It’s always a good idea to brush up on your language skills, no matter what the language. And in today’s world, learning Chinese is a must-have skill for anyone looking to break into international markets or diplomacy.
Chinese has over 1 billion native speakers and is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. It’s also an official language of five United Nations organizations: United Nations, International Organization for Standardization (ISO), World Health Organization (WHO), General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The People’s Republic of China uses simplified Chinese characters while Taiwan primarily uses traditional Chinese characters.
The following are some basic Chinese phrases that will help you get started when studying Chinese.
Chinese Phrases for Daily Conversation
There is nothing more frustrating than being unable to understand what the people around you are speaking. It can happen more than one would think, too, especially when someone has to move away, e.g. for a job, etc.
The Mandarin Chinese natives use the same system for written language. Putonghua (or Mandarin) is the Chinese standard. Mandarin is a Beijing dialect, and it is made of 5 pronunciation tones. It is one of the six languages in the United Nations and one of the four languages in Singapore.
More than 1 billion people all over the world use Mandarin Chinese as their native language, and more than 851 million of them are native Mandarin speakers. It is clearly outnumbered as compared to other languages.
The Chinese language is one of the most widely spoken languages of our world. More and more people are taking advantage to start learning Chinese and being able to converse with Chinese freely. It cannot only help you in business; rather, you can socially groom yourself because life is not all about work and not play.
Here are some of the common and basic Chinese phrases that are used in daily conversations:
Hello (nǐ hǎo) 你好
In Chinese, people say the word “Hello” as “Nǐ hǎo”. This is a very polite way to greet someone and is the equivalent of “How are you?” in English. Many native Mandarin speakers will also use this good phrase to greet foreigners in China.
How are you? (nǐ hǎo ma?) 你好吗?
When greeting someone, you may also want to inquire about their well-being. “Nǐ hǎo ma?” is the equivalent of “How are you?” in English. This popular phrase in China is also considered a famous greeting because it is used in many cultures.
I’m fine. (wǒ hěn hǎo) 我很好
This phrase means “I’m fine” in English. You can use it to respond to someone who has asked how you are doing.
Thank you (Xièxiè) 谢谢
When a person wants to show appreciation for something that has been done for them, they can say “Xièxiè”, which is the Mandarin equivalent of “Thank you”. Saying thank you shows not only appreciation but also politeness.
You’re welcome (bú kèqi) 不客气
“Bú kèqi” is the Mandarin equivalent of “You’re welcome”. This popular phrase is used to thank someone for their politeness in not expecting their “Thank you” reply. Remember, being polite is important in Chinese culture!
I don’t understand (wǒ bù dǒng) 我不懂
If you don’t understand what someone is saying, you can say “Wǒ bù dǒng” which means “I don’t understand”. This phrase will help you get by until you can find someone, like a Chinese person, who can help explain it to you in Mandarin Chinese.
Yes (shì de) 是的
Whether you are agreeing or confirming something, you can say the word “Shì de”, which is the Mandarin equivalent of “Yes”. Some native speakers also use this phrase to show politeness when answering someone. “Yes” in Mandarin has different variations, but “Shì de” is the most commonly used.
No (bù shì) 不是
If you disagree or deny something, you can say the word “Bù shì”, which means “No”. This phrase is the equivalent of “No” in English. Quick note, when using Bù shì, it can also mean that you can’t do something or that you don’t know how to do something. An example when using this phrase in this situation would be “Wǒ bù shì xiěhuà”, which means “I can’t write”.
Good (hǎo) 好 / (hǎo de) 好的
When asked how something is, you can say “Hǎo”, which means “Good”. Suppose you want to describe something as being good; you can use the phrase “hǎo de”, which means “Good enough”. For example, you can say “Nà shì hǎo de yīfu,” which means “That’s good enough clothing”. This common phrase can also be used when someone asks you how you are doing.
Not Good/Bad (bù hǎo) 不好
If something is not good, you can say “Bù hǎo”, which means “Not good”. This single word is the equivalent of “Bad” in English. You can also use this to describe a person’s attitude or actions. For example, you can say “Nà ge rén bù hǎo,” which means “That person is not good”.
I don’t know (wǒ bù zhīdào) 我不知道
There may come a time where you don’t know something, and “Wǒ bù zhīdào” is what you need to use. “Wǒ bù zhīdào” means “I don’t know” in English. You can also use this to say that you don’t understand what someone is saying. For example, you can say “Wǒ bù zhīdào nǐ shuō shénme”, which means “I don’t know what you’re saying”.
