When you're traveling in China, knowing how to correctly say hello in Chinese the allows you to properly greet more than 1.4 billion Mandarin Chinese speakers.
As you'd expect, you should use a polite greeting when you need to ask for help or meet somebody for the first time in China. However, greetings are a bit more complicated than in America.
Here are some typical greetings and responses to get you ready to travel in Chinese-speaking locations. If you're interested in further study, you can book our Hanbridge Travel Mandarin Course. It will give you an excellent start in learning what you need to know while traveling.
Mandarin Chinese is the official language of Mainland China and Taiwan, and is one of the official languages of Singapore and the United Nations. It is the most widely-spoken language in the world.
Mandarin Chinese is sometimes referred to as a "dialect," but the distinction between dialects and languages is not always clear. There are many versions of Mandarin spoken throughout China, and these are usually classified as dialects.
Mandarin is often referred to as "simplified Chinese" because it contains only four tones. Words tend to be shorter than ours, so one word can have several different meanings depending on the tone that you use.
So how many ways to say hello in Chinese?
There are five most common ways to greet someone in China.
你(nǐ)好(hǎo)! (Hello/Hi!)--This is the basic greeting in Chinese. Both words are pronounced with a falling-then-rising tone. The literal translation is "you good," or in other words, "how are you?"
您(nín)好(hǎo)!(Hello/Hi!)--This is used by saying Hello to Elders and Superiors. Following the concept of saving face in Asia, elders and those of higher social status should always be shown additional respect. The proper way to say hello in Chinese to superiors is by using "您(nín)好(hǎo)" -- a more polite variation of the standard greeting.
下(xià)午(wǔ)好(hǎo)! (Good afternoon.)
晚(wǎn)上(shang)好(hǎo)! (Good evening.)
你(nǐ)怎(zěn)么(me)样(yàng)? (How is it going?)
最(zuì)近(jìn)怎(zěn)么(me)样(yàng)? (How's it going lately?)
最(zuì)近(jìn)好(hǎo)吗(ma)? (How are you lately?)
How to responding to "How are you"? As you'd expect, when someone asks you how you're doing, there are many possible responses.
我(wǒ)很(hěn)好(hǎo)，谢(xiè)谢(xiè)! (I'm doing great, thank you.)
我(wǒ)不(bù)太(tài)好(hǎo) (I'm not doing well.) In Chinese, as in English, you would only tell people you know reasonably well that you aren't well.
马(mǎ)马(mǎ)虎(hū)虎(hū) (So-so.) This phrase actually translates as "Horse horse tiger tiger". If you use this with your Chinese friends, they'll be very impressed!
还(hái)行(háng) (I'm okay.)
太(tài)好(hǎo)了(le) (I'm fine.)
Should I bow when saying hello in Chinese? No, unlike in Japan where bowing is common, people tend to only bow in China during martial arts, as an apology, or to show deep respect at funerals. Many Chinese opt to shake hands, but don't expect the usual firm, western handshake.
At Hanbridge Mandarin, we'd love to help you learn basic Chinese. Contact us today to schedule a trial lesson.