9 Super Useful Chinese Phrasebooks You Can Get Digitally
衛生間在哪裡？(wèishēngjiān zài nǎlǐ?)
This is how you would say, “Where is the restroom?” in Mandarin.
That is just one of the hundreds of Chinese phrases, among asking for directions and any kind of assistance, that can come in handy in a Mandarin-speaking region.
Chinese phrasebooks are packed with essential words and expressions you can use to break down that language barrier, and luckily, many are available in digital format!
- Why Opt for a Phrasebook in Kindle Format?
- 9 Crazy Good Kindle Phrasebooks for Chinese Learners
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)
Why Opt for a Phrasebook in Kindle Format?
It’s the Perfect Travel Companion
A typical Kindle device is about the size of a traditional book, but can store an entire encyclopedia set 100 times over. With a Kindle, you can carry all of your favorite phrasebooks along with a digital copy of “The Girl on the Train” or the “Harry Potter” volume you’re currently reading (or re-reading, or re-re-reading…). Simply put, an Amazon Kindle is a huge space saver, which is crucial for travelers who need as much extra room in their suitcases as they can get.
But even if you’re not traveling, it’s just more convenient to have all of your Mandarin learning books stored in a single device. Pop your Kindle in your bag and you know you’ll be able to squeeze in some extra Chinese practice no matter where you are. Plus, most Kindle books come with bookmark and highlight features, so you can easily locate and review phrases you find useful.
You’ll Have a Bigger Selection of Phrasebooks
Some of the more recent Chinese phrasebooks are only available in Kindle format. This is becoming common practice because it saves publishers printing costs. This is also why many Chinese e-books aren’t available in print.
Some of the titles we’ll cover later in this list are only found on Kindle. Others were previously published as a traditional book and then made available in Kindle.
Kindle Books Are Cheaper (Usually) and Even Free
In some cases, you may be able to find a used copy of a traditional book at a cheaper price than its Kindle counterpart. Even so, the final cost may still be higher due to the shipping and/or tax. Kindle authors can sell their books cheaper because, as just mentioned, there are no printing costs involved.
If you’re a member of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, some books are even free. This includes some of the Chinese phrasebooks listed below.
9 Crazy Good Kindle Phrasebooks for Chinese Learners
“Crash Course Chinese”
“Crash Course Chinese” is a best-seller that covers more than 500 Chinese phrases. The book operates on the 80/20 rule, which holds that 80 percent of a spoken language is derived from 20 percent of language’s vocabulary. Therefore the phrases in this book represent the most common used words in everyday Mandarin to quickly spike your conversational skills.
The author, Celine Li, is a native Chinese speaker from Beijing and has worked for years as a Chinese instructor for English speakers.
The phrases cover most situations that travelers will encounter, including:
- Asking for directions
- Responding in an emergency situation
- How to order at a restaurant
- How to order at a bar
- How to bargain while shopping
Aside from phrases, you’ll also learn common Chinese characters that you may come across during your travels.
“Survival Chinese” covers the most basic phrases. The phrases contain phonetic pronunciation, making it especially useful for those who never studied pinyin. All phrases also contain Chinese characters so that, in a pinch, you can point to a phrase when trying to communicate with a native speaker.
There’s also an A-Z index, doubling the book as an English to Chinese dictionary, as well as a guide that explains grammar rules. Another section also covers the proper pronunciation for the five tones.
Lonely Planet’s “China Phrasebook and Dictionary”
This travel-focused phrasebook covers both “survival Chinese” that you’ll need on the fly (like when you’re hunting for the restroom) and cultural information for a rewarding travel experience.
Since the whole book covers a range of Chinese languages and dialects, you’ll appreciate that you can download the book chapter by chapter. Just select “Mandarin” from the “View Chapters” dropdown menu.
The phrases are organized by category for easy browsing. Topics covered include:
- Crossing borders
- Meeting people
- Feelings and opinions
This phrasebook comes in PDF form. Here’s how to easily get a PDF onto your Kindle.
If you enjoy the straightforward but thorough nature of this phrasebook, you might be interested in Lonely Planet’s other publications. From travel guides to dictionaries to “pocket” city explorers, Lonely Planet can help you go from tourist to savvy traveler.
