Imagine being lost in a busy city like Beijing.
Now, imagine being lost in a busy city like Beijing without knowing how to ask for directions in Chinese.
What a nightmare, right?
Getting lost in Beijing might not be ideal, but preparing for it can significantly improve your Chinese skills and vocabulary!
It’s the perfect opportunity to talk to natives speakers, learn how Chinese people get each others’ attention and become one with the hustle and bustle of busy Chinese streets.
So if you’re ready to go from roaming the roads to walking the runway with your Chinese grammar and vocabulary, you’ve come to the right spot.
In this blog post, you’ll learn new words for places to go, grammar structures you need to master and how to ask for, give and talk about directions in Chinese.
Let’s get a move on!
Don’t Know Where to Go? Places, Sites and Locations in Chinese
Knowing how to talk about locations and directions in Chinese isn’t very useful without knowing how to say the place you want to go to!
You’ll want to add these words to your vocabulary, whether you’re visiting China or talking about what you did yesterday.
银行 (yín háng) — the bank
医院 (yī yuàn) — the hospital
火车站 (huǒ chē zhàn) — train station
地铁站 (dì tiě zhàn) — subway station
超市 (chāo shì) — grocery store or supermarket
商场 (shāng chǎng) — shopping mall
博物馆 (bó wù guǎn) — museum
图书馆 (tú shū guǎn) — the library
餐厅 (cān tīng) — a casual restaurant
饭店 (fàn diàn) — a more expensive restaurant; hotel
吧 (bā) — bar
公园 (gōng yuán) — park
机场 (jī chǎng) — airport
电影院 (diàn yǐng yuàn) — movie theater
Directions in Chinese: The Ultimate Vocabulary Road Map to Find Your Way
Knowing and understanding directions in Chinese is kind of important.
I mean, I, for one definitely don’t want to find myself lost in the middle of busy Beijing without a clue of how to ask for help.
Below, you’ll learn all the key terms you need to know to understand and give directions to others. Then, you’ll learn how to describe where an object or person is currently located, along with some must-know grammar structures for forming sentences properly.
Must-know Vocabulary for Asking Directions in Chinese
指路/问路 (zhǐ lù/wèn lù) — to give/ask for directions
If you need some guidance, knowing how to ask for it will make receiving it a whole lot easier.
请问你能帮我指路吗? (Qǐng wèn nǐ néng bāng wǒ zhǐ lù ma?) — Excuse me, can you give me directions?
不好意思，你需要问路吗? (Bù hǎoyìsi, nǐ xūyào wèn lù ma?) — I’m sorry (excuse me), do you need directions?
地图 (dì tú) — map
When exploring an area you aren’t quite familiar with (especially in a foreign country), having a 地图 will be beneficial!
请问，你有地图吗? (Qǐng wèn, nǐ yǒu dì tú ma?) — Excuse me, do you have a map?
我不知道我在哪儿! 我需要地图。(Wǒ bù zhī dào wǒ zài nǎ er! Wǒ xū yào dì tú.) — I don’t know where I am! I need a map.
迷路 (mí lù) — to get lost
迷路 can mean “to lose one’s way,” “to get lost” or even “to go astray,” so it’s a useful word to know and one you’ll likely hear in Chinese songs!
It’s important to note here that when putting the particle 了 (le) in the sentence to represent a change in the situation or completed action, it can go either in between 迷 (mí) and 路 (lù) or after 迷路.
天太黑，我迷了路。(Tiān tài hēi, wǒ mí le lù.) — It’s too dark, I got lost.
这名士兵在森林里迷路了。(Zhè míng shì bīng zài sēn lín lǐ mí lù le.) — The soldier lost his way in a forest.
走路 (zǒu lù) — to go by foot
Sometimes, it’s not worth it to drive through congested traffic just to get to a place less than a mile away. In that case, you’ll likely prefer to walk! If so, the phrase 走路去 literally means “walk road go” and is used to mean “to go by foot.”
你怎么去超市的? (Nǐ zěn me qù chāo shì de?) — How do you go to the supermarket?
我走路去的。(Wǒ zǒu lù qù de.) — I go by foot.
从这里到超市走路要多长时间? (Cóng zhè lǐ dào chāo shì yào duō cháng shí jiān?) — How long does it take to get from here to the supermarket by foot?
从这里到超市走路去要差不多五分钟。(Cóng zhè lǐ dào chāo shì zǒu lù qù yào chà bu duō wǔ fēn zhōng.) — Going to the supermarket from here on foot takes about five minutes.
坐火车 (zuò huǒ chē) — to take the train
Maybe you don’t want to get caught in traffic or walk to your destination. In this case, you might want to take public transportation, like the 火车 (huǒ chē) — train.
你每天都是怎么上班的? (Nǐ měi tiān dōu shì zěn me shàng bān de?) — How do you go to work every day?
我坐火车。 (Wǒ zuò huǒ chē.) — I take the train.
You can also say 坐地铁 (zuò dì tiě) to mean “take the subway.”
开车 (kāi chē) — to drive
Of course, some places you just can’t help but drive yourself or 自己开车 (zì jǐ kāi chē). If you do this often, you probably live in a place that doesn’t have much 交通 (jiāo tōng) — traffic.
明天你会开车还是坐火车? (Míng tiān nǐ huì kāi chē hái shì zuò huǒ chē?) — Are you going to drive or take the train tomorrow?
我会开车。(Wǒ huì kāi chē.) — I’ll drive.
坐飞机 (zuò fēi jī) — to take an airplane
The word for “airplane” in Chinese is 飞机 (fēi jī), which literally means “flying machine.” And just like when you travel by train, you say 坐飞机 (zuò fēi jī) to mean “to take a plane.”
从洛杉矶到北京要多长时间? (Cóng luò shān jī dào běi jīng yào duō cháng shí jiān?) — How long does it take to get to Beijing from L.A.?
坐飞机要十个小时左右。(Zuò fēi jī yào shí ge xiǎo shí zuǒ yòu.) — Going by plane takes about 10 hours.
街 (jiē) — street
When trying to find your way somewhere, knowing the different words for street, road and avenue is very helpful.
The word 街 (jiē) means “street.” In Chinese, to say the name of a street, you structure it the same as in English: street name + 街 (jiē).
To say “avenue,” simply add the Chinese word for “big” in front of 街 to make the word 大街 (dà jiē) — avenue.
请问，你知道电影院在哪里吗? (Qǐng wèn, nǐ zhī dào diàn yǐng yuàn zài nǎ lǐ ma?) — Excuse me, do you know where the movie theater is?
我知道啊! 电影院在第一条街上。(Wǒ zhī dào a! Diàn yǐng yuàn zài dì yī tiáo jiē shàng.) — I do know! The movie theater is on first street.
路 (lù) — road
Similar to 街 (jiē), the word 路 (lù) means “road” and is placed after the road’s name.
请问，这是长安路吗? (Qǐng wèn, zhè shì cháng ān lù ma?) — Excuse me, is this Chang An road?
是的。(Shì de.) — It is.
在路上 (zài lù shàng) — on the way
When you’re letting whoever you’re meeting with know that you’re on your way, simply say 我在路上 (wǒ zài lù shàng). This literally means “I’m on the road.”
你已经在机场了吗? (Nǐ yǐ jīng zài jī chǎng le ma?) — Are you already at the airport?
还没有。我在路上。(Hái méi yǒu. Wǒ zài lù shàng.) — Not yet. I’m on my way.
How to Say North, South, East and West in Chinese
When giving directions or reading a map, knowing the words for north, south, east and west will come in handy. Here’s how you say them in Chinese!
北方 (běi fāng) — north
南方 (nán fāng) — south
东方 (dōng fāng) — east
西方 (xī fāng) — west
Location, Placement and Directions in Chinese
前面/前边 (qián miàn/qián biān) — in front of
In Chinese, when describing the location of a person, place or object, we follow the structure: person, place or object + location.
在食堂的前面 (Zài shí táng de qián miàn) — In front of the cafeteria
电视在桌子的前边。 (Diàn shì zài zhuō zi de qián biān.) — The TV is in front of the table.
后面/后边 (hòu miàn/hòu biān) — behind
超市在电影院的后面。(Chāo shì zài diàn yǐng yuàn de hòu miàn.) — The supermarket is behind the movie theater.
我坐在李娜后面。(Wǒ zuò zài lǐ nà hòu miàn.) — I sit behind Lina.
外面/外边 (wài miàn/wài biān) — outside
我妈妈在机场外面。(Wǒ mā ma zài jī chǎng wài miàn.) — My mom is outside the airport.
你可以在我家外边等我吗? (Nǐ kě yǐ zài wǒ jiā wài biān děng wǒ ma?) — Can you wait outside my house?
里面/里边 (lǐ miàn/lǐ biān) — inside
我喜欢在家里面看电影。(Wǒ xǐ huān zài jiā lǐ miàn kàn diàn yǐng.) — I like to watch movies inside.
他还在博物馆里边。(Tā hái zài bó wù guǎn lǐ biān.) — He’s still in the museum.
右边 (yòu biān) — to the right of
医院在公园右边。(Yī yuàn zài gōng yuán yòu biān.) — The hospital is to the right of the park.
桌子在我的右边。(Zhuō zi zài wǒ de yòu biān.) — The table is on my right side.
左边 (zuǒ biān) — to the left of
火车站在银行左边。(Huǒ chē zhàn zài yín háng zuǒ biān.) — The train station is to the left of the bank.
银行在右边还是左边? (Yín háng zài yòu biān hái shì zuǒ biān?) — Is the bank to the right or the left?
一直 (yī zhí) — straight
一直往前走。(Yī zhí wǎng qián zǒu.) — Keep going straight.
