10 Essential Phrases for Tourists in China

alicezhang 2016-05-04 4498


Tourists in China usually speak Chinese for three things: being cordial, buying something, and asking directions. So here are 10 essential expressions that will allow you do these essential things.

Casual Greetings and Polite Words



1) How are you? Nǐ hǎo ma? 你好吗?

"Nǐ hǎo ma?" literally means "You good?" (nǐ = you, hǎo = good, ma = ?). Similar to "How are you?", it can mean "Are you ok?"

"Nǐhǎo" is said frequently. It might mean "Nǐ hǎo ma?", but it typically means something like ‘It’s you — good." or "Nice to see you." It’s the most basic and standard Chinese greeting.

The Good, the Bad, and the "Good or Bad?"

2) Good or bad? Hǎo bù hǎo?  好不好?

Hǎo means ‘good’. Hǎo also means "ok".

Bù hǎo means ‘not good’. ("Bù" means ‘no’ or ‘not’.) Chinese speakers use "hǎo" and "bù hǎo " to say something is good or bad, and to signal agreement or disagreement.

Combining "hǎo" and "bù hǎo" gives "Hǎo bù hǎo?", which is a question. It means ‘Good or not good?’ or ‘Is it ok?’ After this or "Nǐ hǎo ma?" you can reply "hǎo" or "bù hǎo".


3) Thank you. Xièxie.  谢谢!

This is the basic and simple way to say thank you.


4) I'm sorry. Duìbuqǐ.  对不起。

This phrase can be used both to apologize and to ask for repetition. It literally means "I didn't begin correctly." or "You're right, that isn't upright."

 "Duì" means ‘correct’. It is often repeated two or three times to indicate agreement (Duì duì duì).

Buying Something


Here are some basic shopping words and phrases. When you first walk into a store or meet someone selling something, you can establish what you want to buy is there and ask how much it costs.

Asking What Something Is

Here is a good way to both indicate your interest in an item and to learn a lot of new words.

5) What is this? Zhè shì shénme? 这是什么?

The three important words are: Zhè (this), shì (is), and shénme (what). Combined with pointing, "Zhè shì shénme?" can be used to find out what things are called.

Shì (all forms of the verb "to be") is also used to mean "yes", like "duì" and "hǎo", and can also be combined with bù for "it’s not" (bùshì).

Asking for an item

6) Do you have …? Yǒu méiyǒu …?   有没有 …?

 Yǒu means ‘have’, and méiyǒu means "to not have". The word méi means lack. So the phrase "yǒu méiyǒu …" literally means "have or not have …?"

How much?

7) How much money? Duōshao qián? 多少钱?

The phrase "duōshao?" is composed of the words duō (much) and shǎo (few), and means "how much?" or "how many?" Qián means ‘money’.

Travel — Going Somewhere


Getting directions

8) Where is ...?  ... zài nǎlǐ? …在哪里?

The three words are: zài (on or in), nǎ (where or which), and lǐ (inside or very roughly the word "place"). Put the name of the place or object you want to find before zài nǎlǐ.

Telling Someone You Want to Go Somewhere

9) I want to go to ... Wǒ xiǎng qù...  我想去 …

The three words are: wǒ (I), xiǎng (want), and qù (to go). Then add the name of the place. This is useful for buying train tickets, taking a taxi, etc.


10) Rest-room wèishēng jiān 卫生间

As in English, there are several words and phrases used to mean bathroom. The most common word for public toilets, or a room with a toilet in, is "wèishēng jiān"  

Say "I want to go to the bathroom." (Wǒ xiǎng qù wèishēng jiān.), and the meaning would be readily understood. You could also ask "Wèishēng jiān zài nǎlǐ?"

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