Remember when they said the ol’ email would be obsolete soon?
Remember when everyone thought social media would eat the original communication service of the internet and render it useless?
If you’re an online freelancer or someone who manages any type of brand on the world wide web, chances are you’re going to be in your inbox much more often than on social media.
Take it from someone who’s pumping out daily email replies more than tweets.
But even if you’re not in the business of writing emails for, well, business purposes—you may easily find yourself in a situation where you need to write an email of some sort: A job application. A message to a pen pal. A newsletter for your blog. A nice letter to your grandmother who’s just gotten the hang of the ‘net.
The need for email is pretty endless and it really doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.
So if you find yourself in the position of needing to write an email to a Chinese-speaking person or company, you may be sweating a bit.
The thought of managing to type a block of 汉字 (hàn zì) — Chinese text might seem impossible. It’s an intimidating venture, but far from an impossible one. Even for a beginner Mandarin learner. The key is to just keep it simple.
Our guide here can help anybody who wants to write an email in Chinese, be it for business or another polite purpose. But first, you’ll need a few key items to begin.
What Do I Need to Write an Email in Chinese?
- A hanzi keyboard. If you’re writing your email on a smartphone or tablet, this is especially necessary. Luckily, it’s a quick and easy process to find and install a hanzi keyboard.
- A Chinese-English dictionary with both hanzi and 拼音 (pīn yīn) — Chinese romanization. When you get stuck on certain vocabulary words, a translating dictionary is vital. This in-depth dictionary from Chinese-Tools is one this writer uses on the regular for its accuracy and links to example sentences for context.
- A translator app or site. You can’t really copy and paste an entire English email into a translator app and come up with an accurate Chinese version. Mandarin sentence structure is different from English, as you know, so you’ll have to actually use your Mandarin language skills to write this piece of literature. (Bummer, right?) Still, a translator app like SDL is handy to have around just in case.
- An email client. Shocking, isn’t it? Gmail is my personal favorite for sending out Chinese-language emails because I already have a Chinese keyboard extension installed on Chrome. Really, though, any email client will do.
- A script of what you want to say in English. It’s wise to write your email in English before breaking it down into Mandarin so you make sure to cover everything you want to say. Don’t just play as you go.
- A willingness to work at it until you get it right. Like with any type of speech or writing, writing an email in Chinese is something that simply takes exposure and practice. But you can make learning the authentic vocabulary you need for the practical life skills that matter to you—like business and technology talk, general communication and more—easier by using FluentU.
Send! How to Write a Polite, Professional Email in Chinese
1. Subject Line
Any business culture in the East or West appreciates brevity, clarity and politeness. So if your email is work-related, your subject line should take that into account.
Similarly, even a subject line to a pen pal or other non-business entity is usually best if brief and clear.
请求新钢笔 (qǐng qiú xīn gāng bǐ)
(Request for new pens)
Note: For the sake of translation, we’ll include pinyin in these instructions. Note that your final email should be solely composed of hanzi.
2. Addressing and Greeting
Be sure to personally greet everyone who will be reading the email and include business-appropriate labels. If you don’t know the exact name of the person you’re emailing, the Chinese version of “to whom it may concern” (below) is perfectly acceptable.
In many English-speaking cultures, a little bit of friendly informality is normal, but this isn’t so much the case in Chinese culture. When it comes to requests or bad news, it’s very common in Chinese business culture to apologize for inconvenience even if there is no substantial inconvenience.
If you’re writing an email to a Chinese pen pal, on the other hand, then using informal (though still polite) language is a great way to make an emotional connection with a new friend.
致相关人士: (zhì xiāng guān rén shì:)
如有不便之处，敬请见谅。(rú yǒu bù biàn zhī chù, jìng qǐng jiàn liàng.)
(To whom it may concern:
I apologize for any inconvenience, I kindly ask your forgiveness.)
The body of your email doesn’t need to be incredibly short, but it should be quick and to the point if you’re writing for business purposes. This is especially the case if you’re asking for something or your email is time-sensitive.
Non-business emails can be as long-winded as you’d like depending on the context, but it’s wise for the beginner to keep it brief to avoid too many mistakes that could leave the recipient scratching their head.
这是办公室214的艾米丽。(zhè shì bàn gōng shì 214 de ai mǐ lì.)
我的财务部门需要黑色钢笔。(wǒ de cái wù bù mén xū yào hēi sè gāng bǐ.)
您能将500包笔发送给我吗？(nín néng jiāng 500 bāo bǐ fā sòng gěi wǒ ma?)
请在方便时尽早把包裹寄来。(qǐng zài fāng biàn shí jǐn zǎo bǎ bāo guǒ jì lái.)
(This is Emily from office #214. The finance department is in need of new black ink pens. Would you please send me 500 packages of pens? Please send us the package at your earliest convenience.)
Always thank your readers thoroughly for reading your email. Again, politeness, modesty and humility is key for coming off as someone who cares about saving face. Not every email you send needs to end with an apology and a gratuitous thankful statement, but make it clear you care about them taking the time.
麻烦你了! (má fan nǐ le!) 多谢 、(duō xiè)
(Sorry for the trouble! Thanks a lot,)
Business card culture is very important in China and Japan, so your signature should include your contact information and relevant information. This is even so for non-business emails; you’ll look quite professional with a dense signature.
Remember, your signature should be entirely in hanzi except for the tail end of the email address.
艾米丽 (ai mǐ lì)
财务专家 (cái wù zhuān jiā)
1234 西猫巷 (1234 xī māo xiàng)
1234 West Cat Lane
- Always run through your email several times and properly proofread it. Make sure your sentence structures are correct, your vocabulary words are accurate and you’ve used correct Chinese punctuation such as 。or 、instead of English periods and commas.
- If the email in question is for business purposes, avoid using emojis and smileys. Not so different from in English, is it? Even if your email isn’t for a business purpose, I would suggest still avoiding emojis if you’re not good friends with the email recipient. It just seems a bit more mature.
- For intermediate and advanced learners: Try to stick as close to your English script as possible and use this opportunity to learn vocabulary words that may be more difficult in Chinese. You could always dumb down your email to make translation easier, but where’s the challenge in that?
- For beginners: Keep it simple and stick to what you know.
Are you feeling a little less overwhelmed by writing an email in Chinese?
It’s not hard at all!
Even if your email doesn’t come out perfect, you’ve taken an important step towards mastering Chinese emails—and Chinese as a language as well.
Em Casalena is a published author, freelance writer and music columnist. They write about a lot of stuff, from music to films to language.
And One More Thing...
If you want continue learning Chinese with interactive and authentic Chinese content, then you'll love FluentU.
FluentU naturally eases you into learning Chinese language. Native Chinese content comes within reach, and you'll learn Chinese as it's spoken in real life.
FluentU has a wide range of contemporary videos—like dramas, TV shows, commercials and music videos.
FluentU brings these native Chinese videos within reach via interactive captions. You can tap on any word to instantly look it up. All words have carefully written definitions and examples that will help you understand how a word is used. Tap to add words you'd like to review to a vocab list.
FluentU's Learn Mode turns every video into a language learning lesson. You can always swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you're learning.
The best part is that FluentU always keeps track of your vocabulary. It suggests content and examples based on the words you're learning. You have a 100% personalized experience.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Chinese with real-world videos.