一直走。(Yī zhí zǒu.) — Go straight.
旁边 (páng biān) — next to
商场在超市旁边。(Shāng chǎng zài chāo shì páng biān.) — The shopping mall is next to the supermarket.
我的公司在学校旁边。(Wǒ de gōng sī zài xué xiào páng biān.) — My office is next to a school.
Must-know Grammar Structures for Asking Directions in Chinese
Finally, let’s take a look at a few grammar structures that’ll be critical in helping you form sentences related to placement, locations and directions in Chinese.
As with any other type of vocabulary, knowing how to talk about directions isn’t very helpful without knowing how to use those words in sentences. So make sure to add the following patterns to your notebook and start practicing!
。。。离这里远/近吗? (…lí zhé lì yuǎn?/jìn ma?) — Is…far/close to here?
Imagine you’re talking with your friend about a new place you want to check out, like a new restaurant. Your friend makes arrangements to meet you there, but you aren’t sure how far away it is. Besides, you need to have enough time to shower, do your hair, put your makeup on, get in the car and go!
So, you’ll likely want to ask, “Is the restaurant close to here?”
To form this question, you’ll use the …离这里远/近吗? (…lí zhé lì yuǎn/jìn ma?) structure.
饭店离这里远吗? (Fàn diàn lí zhè lǐ yuǎn ma?) — Is the restaurant far from here?
饭店离这里挺远的。(Fàn diàn lí zhè lǐ tǐng yuǎn de.) — The restaurant is pretty far from here.
超市离这里近吗? (Chāo shì lí zhè lǐ jìn ma?) — Is the supermarket close to here?
超市离这里很近。(Chāo shì lí zhè lǐ hěn jìn.) — The supermarket is close to here.
远不远? (Yuǎn bù yuǎn?) — Is it far?
If you want to ask if something is simply “near” or “far,” you can use one of two structures for asking basic questions. The first option is using the question particle 吗 (ma), and the second is to use the affirmative-negative-affirmative structure.
远吗?/近吗? (Yuǎn ma?/Jìn ma?) — Is it far?/Is it close?
远不远?/近不近? (Yuǎn bù yuǎn?/Jìn bù jìn?) — Is it far?/Is it close?
。。。在哪里? (…zài nǎ lǐ?) — Where is…?
In Chinese, the question word for “where” can be pronounced two different ways. The first way is to say 哪里 (nǎ lǐ), which you’ll hear most commonly in Central and Southern China, as well as in Taiwan.
The second way is how it’s pronounced in Northern China, specifically Beijing, 哪儿 (nǎ er).
Beijing and other locations in Northern China are known for using what’s called 儿化音 (ér huà yīn) — the “R” sound.
This is also known as Standard Chinese and is commonly taught in textbooks.
洗手间在哪里?/洗手间在哪儿? (Xǐ shǒu jiān zài nǎ lǐ?/Xǐ shǒu jiān zài nǎ er?) — Where’s the restroom?
我在哪里?/我在哪儿? (Wǒ zài nǎ lǐ?/Wǒ zài nǎ er?) — Where am I?
从A到B要多长时间? (Cóng A dào B yào duō cháng shí jiān?) — How long does it take to get from A to B?
You can use this phrase to ask how long it’s going to take to get somewhere.
Typically, if the expected answer is above ten minutes, you’d use 多长时间 (duō cháng shí jiān) — how long. But if the expected answer is less than ten minutes, use 多久 (duō jiǔ) — how long.
请问, 从这里到火车站要多长时间? (Qǐng wèn, cóng zhè lǐ dào huǒ chē zhàn yào duō cháng shí jiān?) — Excuse me, how long does it take to get to the train station from here?
从你的家到学校要多久? (Cóng nǐ de jiā dào xué xiào yào duō jiǔ?) — How long does it take to get from your house to school?
去。。。怎么走? (Qù…zěn me zǒu?) — How do I get to…?
When asking how to get somewhere, you can use this simple structure.
It’s very useful if you’re lost and trying to determine the best method of transportation, finding out how to meet somebody or anything in between.
请问，去北京怎么走? (Qǐng wèn, qù běi jīng zěn me zǒu?) — Excuse me, how do I get to Beijing?
去你家怎么走? (Qù nǐ jiā zěn me zǒu?) — How do I get to your house?
坐。。。 (Zuò…) — To take…
When talking about taking a certain type of transportation (like a bus, subway or train), use the word 做 (zuò), which literally means “to sit.”
I mean, it makes sense, right?
You don’t have to drive, so when you take public transportation, all you have to do is sit until it arrives at your stop!
坐火车 (zuò huǒ chē) — to take a train
坐地铁 (zuò dì tiě) — to take a subway
坐飞机 (zuò fēi jī) — to take an airplane
So, what’s next now that you know how to talk about, ask for and give directions in Chinese?
It’s time to hit the streets!
Get out there and start asking your way around. You may look like a lost foreigner, but you’re on your way to sounding like a lost local!