How to Survive Your First Week in China Without Speaking Chinese

Dan Agar
Dan Agar

 / Aug 22, 2017

Even though learning a new language will help you immensely with integrating and getting around while living anywhere abroad, you may have never learned a word of Chinese -- and that's OK. You can definitely survive in China those first few weeks even months without speaking Chinese.


The Opportunity to Learn Chinese While in China

 

Mandarin Chinese is a skill you may want to bring back home, and there are plenty of Chinese language schools in every major Chinese city. However, the Chinese language is very difficult to learn, and arriving in China without speaking any Chinese can be scary. Even if you choose to learn Chinese, you may still be intimidated about those first few weeks or months.


But no worries!  There are some basic Chinese phrases that you can learn which will go a long way in helping you survive and feel comfortable while in China!

 

Top Must-Know Chinese Phrases Before You Get to China


In all honesty, it’s possible to live and travel in China without speaking the language. However, you’ll definitely want to pick up as many phrases as you can in the first few weeks. Despite years of English classes, many Chinese people are unable to communicate effectively in English. Learning a few basic phrases will make your life easier, and it will bring a smile to the face of Chinese locals.


Basic Helpful Chinese Phrases


English

Chinese   Pin Yin

Chinese   Character

Phonetic   English

Hello

Nǐ hǎo

    

knee   how

Goodbye

zài   jiàn

    

zi gee’en

Yes

Shì

Shr

No

bú   shì

    

boo   shr

Thank   you

xiè   xiè

    

sheh   sheh

How   much

duō  shǎo    qián

           

dor   sheow chen

Too   expensive

tài   guì     le

         

tie   gway la

Very   Good

hěn  hǎo

    

hun   how

That/that   one

Nà   ge

  

ney ga

Bill   (check)

mǎi  dān

    

my dan

Toilet

cè   suǒ

    

tsur   saw

Water

shuǐ

Shway

Chopsticks  

kuài   zǐ

  

kwhy   za

Knife

dao

Dow

Fork

cha  zi

  

char z

Spoon

shao  zi

  

sheow   z


Chinese Numbers


As well as knowing these phrases, it’s always good know your numbers!  They make shopping and negotiating so much easier.

 

English

Chinese   Pin Yin

Chinese   Character

Phonetic   English

1

e

2

Èr

r

3

sān

San

4

Sz

5

woo

6

Liù

leo

7

chee

8

bah

9

Jiǔ

jeo

10

shí

shr


Counting on Your Hands in Chinese


Whilst walking round Chinese markets and shops you may notice a lot of the tenders will keep waving their hands around in your face when trying to tell you the price of an item. These hand gestures represent numbers. But counting in Chinese on your hands is a bit different than what you may be used to in your home country.


Most Chinese restaurants in China have a picture menu meaning ordering food becomes pretty easy with just one phrase “that/that one” (Nà ge, please see above) alternatively whilst looking round the restaurant you see a dish that you fancy. You can point and use this phrase. 


Even if You Don't Speak Chinese, You Can Survive in China! 

(and Smartphone Apps make it even easier!)


The key thing to remember is that you are able to live in China even if you don't speak Chinese.  If you familiarize yourself with a few of these basic Chinese phrases and know your numbers in Chinese, then that will be a HUGE help.  Further, you can also take some Chinese classes or ask your co-workers for help when you are in China.  Lastly, many expats in China use language apps on their smartphone -- which are super helpful!  Some of the best apps for China include Pleco and WayGo for language help (remember, Google won't work without a VPN for China - so Google translate won't work either).


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Dan Agar