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Basic Mandarin for China Travel

If you’re traveling to a foreign country, you want to know enough of the language to greet people and ask some basic questions. You may not think about needing to learn some Mandarin when you visit China, especially if you’re going as part of a group tour, but knowing a little of the language, wherever you travel, can make things easier for you and the people you’ll be interacting with. It’s more fun, as well as making communication smoother.

Chinese words have one syllable, made up of a beginning and ending sound or just an ending sound. Mandarin is a phonetic language, and easier to understand than you might expect.  The most difficult part, which is not incredibly difficult actually, is the tones. There are four tones, and getting the tone right for each word is important, so that you say what you mean to be saying.

The accent symbols, in writing, are a macron (the long vowel symbol; a line over a letter), an acute accent (leans from left to right, like an apostrophe), grave accent (leans right to left, opposite an apostrophe) and the carot, which looks like an upside-down v. No accent mark indicates a light tone. When you visit sites that teach Mandarin, you’ll see these accent marks and a full explanation of them.

The easiest way to learn the phrases you need is to memorize the phrases in writing, without worrying about how they are pronounced, and then you can learn the proper pronunciations once you have a hang of the basic words and what they mean. Here are ten phrases you will find useful.

ni hao: regards: This is like saying hello.

ni hao ma: The equivalent of hello, how are you.

hen hao: I’m fine.

lao jia: thank you/please/excuse me.

zao shang hao: good morning.

xie xie: thank you; particularly when receiving a gift.

shi fu: a formal, respectful method for calling a cab or driver

duo shao qian: how much?

da zhe ma: do you offer a discount?

plan yi dian: I would like this item for less, please (when negotiating in a store)