20 Words to Help You Survive in China

Get Around as a Tourist with Ease

I travelled toVietnam this Spring Festival. Most of the locals I met couldn’t speak English or Chinese, but they were all friendly and nice to me. I wanted to communicate, to show my appreciation and more importantly I also wanted to feed myself. I tried to pick up some Vietnamese any way I could: bilingual signs, google translation, guessing and so on. The whole experience reminded me of GoEast team building event on Jeju island, where we had difficulties because of language as well, and we struggled to figure out the meaning of words we needed to use everyday.

All of a sudden, it dawned on me that you probably will need similar words when you first arrive in China. This blog post is for people who are not able to speak any Chinese but still would like to communicate with locals.

Trust me, these 20 words are going to help you be friendly and get around. 

English PhraseChinese CharacterChinese PinyinSounds Like This in EnglishExplanation
YesduìDwayThere is no actually equivalence like yes or no in Chinese, but “对” means “correct” and “不” is a negative word added before a word.
No不对bú duìBoo-dway
Don’t Want不要bú yàoBoo-yaoPeople will want to sell things to you when you look like a tourist, so this is the word you need to decline.
Hello你好nǐ hǎoKnee-howremember do not pronounce the "how" too completely, but short and firm.
Thank You谢谢xièxieShieh ShiehExhale slightly while pronouncing both syllables
Sorry对不起duì bu qǐDway bu ChiSay it quickly, non-stop
See you再见zài jiànDzai jee-enThe last syllable is said without pause
How much?多少钱?duōshǎo qiánDwosshao Chyen“钱” means money in Chinese and “多少” is asking for amount
Bill, please买单mǎi dānMy DaanSince the second syllable is in first tone, the second syllable should have a consistent slightly higher tone
Chicken鸡肉jī ròuGee hroe“肉” is the general word for meat, add a word which means an animal before it, the new word becomes the meat of a certain animal. So you may have guessed: “鸡” means chicken, “牛” means cow, and “猪” means pig.
Beef牛肉niú ròuNew hroe
Pork猪肉zhū ròuJJoo roe
Vegetables蔬菜shū càiShoe TsaiNotice that the pronunciation of cài doesn’t involve a hard C sound!
NoodlemiànMyenPeople in the northern part love it. You have to try the special ones in Beiing, Xi'an and Henan!
RicefànFanIn southern China, we eat “饭” three times a day.
Icy water冰水bīng shuǐPing ShwayYou are served with hot water in China if you don’t ask for “冰水”. The B in bīng sounds almost like a P sound that isn’t aspirated.
good很好hěn hǎoHhen HowIt is the same all around the world that people like to be praised and appreciated. So take care and make sure you learn these well!
Yummy好吃hǎo chīHow Churr
Pretty漂亮piào liangPyao-liang
  • Chinese characters are the writing system the Chinese use, and it will be the ones you will see on signs or menus.
  • Chinese pinyin is a system to help people understand how to pronunce Chinese characters. You might see it on some signs together with Chinese characters.

Wang Rong (Emily) is a cofounder of GoEast and writes columns for the GoEast Blog on Chinese language learning, Chinese culture, and life in China as a language specialist. She holds a BA degree in Teaching Chinese as a Second Language and a MA in Comparative Literature. She has been teaching Chinese to foreigners since 2007 as a tutor and a professor in Universities.