All packed up and ready to head out to China? Not so fast! It is probably best to brush up on some Mandarin before you arrive into your host country. While this is only a small suggestion, it is always better to learn a few key phrases or words to better connect with locals and maneuver through your new city.
As with any language, Mandarin is not a language you can learn to speak fluently overnight. It requires many years of dedicated study and practice to grasp the complexity of the character system and the tonal differences. While Mandarin is the official language of the PRC, there are also a great variety of dialects throughout the country; for example, Cantonese and the Wu dialect in the southern regions of China.
Likewise, there are also regions like Tibet, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia that possess very distinct languages from various ethnic influences and connections with neighboring countries. For example, did you know that natives of the Xinjiang region speak a language that derives from the Turkic family?
I know that in the languages I specialize in (English and Romance languages), the tones we use are applied to attach an emotive connection to words. In Mandarin, though, this is not the case, as the tones change the meaning and pronunciation of words, and do not necessarily attach emotional value to the words and phrases. For example, the table below represents a standard explanation of the four tones and how drastically the meaning changes with each tone. I would recommend watching many, many YouTube videos to hear the pronunciation of each of the tones. Check this one out as a starting point.
Even though English is commonly spoken in most tourist areas, it is advantageous to learn a few key words and phrases for those “just in case” scenarios. Not only will you be able to locate the bathroom and nearby restaurants, but your use of the Mandarin language is a great sign of respect toward native Chinese people and their culture.
In this post, we won’t focus on the writing of the Chinese characters, as there are more than 56,000 Chinese characters, but the characters are shown below the words and phrases for those advanced Mandarin speakers. It is also important to note that the Chinese government incorporates the Roman alphabet in writing Chinese words, and this is called Pinyin (a.k.a. a very useful tool for Westerners).
Ready to start? Here are the key phrases you should memorize before coming to China:
1. Hello: Nǐ hǎo
If you hear “Nǐ hǎo ma?”, someone is asking “How are you?”, and the “ma” is a question particle.
2. Goodbye: Zàijiàn
Interestingly enough, it is more common to say “Bye-bye” among natives, but it never hurts to be a little more formal.
3. Thank you: Xièxiè
4. You’re welcome: Bú kèqì
“Boo ke chee”
不 客 气
5. Water: shuǐ
6. Restroom: Cèsuǒ
7. I would like: Wǒ yào
8. Taxi: Chūzū chē
“Choo zoo cher”
出 租 车
9. Restaurant: fàn diàn
Additionally, here is a great site that explains some phrases to use when ordering food at a restaurant.
10. How much?: Duōshǎo qián
多 少 钱
Want to test your knowledge and proceed to learn more about Chinese characters? Click on this link to access an interactive game by the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/chinese/games/
By Chiara Evelti