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Chinese Culture >> Chinese Society Traditions >> Learn Mandarin Phrases

Learn Mandarin Phrases

By: Anna Yeun

Aloha, Ciao - when you visit China, you should start with 'ni hao' (how are you). Whenever traveling a place, it is always good to learn a couple of local phrases. Not only to add extra fun, but to communicate better with local people and get to know what they are talking about.

2008 Beijing Olympics is going to attract thousands of visitors to China. Are you visiting China soon? Let's have an orientation on the Chinese language - Mandarin.

Before we get to learn Mandarin phrases to travel China, let me introduce some basics of the Chinese language.

1. One Word One Syllable

2. Pinyin (Phonetic) System

The Government of The People's Republic of China has standardized Mandarin pronunciations and adopted the Pinyin system in 1979. Speak Mandarin and learn Mandarin is made easy for Chinese as well as foreigners.

Each word has a beginning and ending sound. Combine them together and form one syllable. Some words have only an ending sound. Each combination has four tones. Different tone has different meaning. You have to be very carefully with tones or it could mean something else and could be embarrassing.

In this article, I am going to introduce 10 easy-to-learn phrases for everyday use. Please practice them before landing in China.

Don't worry about the pronunciation for now, at the end of this article, I'll show you a fast track to learn speaking.


ni(2) hao(3) - regards
This is the non-question version of 'how are you'. You won't expect an answer as you are just sending regards. You can say this whenever seeing someone.

ni(2) hao(3) ma - how are you?
You would expect someone say 'I am fine, thank you' in return.

hen(2) hao(3) - I'm fine

lao(20 jia(4) - excuse me / please / thank you
Usually use to start a conversation, especially when you want to get someone's help.
It can also mean 'thank you' when you receive a little favor.

zao(3) shang(4) hao(3) - good morning

xie(4) xie - thank you
When you buy something, the salesman will say xič xie to you. You can also say this when receiving a gift.

shi(1) fu - a respectful way to call a driver
Shi fu is someone good at something. Beijing people call drivers Shi fu which is some kind of a compliment meaning he is good at driving. Tourists deal with drivers quite a lot, so it is good to know why drivers are called shi fu.


mai(2) dan(1) - give me my bill please
This is a funny Cantonese phrase originated from Hong Kong. It is now widely understood in restaurants in Beijing and other major China cities. You'll hear this very often in restaurants, especially Hong Kong.


duo(1) shao(3) qian(2) - how much?

da(3) zhe(2) ma - do you offer discount?

pian(2) yí(2) dian - cheaper please

Learn the pronunciation of these phrases is easy. I am going to give you some quick tips here.

The four difference tones are indicated like this:

1 macron
2 acute accent
3 caron
4 grave accent
Nothing - light tone

The Chinese University of Hong Kong has a website which helps us to learn Mandarin online. As all instructions are written in Chinese, please click on to this learn Mandarin page first. It will give you short and precise English instructions and follow the link to the CUHK website to listen to the pronunciation.

About the Author

Anna is a native Hong Kong Chinese. Her website is all about China's most popular tourist cities: Beijing, Xian, Guilin and Hong Kong.