Language & Culture

It’s All Chinese to Me (Useful Chinese Phrases)

As our freelance linguists and loyal clients are heading to Beijing next month to attend CSOFT’s annual summit, we want to equip them with simple but useful Chinese phrases. We hope these sentences will come in handy when non-Chinese speaking visitors eat at restaurants, shop in local markets, hike the Great Wall or when they just want to get lost and explore the city’s rich history.

Useful Chinese Phrases

“Where’s the Bathroom?” (“Cèsuǒ zài nǎr? “)

There’s no denying that this phrase is high on the list of the most useful phrases. You never know when Mother Nature will call you, so you just have to be prepared. The simplest way to say this is “cèsuǒ zài nǎr?” — cèsuǒ means “bathroom,” zài nǎr means “where.” Just be aware though, most foreigners say that going to Chinese bathrooms is far from being their most pleasant experience. We suggest that you answer the call of nature before you head out the door, and take advantage of somewhat decent restrooms found in shopping malls when possible. Otherwise, the squat toilets and doorless St. Johns found on the street may leave you speechless, to say the least.

“No dog meat” ( “Bù Yào Gǒuròu” )

Although dog meat is rarely served in Chinese restaurants in Beijing, we don’t want dog lovers to be oblivious to the possibility of it being offered on the menu. One of our colleagues here at Simply CSOFT, once made the mistake of blindly choosing a dish because she couldn’t read the menu, and her order turned out to be dog soup. So to avoid eating your favorite animal, you can say, “bù yào gǒuròu”— “bù yào means “don’t want” and gǒuròu means “dog meat.”

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“I Don’t Eat Spicy” ( “Bù Yào Là” )

Some delicacies such as málà xiāng guō (麻辣香锅 or hot and spicy fragrant pot”), kǎo yú (烤鱼 or grilled fish), and hot pot taste best when they are hot. We encourage you to try them so you can experience the whole Chinese dining experience, but if you absolutely hate feeling that burning sensation in your mouth, you can say “bù yào là”—“ bù yào” means “don’t want” and “” means “spicy.”

“Too expensive” ( “Tài Guì Le” )

Your trip to Beijing won’t feel complete until you’ve done some good amount of shopping. In local markets, though, all the products are often marked up more than five times the regular retail prices; therefore bargaining skills are an absolute necessity if you don’t want to be ripped off. One of the most effective ways to get an upper hand while bargaining is to show that you have no desire whatsoever to buy the product. Doing so, while relentlessly repeating “tài guì le,”—meaning “it’s too expensive”—will prompt the seller to drastically drop the offer price in no time.

The thought of visiting China can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Today’s smartphones allow us to communicate with people of different languages with the help of various translation apps. But if you know the above phrases like the back of your hand, you can save fumbling for your phone and speak a second language like a pro.

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