May I ask… (qǐng wèn) 请问…
When you ask a question, you can say “Qǐng wèn”, the Mandarin equivalent of “May I ask”. “Qǐng wèn” shows that you are polite and respectful when asking someone for information.
I don’t speak Chinese (wǒ bù huì shuō Zhōngwén) 我不会说中文
If you don’t know how to speak Mandarin, you can say “Wǒ bù huì shuō Zhōngwén” which means “I don’t know how to speak Chinese”. “Wǒ bù huì shuō Zhōngwén” will let the person you are speaking know that you don’t know how to converse in Mandarin Chinese.
I’m sorry (duì bu qǐ) 对不起
There may come a time where you have to apologize, and “Duì bu qǐ” is the sentence for you. “Duì bu qǐ” means “I’m sorry” in English. When apologizing, it’s important to be polite and humble.
Good morning (zǎo shàng hǎo) 早上好
In Mandarin, one famous phrase is “Zǎo shàng hǎo”, which means “Good morning” in English. “Zǎo shàng hǎo” is popularly used to greet someone in the morning. Native speakers also use this to say hello to someone.
Good evening (wǎn shàng hǎo) 晚上好
When it’s nighttime, you can say “Wǎnshang hǎo”, which means “Good evening”. This phrase is the equivalent of “Good night” in English. When saying basic Chinese words and phrases like this, it’s customary to say goodbye afterwards.
Goodnight (Wǎn’ān) 晚安
After a long day, you can say “Wǎn’ān” to wish someone a good night. Wǎn’ān literally means “Goodnight” in English.
My name is (Wǒ jiào) 我叫
When meeting someone for the first time, you can say “Wǒ jiào”, which is the Mandarin equivalent of “My name is”. This helps to let the person know your name.
I am… (Wǒ shì…) 我是…
Another way to say “My name is” is “Wǒ shì…”, which means “I am” in English. You will, of course, need to fill in the blank with what your name is.
Do you speak English? (nǐ huì shuō yīng yǔ ma?) 你会说英语吗?
If you’re planning to travel to a Mandarin-speaking country, it’s important to know how to ask someone if they speak English. “Nǐ huì shuō yīng yǔ ma?” means “Do you speak English?” in English. This phrase is useful for asking people if they can help you with translating something or helping you find an English speaker.
Really? (zhēn de ma?) 真的吗?
People tend to say stories or claims that they aren’t sure of are true with this phrase. When you are in this situation, you can use this expression which means “Really?” in English. You can also use this word to ask someone if they are sure about something.
What do you mean? (shén me yì si) 什么意思？
If you’re a beginner in Mandarin and don’t understand what someone is saying, you can ask them this question. “Shén me yì si?” means “What do you mean?” in English. This phrase will help the person you are speaking to explain the Mandarin Chinese words they are saying in a way that you can understand.
Chinese Phrases for Work
More and more people are mastering and learning Chinese globally because, in the business world, Chinese is one of the most widely used languages. People that are planning important business trips to Chinese speaking countries like China, Singapore or Taiwan are advised to learn mandarin for their work. Business deals with people from China will become much easier if you are able to converse in Chinese.
Choose a well-known language school that can teach you more in-depth about Chinese. You are highly advised to seek Mandarin classes that can teach you how to understand and speak basic and advanced Chinese. It is a good option for those who cannot learn on their own. They must teach you how to differentiate different Chinese words’ sounds, strokes, and grammar.
The followings are some basic Chinese phrases that are used in a workplace:
I Understand (wǒ lǐ jiě) 我理解
As an employee, it is important to show your boss that you are competent and can handle things on your own. One way of doing this is by saying “Wǒ lǐ jiě”, which means “I Understand” in English. These Chinese words will show your boss that you are paying attention and following what they are saying.
Can I Ask a Question? (wǒ kě yǐ wèn yī qíng) 我可以问一个问题吗？
If you’re not sure about something or need clarification, you can ask this question. “Wǒ kě yǐ wèn yī qíng” means “Can I Ask a Question?” in English.
Okay/Can (Kěyǐ) 可以
When a colleague or boss agrees to do something or gives you permission, you can say the Chinese word “Kěyǐ”, which means “Can” in English.
