Monday, August 27, 2007

Go strike a conversation in Chinese

Don't be surprised if you get a very warn and friendly response to your enthusiasm in speaking Chinese. From my own experience, I can guarantee you that Chinese people will truly appreciate the effort you make to communicate with them in their own language. And don't worry if you don't get right the first time: "Saving Face" is deeply ingrained in that culture so rest assured they will not make you feel embarrassed for making a mistake.

You can strike a conversation with just a few simple words:

Hello • Ni3hao3
Hello (politely) • nin2hao3
How are you? • ni3 hao3 ma5
Very well, and you? • wo3 hen3hao3, ni3ne5
Not too bad • bu2cuo4
Not so good • hai2ke3yi3
So-So • ma3ma5hu1hu5
I'm also very well • wo3 ye3 hen3 hao3
Thank you • xie4xie5

This are other phrases you can use:

Good Morning • zao3chen2 hao3
Good Evening • Wan3shang4 hao3
Good Night • wan3an1 hao3

Keep in mind that in China to call somebody by his or her given name is a privilege reserved for family members and very close friends. Therefore, to address someone politely you must either use the person's full name or the last name plus a title. If they want to move to a first-name basis, they will let you know which name to use.

Here are some examples of how to address people depending on their age:

  • Teacher Wang • Wang2 lao3shi1
  • An elderly man • Wang2 ye2ye5
  • An elderly woman • Wang2 nai3nai5
  • Mr. Wang • Wang2 xian1sheng1
  • Mrs. Wang • Wang2 fu1ren2
  • Miss Wang • Wang xiao3jie1
  • A young person • xiao3 Wang2
  • A driver any other worker, to show respect • shi1fu5
  • A manager • Wang2 jing1li3
  • A school Principal • Wang2 xiao4zhang3
Its a good idea to keep this pointers in mind when addressing Chinese people:
  • Greetings are formal and the oldest person is always greeted first.
  • Handshakes are the most common form of greeting with foreigners.
  • Many Chinese will look towards the ground when greeting someone. Don't think they are being disrespectful - it's just a customary social practice.
  • Address the person by a title and their surname. They will let you know if and when to address them on a first name basis.