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Chinese phrasebook

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Chinese script in Chinatown, Singapore

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." It has been the main language of education in the People's Republic of China (excluding Hong Kong and Macau) since the 1950s.

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.

Understand[edit]

Map of Chinese Languages

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 approximately 8,300 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. 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.

Pronunciation guide[edit]

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
ü 
as in French lune or German grün

Vowel combinations[edit]

These are the most important vowel combinations in Chinese:

ai 
as in pie
ao
as in pouch
ei 
as in pay
ia
as in ya
ia in ian (but not iang)
as in 'yes
iao
as in meow
ie
as in yes
iong
as in Pyongyang
iu
as in yodel
ou
as in mow
ua
as in want
uo
as in war

Consonants[edit]

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.

Unaspirated Aspirated
b
as in spot
p
as in pit
d
as in stop
t
as in tongue
g
as in skin
k
as in king
j
as in itchy
q
as in cheap
zh
as in jungle
ch
as in chore
z
as in pizza
c
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
sh 
as in shoot
as in fair
as in sag
ng 
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).

Exceptions[edit]

There are a fairly large number of niggling exceptions to the basic rules above, based on the position of the sound:

wu- 
as u-, so 五百 (五百) wubai is pronounced "ubai"
yi- 
as i-, so 一个 (一個) yige is pronounced "ige"
yu- 
as ü-, so 豫园 (豫園) Yuyuan is pronounced "ü-üan"

Tones[edit]

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 — is to 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, this is much more subtle than in English. 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 ) 
middle to low to high, dipping pitch: 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.
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.

Phrase list[edit]

All phrases show both the simplified characters (used in mainland China and Singapore) and the traditional characters (used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau) in the following format:

English phrase 
Simplified characters (Traditional characters) Hanyu Pinyin

Basics[edit]

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:

To be or not to be
是(是) shì, 不是(不是) bú shì
To have or not have / there is or is not
有(有) yǒu, 没有(没有) méi yǒu
To be right or wrong
对(對) duì, 不对(不對) bú duì
Hello. 
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.
Please. 
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.
Goodbye 
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 ____ ?

Problems[edit]

Asking a question in Chinese

There are many ways to ask a question in Chinese. Here are two easy ones for travelers...

Verb/Adj. + 不 (不) + Verb/Adj. 
Example - 好不好? (好不好?)hăo bù hăo? - Is that okay? / Are you all right? (literally - good not good?)

Exception - 有没有? (有沒有?) yŏu méi yŏu? - Do you have? (literally - have not have?)

Sentence + 吗 (嗎) ma 
Example - 你是中国人吗? (你是中國人嗎?) nĭ shì zhōngguóren ma? - Are you Chinese? (literally - you are Chinese + ma)
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
Police! 
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[edit]

Doctor
医生 (醫生) yīshēng
Nurse
护士 (護士) hùshi
Hospital
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
Painful
疼/痛 (疼/痛) téng/tòng
Sick/Uncomfortable
不舒服 (不舒服) bù shūfú
Itchy/ticklish
痒(痒) yǎng
Sore (In muscle strains)
酸(酸) suān
Fever
发热 (發熱) fārè / 发烧 (發燒) fāshāo
Cough
咳嗽 (咳嗽) késòu
Sneeze
打喷嚏 (打噴嚏) dǎ pēntì
Diarrhoea
拉肚子 (拉肚子) lā dùzi / 泻肚子 (瀉肚子) xiè dùzi
Vomiting
呕吐 (嘔吐) ŏu tù
Running nose
流鼻涕 (流鼻涕) liú bítì
Phlegm
痰 (痰) tán
Cut/wound
割伤 (割傷) gēshāng / 伤口 (傷口) shāngkǒu
Burn
烧伤 (燒傷) shāoshāng
Hands
手 (手) shǒu
Arms
手臂 (手臂) shǒubì / 手臂 (手臂) gēbo
Fingers
手指 (手指) shǒuzhǐ
Wrist
手腕 (手腕) shǒuwàn
Shoulder
肩膀 (肩膀) jiānbǎng
Feet
脚 (腳) jiǎo
Toes
脚趾 (腳趾) jiáozhǐ
Legs
腿 (腿) tuǐ
Nails
指甲 (指甲) zhǐjia
Body
身体 (身體) shēntǐ
Eyes
眼睛 (眼睛) yǎnjīng
Ears
耳朵 (耳朵) ěrduo
Nose
鼻子 (鼻子) bízi
Face
脸 (臉) liǎn
Hair
头发 (頭發) tóufà
Head
头 (頭) tóu
Neck
脖子 (脖子) bózi / 颈项 (頸項) jǐngxiàng
Throat
喉咙 (喉嚨) hóulóng
Chest
胸 (胸) xiōng
Abdomen
肚子 (肚子) dùzi / 腹 (腹)
Hip/Waist
腰 (腰) yāo
Buttocks
屁股 (屁股) pìgu
Back
背 (背) bèi
Medical Insurance
医疗保险 (醫療保險) yīliáo băoxiăn
Doctor's fees
医生费 (醫生費) yīshēng fèi
Prescription
处方 (處方) chǔfāng / 药方 (藥方) yàofāng
Medicine
药 (藥) yào
Pharmacy
药店 (藥店) yàodiàn

