10 Simple Phrases for Improving Your Conversational Skills

In Chinese by Jake Gill

Once we get past “你好吗” (how are you?) and “我不会说中文” (I don’t speak Chinese) it seems the sky’s the limit, but what kinds of language can we use to improve conversational skills and extract even more information out of language exchange partners, language teachers and native speakers? Today we’ll be trying to answer that question by providing 10 phrases that’ll be sure to improve your Chinese conversational skills.

1. Excuse me, could you say that again?
(S) 对不起,请再说一遍。
(T) 對不起,請再說一遍。
(P) Duìbùqǐ, qǐng zài shuō yí biàn.
Did you miss a chunk of information or the tone for a specific word? This extremely versatile phrase is perfect for any occasion and beats having to pretend you understood everything someone just said.
2. I’m sorry, I don’t understand
(S) 对不起,我听不懂。
(T) 對不起,我聽不懂。
(P) Duìbùqǐ, wǒ tīng bù dǒng.
Don’t mess around with having someone repeat things again. Instead, just tell them you haven’t got a clue and give the person you’re speaking with a chance to re-phrase, simplify, or repeat what they just said for clarification.
3. You just said ____, right? 
(S) 你刚才说__,是吗(对吗)?
(T) 你剛才說__,是嗎(對嗎)?
(P) Nǐ gāngcái shuō __, shì ma (duì ma)?
Put your conversational skills on the offensive and re-clarify what someone just said using words and language you already know. This is also an awesome way to test your chops on a word or phrase you just heard. Why have someone repeat something when you can repeat it for them?
4. What I mean is… 
(S) 我的意思是…….
(T) 我的意思是…….
(P) Wǒ de yìsi shì …….
Are getting a blank stare from across the table? Give your self another shot at explaining something with this gem of a phrase.
5. How do I say _____ in Chinese?
(S) ____用汉语怎么说?
(T) __用漢語怎麼說?
(P) ____ yòng Hànyŭ zěnme shuō?
Before you run to your dictionary to look up a word, try using this phrase to find out how something is said in Chinese. *Note: If the person you’re talking to doesn’t speak your language, you’re probably still going to need to run to a dictionary.
6. What does _____ mean?
(S) ___是什么意思?
(T) ___是什麼意思?
(P) ___ shì shénme yìsi?
Do you how to read a character but don’t know what the heck it means?  Have you been hearing a phrase over and over again but still don’t know it? If so, than phrase number six is the one for you!
7. What is this/that called?
(S) ___这个/那个叫什么?
(T) ___這個/那個叫什麼?
(P) ___ zhège/nàge jiào shénme?
Don’t have a clue what to call something? Start pointing and say this phrase and get ready to write down what ever the heck you hear. A perfect weapon for restaurants and shopping centers alike.
8. Can you write that down for me? 
(S) 请问,您可以帮我写下来吗?
(T) 請問,您可以幫我寫下來嗎?

(P) Qