Top Ten Chinese Phrases.

Here are our ‘Top Ten Chinese Phrases’ that help us navigate our way through living in China.

Google Translate is an obvious saviour, but here are some key phrases we think you should know if you decide to visit or move to this culture enriching country.

On top of these phrases, I also suggest numbers should be learnt – they are a god send and a basic necessity. Learn 1-20 and up to 99 follows in the same, very easy pattern.

* It is also worth mentioning that I am not a Chinese teacher and I am not fluent in Chinese. These are just my best guesses at pronunciation.

Tīng bù dǒng – Can’t Understand

Pronounced: Ting Boo Dong

Most Useful: Whenever someone tries to talk to you.

Essentially, we use this phrase 10 or more times a day – trying to get across to the locals that we don’t speak their native tongue. The phrase means ‘can’t understand’, as in…

”we cant understand what you’re saying!!”

Still, they will carry on talking, and you will carry on saying ‘Tīng bù dǒng’ until your paths go separate ways or the lift stops at your floor.

Zhègè – This One

Pronounced: ‘Jigga’

Most useful: Ordering Food.

I was told this word before i had read it, and I was told ‘Jigga’. It is easily the most important phrase on this list for the pure fact of ordering food. When you travel to and live in a city lower than first tier, it is likely that your server will know very little, if any, English. It helps to have a word, so that you can just point and say which food you want. Also useful in any situation where you are trying to point something out.

Méiyǒu – No / Don’t Have

Pronounced: ‘Mayo’

Most useful: When you don’t want lettuce in your burger.

A phrase that I hear around so much, and that I use myself. If you have read one of my previous articles ‘Home Comforts’, then you will understand that I am quite the fussy eater.

Knowing ‘méiyǒu‘ has been essential for times when the electric English machines at McDonalds have not been switched on. How else would I tell my McDonalds server that I want no egg (méiyǒu dàn) in my McSausage sandwich, or no lettuce (méiyǒu shēngcài) in in my burger.

It is a very versatile word. I hear my Chinese friends say ‘méiyǒu‘ when they don’t have something, or when they simply want to say no to a leaflet-er walking down the street trying to hand our flyers.

Nǐ hǎo – Hello

Pronounced: ‘Nee How’

Most useful: Greeting each other.

Hello! This phrase literally translates to ‘you good’, but its a very nice phrase to know if there’s a friendly face walking by.

I really like this phrase, and think it is a staple- purely for the fact that you begin to immerse yourself in the Chinese language. You’d be surprised how much of a buzz you get when you speak in another language.

Jīròu – Chicken Meat

Pronounced: ‘Jee Row’

Most useful: Determining what you are eating.

It’s really useful to know the meats, there are two more below. These three are what I believe to be the most staple meats, it’s really useful to learn them and how they sound so that its easier to hear what you are ordering and so you know what you’re going to be eating.

Niúròu – Beef

Pronounced: ‘Neeyo Row’

Most useful: Determining what you are eating.

Simply listen out for this word when hearing food orders, or ask for this.

Zhūròu – Pork

Pronounced: ‘Joo Row’

Most useful: Determining what you are eating.

Simply listen out for this word when hearing food orders, or ask for this.

Ma – Question Marker

Pronounced: Mah

Most useful: When asking a question, or establishing what something is.

Instead of a question mark, or a change in intonation like we use in the English language, in Chinese they simply add the word ‘Ma’ on the end to signify that a question is being asked.

For example, if I want to determine whether something is Chicken, I might say ‘Zhègè Jīròu ma’ – which literally translates to ‘ This is chicken?’.

Another phrase would be to ask someone how the are, you simply say Hello, and add a question mark. ‘Nǐ hǎo ma‘.

It is a simple word to listen out for and a simple word to add to some phrases you have already picked up.

Fānqié jiàng – Tomato Ketchup

Pronounced: ‘Fan Chee Jeeyung’

Most useful: All the time.


I love ketchup.

You probably cant imagine how hard this one is to act out, its hilarious actually. Eventually, I simply decided to learn how to say it, I have tomato ketchup with most fast food meals and asking for it is so easy when you know how. Goodbye are the days of charades to my waitress and being brought milk anyway.

If you don’t like ketchup, thats fine. This one was just in there as a reminder to think about a food or condiment that you do like, and try and learn that.

Liǎng gè – Two of

Pronounced: ‘Lee Yang’

Most useful: When you want two of something.

You may or may not have learnt your numbers, if you have, then you’ll know that two is ‘Èr’. Nonetheless, when you are asking for two of something, you say ‘Liǎng’. All of the other numbers remain the same, as far as I’m aware.

For example, if i’m going to ask for one tomato ketchup I’d say ‘Yī gè fānqié jiàng’ because ‘Yī’ is one, and ‘gè’ roughly translates to ‘of’ in this situation. So ‘One of tomato ketchup’.

However, If i want two, I don’t say ‘Èr gè’, I say ‘Liǎng gè’… I don’t know why.

‘Liǎng gè fānqié jiàng’.


I hope you have enjoyed learning a snippet of useful Chinese language, and that it is useful to anyone who visits or moves to China!

– Menna

2 thoughts on “Top Ten Chinese Phrases.”

  1. Loved reading the next addition to your blog. After our visit to meet you in Hong Kong we have a new found respect for you & Joel and for the language barrier, it was difficult enough there, where it was quite western, but how you manage on a daily basis
    When 99% if the population don’t speak a word of English, I think is something to be proud of x


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