Numbers[edit]

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.

0
〇 (〇) / 零 (零) líng
1
一 (一) / 壹 (壹)
2
二 (二) / 贰 (貳) èr (两(兩) liǎng is used when specifying quantities)
3
三 (三) / 叁 (參) sān
4
四 (四) / 肆 (肆)
5
五 (五) / 伍 (伍)
6
六 (六) / 陆 (陸) liù
7
七 (七) / 柒 (柒)
8
八 (八) / 捌 (捌)
9
九 (九) / 玖 (玖) jiǔ
10
十 (十) / 拾 (拾) shí
11
十一 (十一) shí-yī
12
十二 (十二) shí-èr
13
十三 (十三) shí-sān
14
十四 (十四) shí-sì
15
十五 (十五) shí-wǔ
16
十六 (十六) shí-liù
17
十七 (十七) shí-qī
18
十八 (十八) shí-bā
19
十九 (十九) shí-jiǔ
20
二十 (二十) èr-shí
21
二十一 (二十一) èr-shí-yī
22
二十二 (二十二) èr-shí-èr
23
二十三 (二十三) èr-shí-sān
30
三十 (三十) sān-shí
40
四十 (四十) sì-shí
50
五十 五十) wǔ-shí
60
六十 (六十) liù-shí
70
七十 (七十) qī-shí
80
八十 (八十) bā-shí
90
九十 (九十) jiǔ-shí

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.

100
一百 (一百) yī-bǎi
101
一百零一 (一百零一) yī-bǎi-líng-yī
110
一百一十 (一百一十) yī-bǎi-yī-shí
111
一百一十一 (一百一十一) yī-bǎi-yī-shí-yī
200
二百 (二百) èr-bǎi / 两百 (兩百) liǎng-bǎi
300
三百 (三百) sān-bǎi
500
五百 (五百) wǔ-bǎi
1000
一千 (一千 yī-qiān
2000
二千 (二千) èr-qiān / 两千 (兩千) liǎng-qiān

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).

10,000
一万 (一萬) yī-wàn
10,001
一万零一(一萬零一) yī-wàn-líng-yī
10,002
一万零二 (一萬零二) yī-wàn-líng-èr
20,000
二万 (二萬) èr-wàn
50,000
五万 (五萬) wǔ-wàn
100,000
十万 (十萬) shí-wàn
200,000
二十万 (二十萬) èr-shí-wàn
1,000,000
一百万 (一百萬) yī-bǎi-wàn
10,000,000
一千万 (一千萬) yī-qiān-wàn
100,000,000
一亿 (一億) yī-yì
1,000,000,000,000
一万亿 (一萬億) yī-wàn-yì / 一兆 (一兆) yī-zhào
number _____ (train, bus, etc.
number measure word (路(路) , 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 mass nouns, similar to how English requires "two pieces of paper" rather than just "two paper". 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 most common measure word. (One person: 一个人 (一個人) yīgè rén; two apples: 两个苹果 (兩個蘋果) liǎnggè píngguǒ; note that two of something always uses 两 (兩) liǎng rather than 二 (二) èr).