“Chinese Slanguage” is a valuable aid for memorizing phrases through the use of associating images (some of which can get pretty creative!). For example, the simple pronoun 你 (nǐ) — you, is also written in the book as “knee” and contains an illustration of a knee.
This book covers the most common phrases for ordering food, asking for directions and terms you may encounter at the airport or subway station.
Once you’ve mastered all the phrases and want to learn more, you can follow up with a secondary guide, “More Chinese Slanguage,” written by the same author, Mike Ellis.
“Essential Chinese” is published by Tuttle, best known for its Essential Phrasebook series. This is one of the more comprehensive phrasebooks on the market, containing over 1,500 phrases and sentences designed for foreign tourists, students and business travelers.
The glossary section covers more than 2,000 common terms and expressions. All titles in the Essential Phrasebook series contain a “point to” feature with complete written Chinese that users can simply show to get their point across without saying a word.
“Chinese Phrases for Dummies”
This book was published in 2007, so it’s a bit of an oldie but still a goodie. If you’ve ever read a “Dummies” guide, you know it’s intended for laymen and injects its topic with humor. Within these 224 pages you’ll find phrases for various day-to-day scenarios, including:
- Asking for directions
- Eating out
- Handling emergencies
- Discussing the time, date and weather
- Talking about sports
As a companion guide, you can also get “Chinese for Dummies” from the same author. This is a more comprehensive guide for students needing a basic introduction on vocabulary, grammar rules and basic etiquette for conforming to Chinese cultural norms.
“Making Out in Chinese”
“Making Out in Chinese” includes all the phrases you expect to find in other phrasebooks. However, it also contains a section called Vogue Expressions that covers common Chinese slang terms and Chinese idioms used by the younger generation.
More interestingly, if you’re looking to find a love interest, this book will show you how to flirt in Chinese! This is perfect if you’re at a bar and want to experiment with some of the popular pickup lines.
The phrases in this book are presented alongside Chinese characters and pinyin.
If you’re enjoying this less formal phrasebook, another similar title you might enjoy is “Niubi!: The Real Chinese You Were Never Taught in School.” Here you’ll find slang terms and even cuss words if you believe showing off a little vulgarity is a good thing.
“One Week Chinese Mastery”
This isn’t solely a phrasebook, though it does cover more than 1,000 common Chinese phrases. The material is divided into five sections: grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, slang and colloquialism and variations of the language. At just 70 pages, the book is a short read but dense in information.
Of course, you won’t achieve mastery in just one week as the book’s cover claims. However, beginners will acquire a firm grasp of the fundamentals and learn to speak at a comprehensible level.
“BBC Mandarin Chinese Phrasebook and Dictionary”
This guidebook is written with the traveler in mind. It’s designed to be super user-friendly—the phrases are arranged by topic and are color-coded for easy reference.
Sections include “General Conversation,” “Accommodation,” “Food and Drink” among other essential travel topics. Plus, each section is neatly designed to cover phrases you need to use, phrases you’ll likely see (like on public signage) and phrases you’ll likely hear.
The format allows users to swap out words to create their own sentences. There’s also a useful mini-dictionary. Plus, it really takes advantage of the Kindle format, with the option to create digital flashcards instantly.
Supplementary Reference: FluentU
To gain a full understanding of how phrases are used in conversations, you need to see these phrases outside of these Kindle books and in real situations.
That way, you can build up on your conversational skills and not get stuck when native speakers respond differently from the sample dialogues from the phrasebooks above.
FluentU can help since it’s a Chinese language learning app that also doubles as a video-based dictionary. Type in any phrase and the app will show you authentic Mandarin Chinese media clips, like comedy sketches and movie clips, that feature your search. The interactive subtitles display definitions, sentence examples and related videos to help you learn new words and phrases in context.
For extra practice, you can also add any words from the subtitles to your personalized vocab list or flashcard deck, as well as take adaptive quizzes.
Understanding basic phrases means you won’t be a complete fish out of water when visiting the Great Wall or browsing a night market in Taipei. You’ll be able to communicate without relying too much on charades!