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Chinese Words and Phrases

Pronunciation Key

Chinese characters are most often romanized by a system called pinyin ("peen -yeen"). In nearly all of the cities in China you'll see street signs and store names written in both the pinyin and Chinese characters.

Basic pronunciation is as follows:

Vowels

a: "ah" as in father, arm
e: "uh" as in were, fur
i: (after z, c, s, zh, ch, sh and r) "er" as in sir, otherwise "ee" as in we, tea
o: "or" as in bore, snore
u: "oo" as in who, too

Consonants

z: "ds" as in zoo, but zh is pronounced "j" as in job
j: "g" as in get
q: "ch" as in cheek
x: "sh" as in shy

Tones are the most difficult aspect of spoken Chinese. Although tones may seem impossible to ever get the hang of, it's worth it to try to use them and use them correctly. When you memorize a word in Chinese, memorize it with the tone. Luckily Mandarin Chinese, or putonghua, which is considered the standard spoken language, only has four tones:

  • First tone: - A high, level tone, like singing a musical note: "laaaa!" For example, "ba" (eight)
  • Second tone: / A rising tone, from middle to high, as if using a question mark: "yes?" For example, "ba" (to pull up)
  • Third tone: v A falling and then rising tone, "really?" For example, "ba" (to hold)
  • Fourth tone: \ A falling tone, from high to middle, as if shouting an order: "Stop!" For example, "ba" (father)

Useful Words and Phrases

English
 
Chinese
Hello
 

Ni Hao
Goodbye
 

Zaijian
Thank you
 

Xie Xie
You're welcome.
 

Bukeqi
No
 

Meiyou
Where is the bus station?
 

Gongche zhan zai nali?
Where is the train station?
 

Huoche zhan zai nali?
Where is the bathroom?
 

Xishoujian za nali?
I don't understand.
 

Wo ting budong.
Do you understand?
 

Dong budong?
I'm lost.
 

Wo mi lu.
What time is it?
 

Ji dian?

Chinese Numbers

English
Chinese
English
 
Chinese
one

yi
six

liu
two

er, liang
seven

qi
three

san
eight

ba
four
 

si
 
nine
 

jiu
five
 

wu
 
ten
 

shi

 

 


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