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Basic Mandarin 101

posted in: Asia  |  posted by: Jennifer Gregory on June 24, 2008  |  1 Comment

Beijing Olympics GuidebookIf you plan on visiting Beijing this summer for the Olympics Games, you’ll want to learn to speak at least a few phrases of basic Mandarin. In China, it is not uncommon to visit different cities or villages and find that the inhabitants speak a different dialect – some almost seem to be speaking a completely different language. Mandarin is the official dialect throughout the country and is understood by almost everyone; therefore, it’s best to learn a few phrases so that you’re able to communicate wherever you go.

Mandarin Introductions

Mandarin Welcome

The first phrase we’ll start with is “How are you?” it’s a standard greeting that can be used no matter where you go. The Mandarin translation is ni hao ma. In some places you may hear it pronounced as simply ni hao. In some foreign language systems, certain phrases are pronounced differently depending upon your intended audience; for example, an elder versus a peer. This phrase can be used when speaking to anyone, regardless of their age, sex, or business status. Don’t leave home without this phrase.

You’ll also want to have a few stock replies on hand in case someone asks you how you are. If you’re doing “very good” you’ll say “hen hao,” and if you’re doing “very bad” you’ll say “bu hao.” Bu hao is actually used more often when complaining about poor work, but is an acceptable response for “ni hao ma?”

If you’re meeting a stranger for the first time, you’ll want to become acquainted by asking “what is your name?” The proper way to say this in Mandarin is “ni jiao shenme.” When stating your name in response to the same question, you’ll say “my surname is _____ and my full name is _____ _____,” which translates to “wo xing _____, wo jiao _____ _____.

Want to tell your audience where you’re from? The phrase, “I am from _____,” is said, “wo cong _____”. Fill in the blank with the Mandarin name for your country unless you think it is common enough to be recognized in your own language.

Where Are Your Manners?

Murals found in China teaching proper social manners with tourists.

Mural teaching Chinese manners

Just because you’re visiting another country doesn’t mean you should leave your manners at home. Saying “thank you” is a respectable act no matter where you go. In Mandarin, you will simply say xie xie. Remember this phrase – learn it, know it, love it.

When in a crowded area, especially in major cities or near tourist attractions, you’ll want to say “excuse me” if you bump into someone on the street or in a public place. It’s polite – and you should really be saying it at home, too! In Mandarin, the term is “jie gou.”

Shopping In Beijing

You are probably used to going to a store and asking for what you want, but in Beijing, or anywhere in China, the term for what you would like might not actually be a part of your vocabulary. Start by learning the words for “this” (zhe, or zhei) and “that” (na, or nei).

Beijing Meat Market

If the object you are looking at doesn’t have a price tag, simply ask “duo shao qian?” This means “how much?” in Mandarin. Once you’ve chosen all of your items, ask “yigong duo shao qian?” to find out how much the total is for all of your purchases. The standard Chinese currency is yuan.

It’s important to ask for a receipt no matter where you go. Having a receipt will help you to determine if you were ripped off, or it will help you to locate your taxi or a past tourist attraction if something is lost or left behind. To ask for a receipt, simply say “receipt,” which in Mandarin is “fa piao.”

Ordering Food And Drink

Everyone has to eat and drink. Upon entering an eating establishment, your waitress will likely ask, “Nimen Hao! Nimen he dianr shenme?” She is saying, “Hello. What would you like to drink?” Jasmine tea is one of the most popular beverages in the area. To say, “I want jasmine tea,” you’ll simply say, “Wo yau hua cha.” Saying “I want…” something in English isn’t considered polite, but this is the standard way of replying in China. If you’d prefer green tea, simply replace the “hua cha” with “lu cha.

Ordering in Mandarin

Ordering food is simple as well. You may ask the waitress to “please bring…” something by stating “quing lai..” If you aren’t sure about the menu, it may be helpful to tell the waitress what you do like to eat (I like to eat…) by saying “wo xihuan chi” or what you do not like to eat (I do not like to eat…) by saying “wo bu xihuan chi.”

When you’ve finished your meal, asking for “the bill please” is translated to “qing jie zhang.”

Saying Goodbye

Saying Goodbye in Mandarin

At the end of your conversation, meeting, or meal you will want to say goodbye to your host or audience. Common English phrases are “goodbye” and “see you again“. In Mandarin, the words “zai jian” can be used to mean the same thing. Fortunately, if you can’t remember this phrase, most people do recognize “goodbye” in English as well.

You’ll need to know more than hello and goodbye if you plan on staying in any part of China for an extended period of time, especially if you plan on venturing far from heavily populated areas where English is understood even less. You’ll need to learn terms that will help you ask for directions, toilet facilities, and your hotel as well. Hopefully these basics will help you kick-start your Mandarin studies.

Zai Jian!

Photo Credit: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

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One Response to “Basic Mandarin 101”

  1. marcie says on

    Very good and educational!


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