Not Knowing Chinese in China


Not Knowing Chinese in China

So, I have this thing where I try to learn at least a little bit of the language of the place I’m visiting. Sometimes I can (Je parle Français!) and sometimes not so much (um, I don’t know how to say I don’t speak Chinese, in Chinese). I did go with some applications to help me, a phrases guide and a two-way dictionary, and a very open mind to learning as I went.

In China, at the more standard hotels (Hyatt, Hilton, etc.) they have English speaking staff who can assist you in getting to a destination using a cab (writing the destination name in Chinese for you to show the driver etc.) or to plan a tour somewhere, like the Great Wall. They don’t however, travel around with you and act as a translator. The Chinese are like Americans, they know their language, and would appreciate it if you are visiting their country that you make at least a little effort. They are pretty easy going however. If you are friendly, they are as well. Except maybe the cab drivers, they always seem angry. Of course, if I had to drive in that traffic, I’d likely be gruff as well!

Anyways, not knowing Chinese is not a huge issue. They understand English numbers, 1 .. 2 .. 3.. etc. and from my experience at least a general sense of basic English; where, how, etc. If you have your trusty phrases app/book and dictionary, you’ll be even better off.

Getting around is fairly straightforward as I’ve detailed in other blog posts, signs are in English or use the same pictures we do (guys wear pants, girls wear dresses) and many of their overhead announcements for the train and airport are given in English after Chinese.

Menus are a bit of a challenge but I can’t remember one place where there weren’t pictures on the menu if there wasn’t an English option. It’s pretty easy and I really enjoyed the experience. If you can take some classes before you go and learn to say basic phrases, you’ll leave a good impression.

Chinese is a different language however, pronunciation is very important. Start simple, learn the basics, then branch out. The phone app I used will speak phrases for me so, that can be very helpful in a pinch!

See the “What to Bring to China” post for the applications I used for communication.

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