Life in China can be overwhelming without knowing any Mandarin. However, it’s an obstacle that is easy and exciting to overcome.
Learning Mandarin requires patience and practice, but in the end it’s worth it- if only to avoid the headaches and frustration that result from completing tasks that should be simple.
We’ve compiled a list of the words you need to hit the ground running, or at the very least get to where you need to go.
“My name is…” This is a great first step to making a Chinese friend.
Zhè ge (This) / Nà ge (That)
These are useful words if you want to seem like you know more Chinese than you do. You can accompany these words by pointing at things.
“Thank you.” Chinese people don’t say thank you as often as Westerners, I’ve found. But it’s nice to say it anyway!
Duìbuqǐ (also Bùhaǒyìsi)
These both approximate “sorry,” but the first is more formal than the second. Bùhaǒyìsi also means “excuse me,” so you’ll hear this a lot of public transit. If you are stopping a Chinese person to ask directions or help you translate, use Bùhaǒyìsi.
Tīng bu dǒng
“I don’t understand.” This comes in useful if people are bothering you to take a picture with them, just say this repeatedly and run in the opposite direction.
Wǒ bù shuō hànyǔ
“I don’t speak Chinese.” Your beginner pronunciation will probably give you away, if they haven’t already figured it out.
This means goodbye, literally “see you again.” However this is quite formal; many of your interactions with Chinese people will usually end with “bye bye.”
The key to learning Chinese is to actually use it- these words are pretty basic and you’ll probably use them every day. As you expand your vocab, repetition will be the key to remembering those words.
A note on pronunciation- Chinese people are expecting you, as a foreigner, to be terrible at speaking Chinese. All you have to do is keep repeating the word you are trying to say, but slightly differently each time. Eventually they will nod at you and repeat the word the way it should be pronounced. That is what you listen for- it’s a mini Chinese lesson every time you speak to somebody.
For more information about teaching and living in China, please check out our website, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.