Survival Chinese top 20 Chinese phrases you need!

I’m not a great student, and I’m lazy, and I’m ashamed to say it,
but I managed to survive with around just 20 phrases during my
first 18 months in China! (actually it was less than 10, but here’s 20!)

I’m not even going to try to cover the / – _ > ?! four tones here – more on that in the next post! See also my hilarious experiences requesting: ‘Mayo Wei jing! ‘No MSG’ – ‘no monosodium glutamate’ – and you’ll understand why the tones ARE important!

Survival Chinese! I managed with ten, but here’s the top twenty ‘survival Chinese’ phrases!

EnglishChinesePinyinPronouncedAudioLiterally Means
Hello你好nǐ hǎonee howyou, good
How much?多少钱?duō shǎo qiándoor shaow chenmany, little, money
Thank you!谢谢!xiè xièshyea shyeathanks, thanks
Where is it?在哪里?zài nǎ lǐTzai nar liat, where
Why?为什么?wèi shén meway she(n) mafor, what
I would like a cup of coffee.我想要一杯咖啡。wǒ xiǎng yào yī bēi kā fēi wor shan yao yi bey ca-feyI, want, one, cup coffee
Too expensive!太贵了!tài guì letai gwey latoo, expensive
I am just looking.我只是看看。wǒ zhǐ shì kàn kàn wor jusha kan kanI, just, look, look
Don’t want.不要。bú yàoBoo yowDon’t want
No, thank you.不用,谢谢。bú yòng, xiè xièBoo yao, shyea shyeaDon’t need, thanks.
Don’t have / Didn’t / Haven’t got.没有méi yǒuma-yonot, have/ haven’t
I don’t speak Chinese.我不会中文。wǒ bú huì zhōng wén Wor bu hwei jongwenI, don’t, can, Chinese
I’m an English.我是英国人。wǒ shì yīng guó rénWor sher yingguo renI, am, England, people
Can I have my bill?老板,结账!lǎo bǎn jié zhàng laoban jeeyeahjangboss, check bill
I can speak just a little Chinese我会一点点中文wǒ zhǐ huì yī diǎn diǎn zhōng wénWor zje hway yi diendien jongwenI, just, can, a little, Chinese
Let me think about it.我想一下wǒ xiǎng yí xiàwo xiang yi shaI, think, a bit
Talk tomorrow明天再说míng tiān zài shuōmingtien tzai shwortomorrow, again, talk
Wait a moment等一下děng yí xiàdung yishiawait, a bit
Take out.打包dǎ bāoda-baopack
I want a bag我想要一个袋子wǒ xiǎng yào yī ge dài ziwor shang yow yeeger dai-tzeI, want, a, bag
Survival Chinese! 20 phrases to learn and get by with – trust us –
Barrie did 18 months on even less than these!

The Four main vowel tones in Chinese speech: An example of misuse..
In the west ‘msg’ is generally shunned – some people are adversely affected by it and others apparently not. I prefer not to consume it and so I would ask whenever eating out: “no ‘way jing‘” or ‘bu yao way jin‘ (不要味精)(prounced bu yao way jin)

But of course, my total mispronunciation of the four tones in Chinese at this point was very evident, and the restaurateur or street food vendor would look at me like I’d gone insane. Some of them would walk away shaking their heads and others would point me in the direction of the nearest clothing store.. !

I couldn’t figure out why until some months later when a friend told me I was actually asking people not to put a scarf (围巾 wei-jin) in my ‘mi fen’.. or whatever it was I was ordering to eat..

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