half 
半 (半) bàn
less than 
少于 (少於) shǎoyú
more than 
多于 (多於) duōyú
more 
更 (更) gèng

Time[edit]

now 
现在 (現在) xiànzài
later 
以后 (以後) yǐhòu / 稍后(稍後) shāohòu
before 
以前 (以前) yǐqián
morning 
早上 (早上) zǎoshang / 上午 (上午) shàngwǔ
noon
中午 (中午) zhōngwǔ
afternoon 
下午 (下午) xiàwǔ
evening 
傍晚 (傍晚) bàngwǎn
night 
晚上 (晚上) wǎnshang
midnight
半夜 (半夜) bànyè / 午夜 (午夜) wǔyè

Clock time[edit]

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.

Duration[edit]

_____ minute(s) 
_____ 分钟 (分鐘) fēnzhōng
_____ hour(s) 
_____ 小时 (小時) xiǎoshí
_____ day(s) 
_____ 天(天) tiān / _____ 日 (日)
_____ week(s) 
_____ 星期 (星期) xīngqī
_____ month(s) 
_____ 月 (月) yùe
_____ year(s) 
_____ 年 (年) nián

Days[edit]

today 
今天 (今天) jīntiān
yesterday 
昨天 (昨天) zuótiān
the day before yesterday
前天 (前天) qiántiān
tomorrow 
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).

Sunday 
星期天 (星期天 ) xīngqītiān / 星期日 (星期日) xīngqīrì
Monday 
星期一 (星期一) xīngqīyī
Tuesday 
星期二 (星期二) xīngqīèr
Wednesday 
星期三 (星期三) xīngqīsān
Thursday 
星期四 (星期四) xīngqīsì
Friday 
星期五 (星期五) xīngqīwǔ
Saturday 
星期六 (星期六) xīngqīliù

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[edit]

Months in Chinese are also easy: starting with 1 for January, just add the number before 月 (月) yuè.

January 
一月 (一月) yī yuè
February 
二月 (二月) èr yuè
March 
三月 (三月) sān yuè
April 
四月 (四月) sì yuè
May 
五月 (五月) wŭ yuè
June 
六月 (六月) liù yuè
July 
七月 (七月) qī yuè
August 
八月 (八月) bā yuè
September 
九月 (九月) jiŭ yuè
October 
十月 (十月) shí yuè
November 
十一月 (十一月) shí yī yuè
December 
十二月 (十二月) shí èr yuè

Writing Dates[edit]

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) / 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.

15th day of the 8th lunar month (the mid-autumn festival)
(农历)八月十五 ((農歷)八月十五) (nónglì) bāyuè shí-wǔ.
1st day of the 1st lunar month
(农历)正月初一 ((農歷)正月初一) (nónglì) zhèngyuè chūyī.
23rd day of the 9th lunar month
(农历)九月廿三 ((農歷)九月廿三) (nónglì) jiŭ yuè niànsān.

When writing the date, you name the month (number (1-12) + 月 (月) yuè), before inserting the day (number (1-31) + 日(日) / 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) , 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

Colours[edit]

black 
黑色 (黑色) hēi sè
white 
白色 (白色) bái sè
grey 
灰色 (灰色) huī sè
red 
红色 (紅色) hóng sè
blue 
蓝色 (藍色) lán sè
yellow 
黄色 (黄色) huáng sè
green 
绿色 (綠色) lǜ sè / 青色 (青色) qīng sè
orange 
橙色 (橙色) chéng sè
purple 
紫色 (紫色) zǐ sè
brown 
褐色 (褐色) he sè / 棕色 (棕色) zōng sè
gold 
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 ?

