China has many languages and dialects. Mandarin is the most widely used and is considered the national spoken language.
Mandarin Chinese uses 4 tones to differentiate words (see key below). Using them is essential for avoiding misunderstandings. For example, the world "ma" has four distinct meanings, depending on the tone you use.
Ma = Mother
Ma = Linen/hemp
Ma = Horse
Ma = To curse
You wouldn't want to call someone's
mother a horse.
ni hao kneehow
xie xie ni shehshehknee
bu ke qi bookehchee
dui bu qi dwayboochee
My name is...
wo jiao wahjao("a" as in "father")
duo shao dahshao (rhymes with "cow")
I don't understand
wo bu dong wahboodohng
bu shi booshe
List and phonetics ©2013 HQP /hillmanwonders.com
Mandarin is the spoken language of Beijing and surrounding areas.
It is difficult for foreigners to speak because it is a tonal language.
The words in black non-bold type in the glossary above are the Pinyin spelling ("ni hao" for instance). It converts Chinese characters into Roman letters. The system was created for the benefit of non-Chinese speaking foreigners.
Some of the street and other signs in big cities use Pinyin in small type under the Chinese characters.
Print this page to take with you on your next trip to China.