basic chinese conversation

Take Your Basic Chinese Conversation to the Next Level with 4 Timeless Topics

Stuck in a conversational rut with your Chinese?

Find yourself using the same introductory phrases over and over?

Chinese conversation scripts—the kind you’d find in a beginner textbook—are great for getting started. But they’re usually too stiff and don’t translate well when you try to use them in real-life contexts.

Here, we’ll introduce you to some easy conversational phrases adapted for a variety of encounters and scenarios.

Plus, we’ll give you common answers that you might hear, or ways for you to answer if you’re the one being asked.

The best part? These phrases are still easy enough for any beginning learner to pick up.

Not only will you impress your conversational partners, but you’ll also learn new ways to build and flex your linguistic muscles.

Let’s get started!
 


 

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What You Need to Know About Basic Chinese Conversation

First, let’s start with a bit of cultural context. Most Chinese textbooks begin with a sample dialogue like this:

A: 你好(Nǐ hǎo.) — Hello.

B: 你好。(Nǐ hǎo.) — Hello.

A: 你是学生吗?(Nǐ shì xuéshēng ma?) — Are you a student?

B: 不是,我是老师。你呢?(Bùshì, wǒ shì lǎoshī. Nǐ ne?) — No, I’m a teacher. What about you?

A: 我是学生。(Wǒ shì xuéshēng) — I am a student.

This dialogue is great for learning a bit of introductory vocabulary—but if you were to try it outside of the classroom, it would sound…well, like it came from a textbook.

A much more natural way to start a conversation is to state the obvious.

In Chinese, this is a common way to open a dialogue. It’s quite similar to the way an English speaker might use a rhetorical question—like asking a colleague, “Hey, done with lunch?” even though it’s clear that the colleague has already finished eating and has gone back to work.

Think of it as a way to open your conversational door!

Try these neutral conversation starter statements. They work great with anyone—from a friend, colleague or acquaintance, to your boss, or even to a stranger!

你回来了!(Nǐ huí lái le!) — You’re back!

你来了! (Nǐ lái le!) — You made it/You’re here!

好久不见!(Hǎo jiǔ bù jiàn!) — Long time no see!

吃饭了吧。(Chī fàn le ba.) — You’ve already eaten. (Similar to asking “I take it you’ve already eaten?” and can be used if you’re meeting up with someone close to mealtime. It’s also just a polite way to greet someone.)

最近很忙吧。(Zuìjìn hěn máng ba.) — (It seems like) You’ve been really busy lately.

你的新工作已经开始了吧。(Nǐ de xīn gōngzuò yǐjīng kāishǐ le ba.) — So your new job has started.

这里的咖啡很好喝。(Zhèlǐ de kāfēi hěn hǎo hē.) — The coffee here is great.

今天天气还不错。(Jīntiān tiānqì hái bùcuò.) — The weather is pretty good today.

Take Your Basic Chinese Conversation to the Next Level with 4 Timeless Topics

So you’ve opened the door to a conversation.

Great!

But what do you say after that first statement or question?

Let’s build on what we’ve learned so far by putting our conversation starters together with common phrases to transform simple, basic Chinese conversation topics into impressive, native-sounding exchanges!

Talking to a Friend About Hobbies

basic chinese conversation

Speaking with friends is a great opportunity to try out the neutral conversation starters we just learned about.

One of the most common phrases is so popular that we share its equivalent in English, too: “Long time no see.”

Let’s take a look at this dialogue between two old pals:

A: 好久不见。(Hǎojiǔ bùjiàn.) — Long time no see.

B: 是的!(Shì de!) — Yeah!

A: 你最近怎么样?(Nǐ zuìjìn zěnme yàng?) — How have you been recently?

B: 我最近很忙!你呢?(Wǒ zuìjìn hěn máng! Nǐ ne?) — I’ve been very busy! What about you?

A: 我也很忙,我每天都在学中文!(Wǒ yě hěn máng, wǒ měitiān doū zài xué Zhōngwén!) — I’ve been busy too. I’ve been studying Chinese every day!

B: 能听得出来!你的发音很有进步!(Néng tīng de chūlái! Nǐ de fǎ yīn hěn yǒu jìnbù!) — I can hear the difference! Your pronunciation has really improved!

Talking to a Colleague About Work

basic chinese conversation

Striking up a casual conversation with Chinese-speaking colleagues is a great way to build camaraderie and language skills.

Before diving into a work-related request or asking for help on a project, try easing into your conversation with a dialogue like this:

A: 你回来了!(Nǐ huílái le!) — You’re back!

B: 回来了!(Huílái le!) — (Yep,) I’m back!

A: 吃饭了吧?(Chīfàn le ba?) — You ate already?

B: 吃完了。(Chī wán le.) — [Yes,] I ate.

A: 那请问,你现在有空吗?(Nà qǐngwèn, nǐ xiànzài yǒu kòng ma?) — Then may I ask, are you free right now?

B: 有,怎么了?(Yǒu, zěnme le?) — Yeah, what’s up?

A: 你可以帮我回一封邮件吗?(Nǐ kěyǐ bāng wǒ huí yī fēng yóujiàn ma?) — Can you help me reply to an email?

B: 可以,没问题!(Kěyǐ, méi wèntí!) — Sure, no problem!

Talking to an Acquaintance About the Weather and Nationalities

basic chinese conversation

You can embrace your growing linguistic and cultural know-how by engaging your conversational partners in questions about their background, hometown or nationality.

These topics are often considered “fair game” in the Chinese-speaking world.

Take pride in your roots by practicing the conversation below! You can switch out the hometown and the description of its weather for details about your own upbringing.

A: 今天天气还不错。(Jīntiān tiānqì hái bùcuò.) — The weather is pretty good today.

B: 是啊!(Shì a!) — True!

A: 请问,您是哪里人?(Qǐngwèn, nǐ shì nǎlǐ rén?) — May I ask, where are you from?

B: 我是哈尔滨人。(Wǒ shì Hā’ěrbīn rén.) — I’m from Harbin.

A: 哇, 哈尔滨!那里的天气怎么样?(Wa, Hā’ěrbīn! Nàlǐ de tiānqì zěnme yàng?) — Wow, Harbin! What is the weather like there?

B: 哈尔滨的天气非常冷!(Hā’ěrbīn de tiānqì fēicháng lěng!) — Harbin’s weather is very cold!

Talking to a Cab Driver While Traveling

basic chinese conversation

If you plan to do any traveling in a Chinese-speaking country, you’ll undoubtedly run into a famous conversation partner: the curious taxi driver.

These drivers are so famously chatty that they’ve inspired entire blog posts about the full-immersion experience of learning Chinese in taxis!

Wondering what to say when you hop into your next cab? FluentU’s Chinese learning program has you covered! basic chinese conversation

FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

As a Chinese learner, you can customize the video’s content to your exact needs by choosing to show or hide the characters, pinyin and English translation, as well as by toggling between simplified or traditional characters.

Want to practice fluid conversations in full, but still need to build up your vocabulary? You can also click on any word you don’t know in the subtitles to pull up a definition, pronunciation guide and example sentences.

Best of all, FluentU’s videos present conversations that are both realistic and easy to follow. Let’s take a look at this conversation between a cab driver and his passenger:

Driver: 小姐,您去哪儿?(Xiǎojiě, nín qù nǎ’er?) — Miss, where are you going?

Passenger: 我去语言学院。(Wǒ qù yǔyán xuéyuàn.) — I’m going to the language school.

D: 好。(Hǎo.) — OK.

P: 师傅请问,现在几点?(Shīfù qǐngwèn, xiànzài jǐ diǎn?) — Driver, may I ask, what time is it now?

D: 差一刻八点。您会说汉语啊?(Chà yīkè bā diǎn. Nín huì shuō hànyǔ a?) — A quarter to eight. Can you speak Chinese?

P: 我会说一点儿汉语。我是学生,现在回学院上课。(Wǒ huì shuō yīdiǎn er hànyǔ. Wǒ shì xuéshēng, xiànzài huí xuéyuàn shàngkè.) — I can speak a little Chinese. I’m a student. I’m going back to the school to go to class.

D: 你们几点上课?(Nǐmen jǐ diǎn shàngkè?) — What time do you guys have class?

P: 八点上课。师傅,我们八点能到吗?(Bā diǎn shàngkè. Shīfù, wǒmen bā diǎn néng dào ma?) — We have it at eight o’clock. Driver, can we arrive by eight o’clock?

D: 能到。您的汉语很好。(Néng dào. Nín de hànyǔ hěn hǎo.) — Yes, we can. Your Chinese is good.

P: 嗯··· 哪里,我的汉语不太好。(Èn··· nǎlǐ, wǒ de hànyǔ bù tài hǎo.) — Oh, not really. My Chinese is not that good.

A Cultural Note About Politeness in Basic Chinese Conversation

basic chinese conversation

To further hone your conversational prowess, try starting with 请问 (Qǐngwèn)“Excuse me” or “Please may I ask” at the beginning of a question.

This is a polite way to start a question when speaking with someone you don’t know well, or someone who may hold a respected status—such as a manager, teacher or elderly family member.

If you find yourself in the latter scenario, you can also consider switching any instances of (nǐ) — “you,” to “(nín) — the honorific form of “you.”

We saw two examples of this above:

  • D: 请问,您是哪里人?(Qǐngwèn, nín shì nǎlǐ rén?) — May I ask, where are you from?
  • P: 师傅请问,现在几点?(Shīfù qǐngwèn, xiànzài jǐ diǎn?) — Driver, may I ask, what time is it now?

Or perhaps you find yourself struggling to carry on a conversation, not just to start one.

In that case, try adding a “你呢?” (Nǐ ne?) — “and you,” at the end of a response.

This can be used similarly to its English counterpart, added on to responses like “I’m doing well” or “I’ve been busy lately” to bounce the question back to your partner.

We saw an example of this above:

  • B: 我最近很忙!你呢?(Wǒ zuìjìn hěn máng! Nǐ ne?) — I’ve been very busy! What about you?

 

Congratulations! You’ve built up an arsenal of conversation openers, easy responses and unique tips. Your basic Chinese conversation skills will start skyrocketing in no time!


Kelsey Owyang is an educator from California.
 

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