- 英镑 (英鎊) yīng bàng
- Philippine peso
- 菲律賓比索 (菲律宾比索) Fēilǜbīn bǐsuǒ
Reading a Chinese Menu
Look for these characters to get an idea of what you're ordering. With help from The Eater's Guide to Chinese Characters (J. McCawley).
- 请给我看看菜单。 (請給我看看菜單。) qǐng gěi wǒ kànkan càidān.
- Do you have an English menu?
- 你有没有英文菜单？ (你有沒有英文菜單？) nǐ yŏu méi yǒu yīngwén càidān?
(Listen for... Yes, we have one. : 有(有) yǒu - No, we don't. : 没有 (沒有) méi yǒu)
- I'm a vegetarian
- 我吃素 (我吃素) wǒ chī sù / 我吃斋 (我吃齋) wǒ chī zhāi
- I only eat Halal food.
- 我只吃清真食品 (我隻吃清真食品) wǒ zhǐ chī qīngzhēn shípǐn
- 早饭 (早飯) zǎofàn / 早餐(早餐) zǎocān
- 午饭 (午飯) wǔfàn / 中饭 (中飯) zhōngfàn
- 晚饭 (晚飯) wǎnfàn / 晚餐 (晚餐) wǎncān
- 牛肉 (牛肉) niúròu
- 猪肉 (豬肉) zhūròu，or sometimes simply 肉 (肉) ròu.
- 羊肉 (羊肉) yángròu
- 鸡 (雞) jī
- 鸭 (鴨) yā
- 鱼 (魚) yú
- 奶酪 (奶酪) nǎilào
- 鸡蛋 (雞蛋) jīdàn
- 面包 (麵包) miànbāo
- 面条 (麵條) miàntiáo
- fried rice
- 炒饭 (炒飯) chǎofàn
- 饺子 (餃子) jiǎozi
- 米饭 (米飯) mĭfàn
- 咖啡 (咖啡) kāfēi
- black coffee: 黑咖啡 (黑咖啡) hēi kāfēi
- 奶 (奶) nǎi / 牛奶 (牛奶) niúnǎi (The former is more general, while the latter specifically refers to cow's milk.)
- 糖 (糖) táng
- tea (drink)
- 茶 (茶) chá
- green tea
- 绿茶 (綠茶) lǜ chá
- scented tea
- 花茶 (花茶) huāchá
- black tea
- 红茶 (紅茶) hóngchá
- 果汁 (果汁) guǒzhī
- 水 (水) shuĭ
- natural mineral water
- 矿泉水 (礦泉水) kuàngquán shuǐ
- 啤酒 (啤酒) píjiŭ
- red/white wine
- 红/白 葡萄酒 (紅/白 葡萄酒) hóng/bái pútáojiŭ
- It was delicious.
- 好吃极了。 (好吃極了。) hǎochī jí le
- The check, please.
- 买单 (買單) mǎidān / 请结帐。(請結帳。) qǐng jiézhàng
- Do you serve alcohol?
- 卖不卖酒？ (賣不賣酒？) mài búmài jiǔ?
- Is there table service?
- 有没有餐桌服务？ (有沒有餐桌服務？) yǒu méiyǒu cānzhuō fúwù?
- A beer/two beers, please.
- 请给我一杯/两杯啤酒。 (請給我一杯/兩杯啤酒。) qǐng gěiwǒ yìbēi/liǎngbēi píjiǔ
- A glass of red/white wine, please.
- 请给我一杯红/白葡萄酒。 (請給我一杯紅/白葡萄酒。) qǐng gěi wǒ yìbēi hóng/bái pútáojiǔ
- A pint, please.
- 请给我一品脱。(請給我一品脫。) qǐng gěi wǒ yìpǐntuō
- A bottle, please.
- 请给我一瓶。 (請給我一瓶。) qǐng gěi wǒ yìpíng
- _____ (hard liquor) and _____ (mixer), please.
- 请给我_____和_____。 (請給我_____和_____。) qǐng gěi wǒ _____ hé _____
- 威士忌 (威士忌) wēishìjì
- 伏特加 (伏特加 ) fútèjiā
- 兰姆酒 (蘭姆酒) lánmǔjiǔ
- 水 (水) shuǐ
- mineral spring (i.e. bottled) water
- 矿泉水 (礦泉水) kuàngquánshuǐ
- boiled water
- 开水 (開水) kāishuǐ
- club soda
- 苏打水 (蘇打水) sūdǎshuǐ
- tonic water
- 通宁水 (通寧水) tōngníngshuǐ
- orange juice
- 橙汁 (橙汁) chéngzhī
- Coke (soda
- 可乐 (可樂) kělè
- Do you have any bar snacks?
