Asia & Pacific - 12 min read

35 Mandarin Chinese Words and Phrases to Learn Before Traveling to China

Jessica Langille

Jessica Langille, Updated September 27, 2022

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Are you planning a trip to China? Knowing certain Mandarin words and phrases can be useful when you’re in an unexpected situation. While you may not have time to learn the entire language, there are some key phrases you should know before your trip.

Every traveler should know “ni hao”, which is Mandarin for “hi” or “hello”. Knowing the phrase “Wo ting bu dong” is important to know as well. It means “I don’t understand”. This phrase can help you out if you’re in an unexpected situation. It’s also essential to know “shi” for “yes” and “Bu shi” for “no”.

It’s important to know some basics of Mandarin before your trip to China. Even if your pronunciation is off, people will still understand what you’re trying to say. Knowing some important phrases will make it easier to have an enjoyable trip. 

Are you wondering what Mandarin words and phrases are essential for travelers to learn? You’ve come to the right page. Let’s take a look at some of the words and phrases you should know before traveling to China.

10 Common Phrases In Mandarin 

1. Hello

Ni hao is Mandarin for Hello. This is one of the first Mandarin words foreigners learn. It is pronounced nee haow, but when you say it quickly it will sound like you’re saying knee how. 

The actual translation of ni hao to English is “you good?”. However, it’s used as a friendly greeting in China. It is the phrase tourists typically say and hear most often throughout the day when they’re traveling.

It’s common to be greeted with a “ni hao” wherever you go. One of the great things about this phrase is that no matter what your Manadarin skill level is, people will always understand what you’re saying.

2: Thank You

Xie xie is Mandarin for Thank you. This is pronounced similar to shy shy. Since it’s easy for foreigners to mispronounce xie xie, how it’s said can have a big impact. Make sure you always have a relaxed tone and smile when using this phrase. 

This phrase will be very helpful to show people in China that you are appreciative of their help and patience. Even if your Mandarin skills are too low to maintain a conversation, it will still give locals a good impression of you.

Make sure you say xie xie whenever a person in the service industry assists you or a local gives you directions. 

3: Yes 

Shi is Mandarin for the word Yes. The word “shi” is pronounced like the English word “she”. When you’re limited in knowledge of the Mandarin language, it can be very helpful to at least know the words for yes and no. 

It’s likely you’ll end up in a situation where the language barrier makes it difficult to get what you want. When you’re in a store or restaurant, knowing the phrase “shi” is helpful when the employee points out what you want.

If you’re unsure of your pronunciation, make sure you nod as you say “shi”. This will ensure that you’re on the same page as the person you are speaking with.

4: No

Bu shi is Mandarin for No. This phrase is pronounced as though you were saying boe she. As a tourist, you may find yourself using the phrase “bu shi” more often than you would expect.

One thing that many tourists experience in China is sellers and beggars approaching them with offers. By sternly saying bu shi, it will show them that you’re not interested in what they are selling. 

This phrase is also useful when there is a miscommunication. If you’re trying to order a menu item and the server points to a picture of something you don’t want, you can say “bu shi”.

5: I Don’t Understand

Wo ting bu dong is Mandarin for I don’t understand. This is an essential phrase that every traveler should know before visiting China. It will be very useful for you in a number of different situations. 

There may be times when you will be communicating with someone who is a native Mandarin speaker. They could be speaking too quickly or using language that’s too complicated for you to understand. 

Using the phrase “wo ting bu dong” will let them know that you’re knowledge of Mandarin isn’t that advanced. There are several situations where this phrase comes in handy for tourists.

6: Do You Speak English?

Ni hui shuo yingyu ma is how you would say “do you speak English?” in Mandarin. There isn’t an English-speaking district in China and it’s not a national language in the country. That’s why every traveler needs to know some basic words in Mandarin before visiting. 

Luckily, there are many people in China that know some of the English language. You can always ask a person “ni hui shuo yingyu ma” early on within meeting them. This could help you find an easier way to communicate with people you meet.

7: My Name Is

Wo jiao is Mandarin for My name is. This is a great Mandarin phrase to learn if you want to meet new people on your trip. It can also be helpful to be able to say this phrase when you have reservations.

This phrase is pronounced wo jee-ow. Once you say it, you would immediately follow with your name. For example, when you get to the hotel, you can say: “Ni hao. Wo jiao (your first and last name)”  

When wo jiao is translated to English, it means “I am called”. You will be able to introduce yourself using this Mandarin phrase.

8: Goodbye

Zai jian is Mandarin for Goodbye. Before leaving any location, you should always be polite and say “zai jian”. This phrase is pronounced “zy gee ann”. When you say this phrase, people will know that you’re leaving.

There are other phrases similar to goodbye that are worth learning. Wan an is Mandarin for Goodnight. If you want to get more advanced, you can say see you later. The Mandarin phrase is dai hui er jian. 

While this phrase isn’t essential for your trip to China, it’s good to know. After all, you don’t want to leave without saying anything. 

9: How Are You?

Ni hao ma is Mandarin for How are you. This is a good phrase to learn if you want to be more social with the people you meet while traveling. Once you become familiar with the standard greeting of ni hao, this phrase isn’t much of a stretch. 

If you want to be a polite tourist, this is a good phrase to learn. The most common response you will get to the phrase “ni hao ma” is “hen hao”. This means “I’m fine”. It’s usually accompanied with “xie xie” for “thank you”.

