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Essential Chinese Phrases To Learn as a College Student

You may be spending a semester in China; you may have decided to pursue a full degree in one of the many exceptional universities. In either event, you are a soon-to-be non-Chinese speaking college student. And even though many courses/programs are taught in English, you still have to live in a foreign country and navigate through local communities. And why wouldn’t you want to? After all, foreign study is not just about academics. It is about immersing yourself into a cultural experience that will change you forever.

Before embarking on this adventure, do yourself a favor and learn some key phrases that will allow you initial “navigation.” Get with a Chinese student at home or go online to learn them, especially the pronunciations.

Pinyin is a simple system for pronunciation of Chinese phrases, using romanized spelling, with four tone or accent marks above vowels to show how your voice should rise and fall or remain neutral. There are plenty of apps for Pinyin if you want to “go it alone,” but learning common phrases will require that you also learn the tonal requirements.

The Tonal Requirements

There are four and these tonal marks show whether your voice should rise, fall, remain neutral, or provide some fullness. When you study your phrases, keep these in mind and listen carefully as words are pronounced, so you don’t confuse native Chinese when speaking to them.

On to the Phrases

For organizational purposes, these phrases are categorized, depending upon what you want to say or do.


You can just say hello, or you can respond to others who are greeting you.

  1. Nihao = Hello. Pronounced Nee haow
  2. Nihao ma = How are you? Pronounced Nee haow ma
  3. Hun haow = Good. Pronounced Hun haow
  4. Hai hao = Pretty good. Pronounced Hi haow
  5. Bu tai hao = not so good. Pronounced Boo tye haow
  6. Dzow shung haow = Good morning. Pronounced Dzow shung haow
  7. Wun Shung haow = Good evening. Pronounced Wun shung haow
  8. Wan’an = good night. Pronounced Wun-un

Simple Introduction Phrases

If you want to go beyond a simple greeting and let someone know more about you and answer some basic questions you may be asked.

  1. Ni jiao shenme mingzi = What’s your name? Pronounced Nee jyaow shun muh ming dzrr
  2. Wor jyaow = My name is. Pronounced Wor jyaow
  3. Nee dwor da = how old are you? Pronounced nee dwor da
  4. Wo sanshi sui = I’m 30 years old. Pronounced Wor sun shrr sway. (Note: for more on numbers, check this site.)
  5. Ni shin a guo ren = What country are you from? Pronounced Nee shrr na gwor run. (Note: to answer this one, check out your country’s name in Chinese.)
  6. Hen gaoxing renshini = Nice to meet you. Pronounced Hun gaow shing runshrr nee.

Seven Phrases To Be Polite

You don’t want to be the “ugly foreigner.” So, it is important to learn some basic phrases of courtesy. Here are the most common.

  1. Xiexie = thank you. Pronounced shyeah shyeah
  2. Feichang ganxie = Thank you so much. Pronounced Fay chung gun shyeah
  3. Bu yong xie = you’re welcome. Pronounced Boo yong shyeah
  4. Bu haoyisi = Excuse me or sorry. Pronounced Boo haow yee srr.
  5. Mafan ni le = Sorry to bother you. Pronounced Ma fun nee luh
  6. Mei Wenti = no problem. Pronounced may wuntee
  7. Hao de = OK. Pronounced Haow duh.

When You Do or Do Not Understand

It’s easy to just nod your head and pretend that you understand what someone is saying to you when you really don’t understand at all. Here are some phrases that will help you be honest about that.

  1. Wo tingdedong = I understand. Pronunciation Wor teeng duh dong
  2. Wo tingbudong = I don’t understand. Pronunciation Wor teeng boo dong
  3. Ni hui shuo yingwen ma = Do you speak English? Pronunciation Nee hway shwor yeeng wun ma
  4. Wo bu hui shuo zhongwen = I don’t speak Chinese. Pronunciation Wor boo hway shwor jong wun
  5. Keyi shuo de man yidian ma? = Could you speak more slowly? Pronunciation Kuh yee shwor duh mun yee dyen ma?
  6. ___shenme yisi? = What does ___ mean? Pronunciation ___ shun muh yee srr
  7. ____ zenme shuo? = How do you say ___? Pronunciation ___ dzun muh shwor

Asking for Directions

Since Google services don’t work in China, so some phones will definitely not give directions. You can use the traditional way of asking someone:

  1. Bu Haoyisi, keyi wen ge u ma? = Excuse me, could I ask for some direction? Pronunciation Boo haow yee srr, kuh yee wun guh loo ma?
  2. Dao ___ zenme zou? = Hod o you get to the ___? Pronunciation Daow ___ zun muh dzoh?
  3. ___ zai nar? = Where is the ___? Pronunciation dzye narr.
  4. ___ Wo yao qu = I want to go to ___. Pronunciation Wor yaow choo

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