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Visiting China? Learn the basics!

Chinese is considered by most westerners to be one of the most difficult languages to learn. Certainly the pronunciation and intonation can be challenging… and let’s not even consider the immense number of characters! Did you know that there are 50,000 Chinese characters? And just reading a newspaper requires knowledge of around 2000. However, it’s also worth remembering that Chinese grammar has no tenses, no plurals, no cases, and no gender, which can be very helpful for a learner.

If you’re visiting China, it is worth trying to learn a few basics to help you interact with the people you meet. As a tourist in China, the vocabulary you most need is appropriate greetings, plus vocabulary for shopping, bargaining and asking for directions.



The first step is to say and hello and start a conversation! 

  • Hey, how are you? – “Nǐ hǎo ma?” (Nee-haoww-mah?)
  • Good – Hǎo
  • Bad – Bùhǎo
  • Thank you – Xièxie (sshyeah-sshyeah) is the basic and simplest way of saying thank you. 
  • I am sorry – Duìbuqǐ (dway-boo-chee)
  •  OK / agreement – Dui 


China is famous for cheap bargains and the variety of products available. Here are some basic words and phrases you need to know if you are going shopping:

  • Asking what something is? – Zhè shì shénme? (Jer shrr shnn-muh?)
  • Do you have ..? – Yǒuméiyǒu …? (Yoh-may-yoh …?)
  • How much does it cost? – Duōshao qián? (Dwor-sshaoww chyen?)

Words for asking directions

Be an explorer! And if you get lost…

  • I want to go to… – Wǒ xiǎng qù… (Wor sshyang chyoo …)
  • Where is..? – Zài nǎlǐ? (… dzeye naa-lee?)

It is not at all necessary to hire an interpreter when visiting China (although there are many services available). So try out your new vocabulary and have fun!

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