Chinese Languages

China has eight major dialect groups: Putonghua (Mandarin), Yue (Cantonese), Wu (Shanghainese), Minbei (Fuzhou), Minnan (Taiwanese), Xiang, Gan and Hakka and many sub-dialects. The language spoken in Beijing is often referred to as Mandarin or Putonghua. Putonghua, which means "common language" is the country's predominant language and is widely used by more than 70 percent of the population. Putonghua is variously referred to as the "Han language" (hanyu), "Mandarin", or simply Chinese. About two-thirds of the Han people are native speakers of Putonghua, while Han people who come from the southwestern and southeastern sections of China often speak Putonghua as well as their own dialects, such as Shanghaiese and Cantonese.

Various groups such as the Mongolian, Tibetan, Naxi, Yi, Uygur, as well as many other ethnic groups have their own "native" languages. Because of the increased economic and cultural flow across China during the past twenty years, the use of Putonghua has also increased.

In recent years, as tourism to China has been increasing, the use of English has been sweeping across the country. Most of the service staff in hotels and many stores can speak fluent or basic English. It is interesting and fun to learn some basic Putonghua. Below are is a chart to help you with pronunciation followed by simple words and phrases you might actually use during your trip. We also recommend you carry a small phrase book with you. At least you can point to the 'Chinese Characters' and get a basic message across!


A. 23 letters in Pinyin:

Letter  Pronunciation Letter  Pronunciation Letter Pronunciation
B As in bay G As in go Sh As in shirt
P As in pay K As in kit R As in leisure
M As in may H As in hit Z As in reads
F As in fat J As in jeep C As in hats
D As in dad Q As in cheer S As in say
T As in time X As in she Y As in yes
N As in nay Zh As in junk W As in way
L As in lay Ch As in church    

B. Useful words and phrases:

1. Orientation and Geography

Pinyin  English Pinyin English Pinyin English
dong East hu lake qu canal
xi West he river jie street
nan South shan mountain lu road
bei North hai sea xiang lane
1 1 wan gulf    

2. Numbers
Number  Pinyin Number  Pinyin Number  Pinyin Number Pinyin
1 yi 6 liu 11 shi yi 31 san shi yi
2 er 7 qi 12 shi er 100 yi bai
3 san 8 ba 20 er shi 200 er bai
4 si 9 jiu 21 er shi yi 1,000 yi qian
5 wu 10 shi 30 san shi 10,000 yi wan

3. Useful phrases: Pronouns
English Pinyin English Pinyin
I Wo hello Ni hao
we/us women goodbye Zai jian
you Ni / nimen(plural) thank you Xie xie
he / she / it Ta please qing
they / them tamen you're welcome Bu ke qi
Excuse me Qing ni I'm sorry duibuqi

English Pinyin English Pinyin
How much is it? duoshao qian? train station huo che zhan
That's too expensive. tai guile airport fei ji chang
My name is... Wo jiao... bus station qi che zhan
I'm from... Wo shi cong...laide. hotel jiu dian / fan dian
Where is the...? ...zai nali hospital yi yuan
I'm lost. Wo mi lu le. restaurant can ting / fan dian
What's the time? Ji dian le? shop shang dian
I feel ill. Wo bu shu fu. police Jing cha
Could you help me? ni ke yi bang wo ma? Restroom cesuo
I would like... wo xiang yao... Train huo che
I need Wo xu yao Taxi chuzu qi che
I want to go to Wo yao qu Bank yinhang
Do you have You mei you Book shu
Here is my address Zhe shi wode dizhi Map Ditu

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