It’s that time of the year where the weather is warming up! Although we just marched into spring, are some of you already planning for summer vacation?
As students on the path towards mastering Chinese, perhaps taking a break and visiting where it all started is a good idea. While being fluent in Mandarin is not a prerequisite for traveling to Mandarin-speaking countries, learning some key phrases will be helpful when you’re trying to get around. We’ve complied a short list of a few must-know terms that will surely facilitate your daily interactions.
可以再说一次吗? (Kěyǐ zàishuō yīcì ma?/Can you say it again?)
Avid Mandarin students should learn this phrase. The best learning experiences occur in real life, and practicing listening and comprehending in a real world setting can help you nail down those everyday phrases. It’s easy for native speakers to understand sentences even if they aren't spoken slowly or clearly. For people just learning Mandarin, not so easy. Don’t be shy or embarrassed to ask someone to repeat what they said, because in the end you may realize you actually understand a lot more than you thought you did.
What is that?: 那是什么? (Nà shì shénme?)
What is this?: 这是什么？(Zhè shì shénme?)
This phrase will come in handy many times when you encounter foreign objects that perk your interest. Don’t know how to identify said object in Mandarin? Point to it! “这是什么” refers to something close to you (like something in contact with you or a few feet from you) while “那是什么” is used to ask about objects farther away.
Learning tip: If someone says a vocabulary word you don't know, you can repeat it and add "是什么?" at the end. This means "What is ___?" which allows the local to help explain what the word is.
How Much?: 多少钱? (Duōshǎo qián)
Found something that you want to buy? Whether that be a nice little souvenir or a delicious meal, asking the price of something is a common thing to do. Travel tip: Vendors may try to set their merchandise at a higher price because they assume foreigners won’t practice haggling. Saying “太贵了 (Too expensive)” multiple times may get you a better deal.
Where IS __?: ___ 在哪里? (___Zài nǎlǐ)When out traveling in Mandarin speaking areas, it’ll be helpful to do a bit a homework and research what your destination is called in Mandarin in case you need pointers from locals. This phrase is also useful under other circumstances; just replace the blank with the noun of choice and you can ask perhaps the most important question of all times, “厕所在哪里? (Cèsuǒ zài nǎlǐ/Where is the bathroom?)”. Note that pronunciation in this case is very important, because if 哪 (Nǎ) is accidentally pronounced in the fourth tone instead of the third the entire meaning of the phrase changes from “Where is (noun)?” to “(Noun) is there”.
Can You Help Me: 你可以帮我吗? (Nǐ kěyǐ bāng wǒ ma?)We’ve all encountered moments where a helping hand is needed. If being stuck in a foreign land with no idea what you’re doing sounds horrible, learn this phrase. It may get you out of dilemmas a lot faster.
I don't Understand: 我不懂 (Wǒ bù dǒng)
As students, sometimes there are certain phrases you haven't learned that native speakers often toss around. Helpful locals, when asked to clarify, may try to word their sentences differently or throw in some hand gestures to get their meaning across the language barrier.
Call The Police: 叫警察 (Jiào jǐngchá)
Although you’re on vacation, always be aware of your surroundings. We hope you never have to use this phrase, but you should learn it as a safety precaution. While we’re on this note, learning the phrase 救命 (Help) may come in handy.
Thank You: 谢谢 (Xièxiè)
Of course, it’s only polite to end meetings on a positive note. Other common phrases that are exchanged are你好吗? (Nǐ hǎo ma?/How are you?), 再见 (Zàijiàn/Goodbye), 对不起 (Duìbùqǐ/Sorry).
If you're traveling to China for business, this post may be useful: 7 Business Chinese Phrases To Make You Sound Humble
I don't Speak Chinese: 我不会讲中文 (Wǒ bù huì jiǎng zhōngwén)
Do You Speak English?: 你会讲英文吗 (Nǐ huì jiǎng yīngwén ma)?
When all else fails, it might be easier to return to speaking what is most comfortable for you. Don’t be worried that others may judge you; attempting the language in the first place is extremely impressive!
Are there any other phrases that you’ve found to be helpful? Any that you are curious to know? Let us know in the comments!