Goodbye (zài jiàn) 再见
After a meeting or discussion, it is customary to say the parting phrase “Zài jiàn”, which means “Goodbye” in English. Phrases like Zài jiàn lets the other party know that you are leaving and will see them again.
Work overtime (jiā bān) 加班
Working overtime is a common occurrence in the workforce. You can say “jiā bān,” which means “Work overtime” in English if you’re asked to do so. Words and Chinese phrases like Jiā bān will let your boss know that you are willing to put in the extra effort to get the job done.
Business trip (chū chāi) 出差
It’s not uncommon for employees to go on business trips. You can say “chū chāi,” which means “Business trip” in English if you’re going on one. Basic phrases like “chū chāi” will let your colleagues and boss know that you will be out of the office for a period of time.
Boss (lǎo bǎn) 老板
When addressing your boss, you can say “Lǎo bǎn”, which means “Boss” in English. This phrase shows respect for your superior and that you are willing to listen to them.
Employee (yuán gōng) 员工
When referring to yourself or someone else who is working, you can say “yuán gōng”, which translates literally to “Employee” in English. This phrase shows that you are a part of the workforce and are willing to do your job.
These are just some basic Chinese phrases that you may need to know when doing business with people from China. If you want to be able to communicate better with them, it is best to take Mandarin classes and learn more about the language. This will help make future business dealings much smoother.
Chinese Phrases about Money
If you are in the business industry, at some point, you might have to talk money matters to a native Chinese speaker. That is why so many business professionals choose to enrol in a Chinese course in Singapore before going on business trips to China or striking up partnerships with Chinese-speaking companies.
China is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, with many manufacturing and production factories based in the nation. As such, business owners will look to discuss money topics with their business partners from overseas. If you are ordering a product from a Chinese supplier and have no knowledge of Chinese, you might be confused.
When you learn Chinese in Singapore, you will probably also learn how to negotiate price in the Singaporean dollar (SGD$) (xīn bì). Other currencies that are available or talked about in Asian countries include:
- USD (měi yuán)
- Euro (ōu yuán)
- Japanese Yen (rì yuán)
- Hong Kong Dollar (gǎng yuán)
- New Zealand Dollar (niǔ yuán)
- Great British Pound (yīng bàng)
- Australian Dollar (ào yuán)
- Canadian Dollar (jiā yuán)
When discussing prices or negotiating bulk costs, you can use Mandarin phrases such as:
How much is this? (zhège duōshǎo qián?) 这个多少钱?
This is a common question that business professionals ask when trying to make a deal. When asking how much something costs, you are trying to gauge the price of the product or service. By understanding the meaning of zhège duōshǎo qián?, you will be able to better communicate with your Chinese partners.
Can I get a discount? (Wǒ kěyǐ dǎzhé ma?) 我可以打折吗?
This is another common question that business professionals ask when trying to make a purchase. By knowing how to say Wǒ kěyǐ dǎzhé ma?, you will be able to negotiate the price of the product or service with your Chinese partners.
It is too expensive! (Tā tài guì le!) 它太贵了！
Some products or services might be too expensive for you. If this is the case, you can say “Tā tài guìle!” which literally means “It’s too expensive!” in English. This phrase will let your Chinese partners know that the price is too high, and they might need to adjust it. Or, if you are out in the market and see something you like but the tourist price is too high, say Tā tài guì le! to the storekeeper to get a discount.
This is cheap (Zhège piányí) 这个便宜
When you see a product or service that is priced lower than you expected, you can say “Zhège piányí”, which literally translates to “This is cheap!” in English. This simple phrase will let the other person know that you think the price is fair.
I’ll take it! (Wǒ qù mǎi le!) 我去买了！
If you want to buy something, you can say “Wǒ qù mǎi le!” which has a literal meaning of “I’ll take it!” in English. This Chinese phrase shows that you are interested in the product and are willing to buy it.
As you can see, there are many different Chinese words and phrases that you can learn in order to do business with Chinese-speaking partners. While some of these key phrases might be specific to money matters, others can be used for general communication.
When learning a foreign or new language, it is important to have a variety of words and phrases at your disposal in order to be able to carry on a conversation. Try out some of these Chinese words and phrases the next time you do business with a Chinese-speaking partner when you are ready.
By learning these essential Chinese phrases and practicing them often, you will be able to improve your Chinese skills and conduct smooth sailing negotiations and transactions with little trouble.