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To most foreigners, the Chinese language is overwhelming; there is no doubt about it.  “The Chinese language is impossible!” “Every word sounds the same!” “How can anyone understand it?”  Through traveling with students from the US, I have found phrases like this to be quite common.

Even if you have given up on learning how to speak such a drastically different language, it can be extremely helpful, and even considerate to learn some of the basics.  Here are ten of the most helpful Chinese phrases:

1. Ni hao
(你好): pronounced, “nee how.”  This is the most common way to say Hello in China, and is typically understood regardless of your pronunciation.  This is also a good phrase to begin more complex Chinese conversation, as it preps the listener to hear Chinese rather than the expected English, etc.

2. Xie xie
(谢谢): pronounced, “shay shay.”  Thank you.  In my opinion, this is the number one phrase to know.  You cannot be thankful enough for the many waiters/waitresses, cab drivers, and citizens for helping you get the things you want without knowing the language they speak.  This phrase typically raises a smile, as it is greatly appreciated, and often unexpected.

3. Bu yao
(不要): pronounced, “boo yow” Literally translates to “no want.”  This phrase is especially useful in the major tourist areas in cities like Beijing and Shanghai, where countless vendors are continuously trying to make a sale.

4. Wo yao yi ping shui
(我要一瓶水): pronounced, “whoa yow ee peeng shway” Translates into “I would like a bottle of water.”  A little lengthier, but just as useful, as water taken directly from the tap is not drinkable in China.  I have never been to a restaurant or hotel that did not provide bottled water.

5. Cesuo zai nar
(厕所在哪): pronounced, “tsuh-swhoh zi (rhyming with eye) nahr” “Where is the restroom?” This phrase is rather self-explanatory.  Even if the person being asked responds in more Chinese than you can handle, they will at least point you in the right direction.

6. Wo e le
(我饿了): pronounced, “whoa uh luh” This phrase translates into “I am hungry” and is probably the most basic way to get someone to help you find food.

7. Zai jian
(再见): pronounced, “zi jee-ann” The most common way to say “good bye.”

8.Duo shao qian
(多少钱): pronounced, “dwoh shaow chee-ann.” Here you are asking how much something costs, a phrase especially helpful in the many markets around town.

9. Wo bu shuo zhongwen
(我不说中文): pronounced, “woh boo shwoh jong-wun,” and meaning “I don’t speak Chinese.”

10. The last thing to know are the numbers, one through ten, broken down as follows:

      Yi (ee) – 1
    Er (ar)        - 2
    San (sahn) – 3
    Si (suh) – 4
    Wu (woo) – 5
    Liu (lee-oh) – 6
    Qi (chee) – 7
    Ba (bah) – 8
    Jiu (jee-oh) – 9
    Shi (shr) – 10

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