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China Travel Tips

Chinese Language

Learn some simple Chinese words and expressions to help when you travel in China.

The official language of the People¨s Republic of China is Mandarin or putonghua, roughly the form of the language spoken in Beijing. Natives in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xiamen, Quanzhou, Suzhou, Hangzhou, etc speak their local dialects, which are difficult for even Mandarin speakers to understand. Regardless of dialect, Chinese speakers share a written language in common, consisting of Chinese characters, of which about 5,000 are in common daily use.

The sound of each character as spoken in the standard (Mandarin) dialect has been rendered into a Romanized system called pinyin, which employs letters from the alphabet to mimic the sounds and carry the meaning of Chinese words. Pronouncing pinyin has its own nuances and complications. Among the biggest stumbling blocks are the following consonants (accompanied by approximate English equivalents).

c    like ts in the word `its¨
g    hard g as in `give¨
h    like ch in Scottish `loch¨
j     like j in `jeer¨
q    similar to ch in `cheer¨
x    like sh in `ship¨
z    like ds in `kids¨
zh   like j in `jug¨

Some useful words

Hello       ni hao
Goodby     zai jian
Thanks     xie xie
Sorry       dui bu qi
Wrong    bu dui
Today     jin tian
Tomorrow   ming tian
Airport     ji chang
Hotel      bin guan
Taxi         di shi
Ok        Ok
Passport     hu zhao
Visa       qian zheng

I don¨t understand     wo bu dong
How much is this?    duo shao qian?
Too expensive      tai gui le
Cheaper?        pian yi dian?
Too big/Too small      tai da/tai xiao
I don¨t want it      bu yao

Pinyin can be learnt from your China interpreter. Also, Interpretersky¨s tour guide in Shanghai, tour guide in Guangzhou/Beijing and other cities can also work as your tutor to help you learn simple Chinese.

Bargaining tips

When you buy things from small vendors or shops (except department stores or big shopping malls), you could bargain and it¨s fun. You could use the above-mentioned words to communicate with the vendors, and they also expect your bargaining so as to sell things to you.

It is really enjoyable to buy at a price you are satisfied with, but make sure that the article you take is the one you want since there are some dishonest shop keepers who will replace the purchased products with shoddy ones. So you are strongly advised to hire a Chinese interpreter or private tour guide to help you, then you will save more money and win a lower price, and also avoid some risk.

Hire a China interpreter/translator/personal assistant

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