- 有没有吧台点心？ (有沒有吧臺點心？) yǒu méiyǒu bātái diǎnxīn?
- One more, please.
- 请再给我一个。 (請再給我一個。) qǐng zài gěi wǒ yígè'
- Another round, please.
- 请再来一轮。 (請再來一輪。) qǐng zàilái yìlún
- When is closing time?
- 几点打烊/关门？ (幾點打烊/關門？) jǐdiǎn dǎyáng/guānmén?
- Where is the toilet?
- 厕所在哪里？ (廁所在那裏？) cèsuǒ zài nǎli?
- Where is the washingroom?
- 洗手间在哪儿？ (洗手間在哪兒？) xǐshǒujiān zài nǎr?
Bargaining (还价 (還價) huán jià) is possible (and expected) in markets and many small shops. The first price you are given will usually be hugely inflated - it's up to you to haggle it down to something more acceptable. This will probably feel awkward if you aren't used to it, and you may worry about ending up cheating the seller. Don't worry - sellers won't take a price that's too low, and you will usually end up agreeing on a price that's considerably lower than the starting one but still allows the seller to make a profit. Try starting at around 20-30% of the original price; you can always work up from there. The exceptions to the rule are supermarkets, large department stores, bookshops and some of the higher end boutiques, most of which will have signs letting you know that haggling is unacceptable in these stores.
- Do you have this in my size?
- 有没有我的尺码？ (有沒有我的尺碼？) yǒu méiyǒu wǒde chǐmǎ?
- How much is this?
- 这个多少钱？ (這個多少錢？) zhège duōshǎo qián?
- That's too expensive.
- 太贵了。 (太貴了。) tài guì le
- Would you take _____?
- _____元可以吗？ (_____元可以嗎？) _____ yuán kěyǐ ma?
- 贵 (貴) guì
- 便宜 (便宜) piányi
- I can't afford it.
- 我带的钱不够。 (我帶的錢不夠。) wǒ dài de qián búgòu
- I don't want it.
- 我不要。 (我不要。) wǒ bú yào
- You're cheating me.
- 你欺骗我。 (你欺騙我。) nǐ qīpiàn wǒ Use with caution!
- I'm not interested.
- 我没有兴趣。 ( 我沒有興趣。) wǒ méiyǒu xìngqù
- OK, I'll take it.
- 我要买这个。 (我要買這個。) wǒ yào mǎi zhège
- Do you need a carrier-bag? / Yes / No
- 你要不要袋子？ nǐ yào bu yào dàizi? / 要 yào / 不要 bú yào
- Please provide me with a carrier-bag.
- 请给我个袋子。 (請給我個袋子。) qǐng gěi wǒ ge dàizi
- Do you ship (overseas)?
- 可以邮寄到海外吗？ (可以郵寄到海外嗎？) kěyǐ yóujì dào hǎiwài ma?
- I need...
- 我要_____ (我要_____) wǒ yào _____
- 牙膏 (牙膏) yágāo
- ...a toothbrush.
- 牙刷 (牙刷) yáshuā
- 卫生棉条 (衛生棉條) wèishēng miántiáo
- 肥皂 (肥皂) féizào
- 洗发精 (洗髮精) xǐfàjīng
- ...pain reliever. e.g., aspirin or ibuprofen
- 止疼药 (止疼藥) zhǐténg yào
- ...cold medicine.
- 感冒药 (感冒藥) gǎnmào yào
- ...stomach medicine.
- 胃肠药 (胃腸藥) wèicháng yào
- ...a razor.
- 剃须刀 (剃鬚刀) tìxūdāo
- ...an umbrella.
- 雨伞 (雨傘 ) yǔsǎn
- ...sunblock lotion.
- 防晒霜 (防晒霜) fángshàishuāng
- ...a postcard.
- 明信片 (明信片) míngxìnpiàn
- ...postage stamps.
- 邮票 (郵票) yóupiào
- 电池 (電池) diànchí
- ...writing paper.
- 纸 (紙) zhǐ
- ...a pen.
- 笔 (筆) bǐ
- ...a pencil.
- 铅笔 (鉛筆) qiānbǐ
- 眼镜 (眼鏡) yǎnjìng
- ...English-language books.
- 英文书 (英文書) Yīngwén shū
- ...English-language magazines.
- 英文杂志 (英文雜誌) Yīngwén zázhì
- ...an English-language newspaper.
- 英文报纸 (英文報紙) Yīngwén bàozhǐ
- ...a Chinese-English dictionary.
- 汉英词典 (漢英詞典) Hàn-Yīng cídiǎn
- ...an English-Chinese dictionary.
- 英汉词典 (英漢詞典) Yīng-Hàn cídiǎn
- I want to rent a car.
