It seems there are quite a few friends coming over to visit this summer and I’m helping plan their stay, so this is the first in a short series of posts on making the most of a trip to China.
If you’re only coming for a couple of weeks it’s a bit unlikely you’ll learn Mandarin so here’s a very rough guide to making yourself understood, beyond just pointing at things.
It’s all phonetic, so you’ll probably be pronouncing stuff in my slightly Beijing tainted accent. Substitute an ‘r’ where you see a double ‘rr’ to sound more correct. Speaking too slowly won’t help you be understood.
It’ll all be fine until they go off script…
I can’t understand Wo boo dong
I’m sorry Doo-ay boo chee
Thank you Shay shay
Wrong/incorrect Boo doo-ay (boo makes the following word negative, so literally this means not correct)
Hello Nee how
How are you? Nee how mah?
Not good Boo how
Good morning Dzaoww-shung haoww
Good afternoon Sshyah-woo haoww
Good evening Wan-shung haoww
May I ask your name? Ching-win gway-shing
My name is… Waw jeow
What is your surname? (formal) Neen gway sshing?
My surname is … Waw sshing
What’s your name? (informal) Nee jee-oww shenn-muh ming-zuh?
I am… Waw shir
I am English Waw shir Ying gwaw ren
I am American Waw shir May gwaw ren
Good bye Dzai jee-en
Bye-bye. Bye-bye (more common than Goodbye, it’s easy to get into the habit of saying bye-bye when you return to your home country)
I / Me Waw (or War)
He / She / It Tar
Asking for things
Don’t have May-yoh
Do you have…? Yoh-may-yoh…?
I have… Wor yoh…
I want Wo yao
I like Wor shee hwan
I don’t like … Wor boo-sshee-hwan …
Do you like China? Ni shee hwan john gwoah?
That’s good how
That’s not good boo how
It was very good hen how
Excellent how Jee-luh
Good looking How can (applies to people, places, clothes, whatever).
I want … Waw yaoww …
I don’t want … Waw bu yaoww …
Do you want …? Yaoww-boo-yaoww
I’m hungry. Waw urr luh
I’m thirsty. Waw ker luh
I’m tired. Waw lay luh
Food and Drink
Chopstick kwhy za
Fork char z
Spoon sheow z
Coke kur lur
Mineral water kwong chwen shway
Orange juice juzi shway
Bottoms up! Cheers! Gan bay
I want to eat pig meat Waw yow chuh joo row
I don’t eat pig meat Waw boo chuh joo row (There are many Muslims in China, so if you want to avoid pork look for a restaurant with Arabic writing and a Halal sign).
I want rice Waw yow mee fan
one bowl Ee wan
I want to eat vegetables Waw yow chuh tsai
I want beer Waw yow pee jyoo
tasty/delicious How chuh (literally, good food)
good drink How her
Bill my dan
2 lee-an-guh – a couple. Very commonly used for quantities instead of using two
11 shrr ee
12 shrr arr
20 arr shrr
30 san shrr
100 ee bye
1,000 ee chee an
10,000 ee wan
How much money (does it cost)? Dwor-sshaoww chyen
3 yuan/RMB (formal) San ywen
3 yuan/RMB (informal) San kwhy
Too expensive Tie gway luh
How long (time)? Dwor jyoh?
One hour (hour) Ee-guh sshyaoww-shrr (jong-toh)
2 hours Lyang (urr) guh sshyaoww-shrr
30 minutes San-shrr fnn-jong
07:00 Ling-chee dyen jong
14:30 Shrr-srr dyen san-shrr
One day (for hotels) Ee tee-en
Taxi Choo zoo cher
I want to go to X Wo yao tsoh X
I want to go there Wo yao tso nar (more useful if you’ve got a map or business card with Chinese names – your hotel can usually supply these)
Turn left zaw
Turn right yo
Go straight chee’an
Here Jur lee
I want to go to… Waw yaoww chyoo…
I want to go to the toilet Waw yaoww chyoo tser-swor.
Where is …? … dzeye nah-lee?
Where is the bathroom? Sshee shoh jyen dzeye nah-lee?
Useful Phonetic Phrases
Where is the toilet? chir zwo zai nar
You’re welcome Boo ke chee
What is this? Jer shrr shnn-muh?
This is … Jer shrr …
Please help me. Ching bung-joo wor
Boss Lao Ban – useful for attracting the attention of small business owners
Foreigner Lao Why – literally old outsider – an old way of saying foreigner. People may call you this
This is obviously a long way from perfect, but may be helpful. If you’re staying longer and want to get bit more involved then I found that the Lonely Planet Mandarin Phrasebook
had the simplest phonetic versions along with a very clear guide to pinyin and grammar. Beyond that, it’s time to attend a Mandarin course. I tried intensive Chinese lessons but had far more success with a one-to-one teacher.
Perhaps better Chinese speakers can offer improvements and suggestions for more useful phrases in the comments below.