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

Transportation[edit]

Bus and Train[edit]

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 bù qù... (huǒ chē zhàn)

Directions[edit]

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?
street 
街 (街) jiē
road 
(路) 路
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
U-turn
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)
left 
左边 (左邊) zuǒbiān
right 
右边 (右邊) yòubiān
straight ahead 
往前走 (往前走) wǎngqián zǒu
north 
北 (北) bĕi
south 
南 (南) nán
east 
东 (東) dōng
west 
西 (西)

Taxi[edit]

Taxi 
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 _____。

Lodging[edit]

Common signs


入口 (入口) 
Entrance [rùkǒu]
出口 (出口) 
Exit [chūkǒu]
推 (推) 
Push [tuī]
拉 (拉) 
Pull []
厕所 (廁所) / 洗手间 (洗手間) 
Toilet [cèsuǒ] / [xǐshǒujiān]
男 (男) 
Men [nán]
女 (女) 
Women []
禁止 (禁止) 
Forbidden [jìnzhǐ]
吸烟 (吸煙) 
Smoking [xīyān]
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…
...bedsheets? 
...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.

Money[edit]

pay
付 (付)
cash
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
check
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 Renminbi
人民币 (人民幣) rén mín bì or (less formal and easier!) 元 (元) yuán
US dollars
美元 (美元) mĕi yuán / 美金 (美金) mĕi jīn
Euros
欧元 (歐元) ōu yuán
British pounds
英镑 (英鎊) yīng bàng

Eating[edit]

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).

dīng
丁 (丁) (cubed/diced)
piàn
片 (片) (thinly sliced)
丝 (絲) (shredded)
kuài
块 (塊) (chunk/cut into bite-sized pieces)
qiú
球 (球) (curled)
chăo
炒 (炒) (stir-fried)
zhá
炸 (炸) (deep-fried)
kăo
烤 (烤) (dry-roasted)
shāo
烧 (燒) (roasted w/ sauce)
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 (我吃斋) 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
breakfast 
早饭 (早飯) zǎofàn / 早餐(早餐) zǎocān
lunch 
午饭 (午飯) wǔfàn / 中饭 (中飯) zhōngfàn
supper 
晚饭 (晚飯) wǎnfàn / 晚餐 (晚餐) wǎncān
beef 
牛肉 (牛肉) niúròu
pork 
猪肉 (豬肉) zhūròu,or sometimes simply 肉 (肉) ròu.
mutton 
羊肉 (羊肉) yángròu
chicken 
鸡 (雞)
fish
鱼 (魚)
cheese 
奶酪 (奶酪) nǎilào
eggs 
鸡蛋 (雞蛋) jīdàn
bread 
面包 (麵包) miànbāo
noodles 
面条 (麵條) miàntiáo
fried rice
炒饭 (炒飯) chǎofàn
dumpling
饺子 (餃子) jiǎozi
rice 
米饭 (米飯) mĭfàn
coffee 
咖啡 (咖啡) kāfēi
black coffee: 黑咖啡 (黑咖啡) hēi kāfēi
milk
牛奶 (牛奶) niúnǎi
sugar
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
juice 
果汁 (果汁) guǒzhī
water 
水 (水) shuĭ
natural mineral water
矿泉水 (礦泉水) kuàngquán shuǐ
beer 
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

Bars[edit]

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 _____
whiskey 
威士忌 ( 威士卡) wēishìjì
vodka 
伏特加 (伏特加 ) fútèjiā
rum 
兰姆酒 (蘭姆酒) lánmǔjiǔ
water 
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?

Shopping[edit]

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?
expensive 
贵 (貴) guì
cheap 
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 bù 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
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 _____
...toothpaste. 
牙膏 (牙膏) yágāo
...a toothbrush. 
牙刷 (牙刷) yáshuā
...tampons. 
卫生棉条 (衛生棉條) wèishēng miántiáo
...soap. 
肥皂 (肥皂) féizào
...shampoo. 
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
...batteries. 
电池 (電池) diànchí
...writing paper. 
纸 (紙) zhǐ
...a pen. 
笔 (筆)
...a pencil. 
铅笔 (鉛筆) qiānbǐ
...glasses. 
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

Driving[edit]

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
yield 
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
petrol 
汽油 (汽油) qìyóu
diesel 
柴油 (柴油) cháiyóu

Authority[edit]

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[edit]

Telephone & Internet


In most Chinese cities, there are no telephone booths. Instead, small street shops have telephones which can usually be used for national calls. Look for signs like this:

公用电话 (公用電話) Public Telephone

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:

网吧 (網吧) / 网咖 (網咖) Internet Cafe
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? (那裏有網吧?) 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?

Learning more[edit]

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.


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