- 我想要租车。 (我想要租車。) wǒ xiǎngyào zūchē
- Can I get insurance?
- 我可以买保险吗？ (我可以買保險嗎？) wǒ kěyǐ mǎi bǎoxiǎn ma?
- stop (on a street sign)
- 停 (停) tíng
- one way
- 单行道 (單行道 ) dānxíngdào
- 让路 (讓路) rànglù
- no parking
- 禁止停车 (禁止停車) jìnzhǐ tíngchē
- speed limit
- 速度限制 (速度限制) sùdù xiànzhì
- gas (petrol) station
- 加油站 (加油站) jiāyóuzhàn
- 汽油 (汽油) qìyóu
- 柴油 (柴油) cháiyóu
- I haven't done anything wrong.
- 我没有做错事。 (我沒有做錯事。) wǒ méiyǒu zuòcuò shì
- It was a misunderstanding.
- 这是误会。 (這是誤會。) zhè shì wùhuì
- Where are you taking me?
- 你带我去哪里？ (你帶我去哪里？) nǐ dài wǒ qù nǎlǐ?
- Am I under arrest?
- 我被捕了吗？ (我被捕了嗎？) wǒ bèibǔle ma?
- I am an American/Australian/British/Canadian citizen.
- 我是 美国/澳洲/英国/加拿大 公民。 (我是 美國/澳洲/英國/加拿大 公民。) wǒ shì měiguó/àozhōu/yīngguó/jiānádà gōngmín
- I want to talk to the American/Australian/British/Canadian embassy/consulate.
- 我希望跟 美国/澳洲/英国/加拿大 的 大使馆/领事馆 联系。 (我希望跟 美國/澳洲/英國/加拿大 的 大使館/領事館 聯繫。) wǒ xīwàng gēn měiguó/àozhōu/yīngguó/jiānádà de dàshǐguǎn/lǐngshìguǎn liánxì
- I want to talk to a lawyer.
- 我希望跟律师联系。 (我希望跟律師聯繫。) wǒ xīwàng gēn lǜshī liánxì
- Can I just pay a fine now?
- 我可以支付罚款吗？ (我可以支付罰款嗎？) wǒ kěyǐ zhī fù fákuǎn ma?
Telephone and the Internet
Telephone & Internet
Most cafes are cheaper than in hotels. Many mid-range hotels and chains now offer free wireless or plug-in internet. Those cafes are quite hidden sometimes and you should look for the following Chinese characters:
- Can I make international calls here?
- 可以打国际电话吗? (可以打國際電話嗎?) kěyǐ dǎ guójì diànhuà ma?
- How much is it to America/Australia/Britain/Canada?
- 打到 美国/澳洲/英国/加拿大 是多少钱? (打到 美國/澳洲/英國/加拿大 是多少錢?) dǎdào měiguó/àozhōu/yīngguó/jiānádà shì duōshǎo qián?
- Where can I find an Internet cafe?
- 哪里有网吧? (哪裏有網吧?) nǎlǐ yǒu wǎng bā?
- How much is it per hour?
- 一小时是多少钱? (一小時是多少錢?) yī xiǎoshí shì duōshǎo qián?
Chinese language learning is flourishing as foreigners recognize the importance of gaining the ability to effectively communicate with a population of 1.3+ billion people. Due to the rapid rise of the Chinese teaching industry however, finding consistent quality instruction can be difficult. Many Chinese language schools and institutes have opened up over the past decade both abroad as well as within China, though before enrolling it is definitely recommended to thoroughly research and speak with current or former students to ensure that effective education is being provided.
For independent learners, it is imperative that one first master tones and the pinyin system before beginning to build vocabulary. The Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (HSK) or Chinese Proficiency Test is China's standardized test for Chinese language proficiency (equivalent to the English TOEFL or IELTS). The HSK provides detailed guides for essential vocabulary and grammatical concepts in increasing level of fluency up to Level VI, which represents full written and oral abilities in the language. A good idea for practicing is to make Chinese friends online since millions of young people in China also look for somebody to practice English with.
- Chinese (Wikibooks.org): Free lessons providing detailed grammar explanations, audio samples and stroke order animations.
- Day Day Up Chinese: Online textbook with dialogues, example sentences, grammar, vocabulary and cultural notes, and some practice exercises
- Digital Dialects Chinese: Interactive games for learning Chinese in both Pinyin and simplified characters.
- ZhongWen Red: Free basic online Mandarin tutorials with audio.
- Chinese Flashcards: Annotated Texts, Flashcards, Multiple choice tests
- Mandarin Toplist: List of the major Mandarin instructional websites with short reviews
- a keyboard for typing Chinese characters for Firefox
- Mandarin phrasebook app for travelers
- Dear Dim Sum, daily small bites Chinese lessons