A good thing about this phrase is that since it’s so similar to ni hao, people will understand what you’re saying. 

10: Restaurant

Can ting is Mandarin for Restaurant. This is a very important word to learn before you travel to China. You will need to eat, and there are many great places to find authentic Chinese meals.

Having the word can ting in your vocabulary will make it easier for you to find a place to eat. It can also help you get pointed in the right direction when you get hungry. 

Luckily, can ting is a very easy phrase to pronounce. It sounds exactly how it’s spelled. This is a word that even beginners can easily remember. 

Numbers In Mandarin Chinese

One

Yi is Mandarin for the number 1. This number is pronounced “yee”. As a native English speaker, you may not be able to read Chinese characters. However, the numbers 1 to 3 are easy to read. You can read the number one because it has one dash, like -. 

Two

Er is Mandarin for the number 2. However, you should be aware that there are two ways to say the number 2 in Mandarin.

Er is used when the number is used in phone numbers or in a position. This can be recognized by two dashes. Liang is Mandarin for the number 2 when referring to the quantity of something.

Three

San is Mandarin for the number 3. This number can be recognized by three dashes. Three is considered a lucky number in China. 

Four

Si is Mandarin for the number 4. While this number may not have any significance in your life, it is very important in Chinese culture. Four is considered an unlucky number in China. People won’t book a room on the 4th floor or choose the number when betting.

Five

Wu in Mandarin for the number 5. This number is very easy to pronounce. It’s pronounced exactly as it’s spelled. However, you should put more emphasis on the “u”. Pronounce it such as w-ooooh.

Six

Liu is Mandarin for the number 6. This number is pronounced like “lee-oh”. 

Seven

Qi is Mandarin for the number 7. This number is pronounced like “ch-eee”.   

Eight

Ba is Mandarin for the number 8. This number is pronounced exactly how it’s spelled.

Nine

Jiu is Mandarin for the number 9. This number is pronounced “jee-oh”.

Ten (and above)

Shi is Mandarin for the number 10. This number is pronounced as “sheee” with more emphasis put on the “i” than the “sh”. 

When it comes to numbers between 11 and 19, shi is also used. Shi will be placed in front of the number in the sequence. For example, 11 is shi yi. 

For numbers in the 20s, 30s, and above shi is still used. Use the number that you need to multiply by 10 to get the number you want to say. If you want to say 20, place er in front of shi for er shi. 21 would be er shi yi, and it would continue in this sequence.

5 Travel Phrases In Mandarin Chinese

1: Taxi or Please Call A Taxi

Chuzu che is Mandarin for Taxi. This is an essential word to know for arranging transportation. The phrase “dianhua chuze che” means “phone taxi”. This is something you can request at the hotel and other locations.

If you’re feeling confident in your Mandarin pronunciation, you can try a more formal approach. The phrase “qing jiao chuzu che” means “please call a taxi”. 

We recommend practicing this phrase before you visit. It will make your travels a lot easier when you go to different stores, restaurants, bars, and other attractions in the area. You can ask nearly anyone in the area and they will know what you mean.

2: Where Is…

Zai nali is Mandarin for Where is. This is a phrase that will be very helpful to know when you are trying to find a specific location. You can use this phrase before the name of the location you’re looking for.

When you’re in a foreign area, it’s easy to get lost. That’s why it’s important to know of a way that you can ask for help. Zai nali can be used for anything from having someone point the direction of the nearest restroom to finding a specific store or restaurant.

3: I Would Like…

Wo yao is Mandarin for the phrase I would like. This is an important phrase to know before visiting a restaurant or shop. You should always know this phrase to get what you want.

It is easy to pronounce. Wo is pronounced like “woh” and yao is pronounced “yow”. The phrase “wo yao zhe ge” means “I want this”. Knowing this phrase allows you to point to pictures or specific items while at a restaurant or shop.

4: How Much?

Duo shao is Mandarin for the phrase How much. This is an important phrase to know before visiting a market in China. A lot of items in the market won’t have price tags on them. You will need to ask the seller “duo shao” to find out how much an item is.

One thing to be prepared for is higher prices. Many sellers up the prices when tourists ask. If this happens to you, use the phrase “tai gui le”. This means “too expensive”. They may offer you a better price after that.

5: I Need Help

Wo xuyao bangzhu is Mandarin for I need help. This is pronounced, “woh she-ow baw-ng shoo”. Hopefully, you won’t have to use this phrase while traveling. However, it’s a good phrase to know in case you’re in a situation where you’re lost or need help. 

Bangzhu is the Mandarin word for help. If the phrase is too much for you to memorize before your trip to China, you should at least learn this word in case of an emergency. 

Words For Money In Mandarin

Yuan

Yuan is what a dollar is called in Mandarin. It is the unit of currency that people use in China to pay for goods and services. When asking how much an item is, you will be told an amount in yuan.

Renminbi

Renminbi is the Chinese currency. If you want to get money before traveling, you will need to ask the bank to convert your current currency to renminbi. 

Jiao

Jiao is similar to what North Americans call cents. One yuan can be split into 10 jiao. When shopping in China, you will manage both yuan and jiao.

Fen

Fen is a currency that is a dividend of jiao. Every jiao can be divided into 10 fens. This can get confusing for most international visitors. Luckily, most transactions are only yuan and jiao. Fen isn’t as common as the other two currencies. 

Kuai

Kuai is a slang word for money in Mandarin. This word is often used to describe one unit of currency, such as one yuan coin or a banknote. 

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