By Various authors

26 November 2018 - 16:38

Steamed dumplings
'My most useful phrase was 我没吃过 (wo mei chi guo). It means "I haven’t eaten it before".' Photo ©

Pooja Chaudhary used under licence and adapted from the original.

We asked participants from this year's Generation UK internship programme to tell us the most useful Mandarin words and phrases they learned when they moved to China.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

The weather is too hot today 

The most useful phrase I learned when I went to China as a student was 天气太热了(tian qi tai re le). It means ‘the weather is too hot’.  I lived in Chengdu, which was humid and very warm. I said this every day, and it helped me to bond with my Mandarin-speaking co-workers and friends. 

I want one of those …

My most useful phrase was 我要一个… (wo yao yi ge…). It is informal and means ‘I want one of those…’. Accompanied with pointing, this phrase got me pretty far in most restaurants and shops.

‘Ge’ is the most commonly used measure word (or classifier) in Mandarin. You can apply it to scenarios like ‘one bun, please’, ‘one pancake, please’ when in a restaurant.

I haven't eaten it before 

My most useful phrase was 我没吃过 (wo mei chi guo). It means ‘I haven’t eaten it before’.

When I lived in Sichuan, my first conversations with people were often about food. Using that phrase, sometimes with 还 (hai), which means ‘not yet’, usually resulted in exciting lunch plans or local recommendations. For example, 我还没吃过 (wo hai mei chi guo). 

Some of those were 火锅 (huo guo), a hotpot cooking method common in Sichuan province, 回锅肉 (hui guo rou), twice-cooked pork or 冒菜 (mao cai), a hotpot served in individual pots rather than the classic sharing style. 

I don't eat meat 

My most useful phrase was 我不吃肉 (wo bu chi rou). It means ‘I do not eat meat’. I found a fantastic variety of vegetarian dishes in China, but sometimes had to be very specific about my dietary requirements. 

You can also say 我是素食 (wo shi su shi), which means ‘I’m a vegetarian’ for extra clarity, since ‘meat’ could exclude seafood in this context.

I'll take my food to go

The most useful Mandarin phrase I learned was 请打包 (qing da bao). It means ‘please pack’. Use it when you've ordered too much at a restaurant or if the portions are too generous, and you want to take your food home.

Too expensive!

I found the most useful phrases to learn in Mandarin were those concerning cost, such as ‘How much is that?’ 多少钱 (duo shao qian?) or ’Too expensive’ 太贵了(tai gui le).

Learning to haggle was an exciting part of shopping in China and I found that learning a few key phrases provided me with enough to participate in it.

Do you take mobile payments?

The most useful phrase I learned in Mandarin was '可以微信吗 (ke yi weixin ma)?’. It means 'can I pay using WeChat?'.

Mobile payments are very common in China. Even in the most unlikely places, you can usually pay by scanning a QR code. WeChat (微信, wei xin) and Alipay (支付宝, zhi fu bao) are the most common mobile payment apps. 

Is this transaction complete?

During my two months in Beijing, the most useful phrase I learned was 可以了吗 (ke yi le ma), which means ‘is that ok?’. This is a way of asking whether I can leave after completing a transaction. With most payments made by mobile phone, it can be difficult to know whether the payment is complete, and whether you should wait for a receipt.

Although I studied Chinese for two years, I hadn't come across this phrase before living in China. I think that shows that lots of useful everyday expressions in a foreign language can only be picked by staying in the country. 

I can speak a little bit of Chinese

The most useful phrase I found in China was 我会说一点中文 (Wo hui shuo yi dian zhong wen). It means ‘I am able to speak a little bit of Chinese’.

I think it’s always good to let people know that you understand a little bit but not enough to converse. Then, many people will try to help you by slowing down and simplifying their speech. 

Applications for the Generation UK – China internship programme are open for UK students and recent graduates to spend two months in China. Applications close on 13 January.

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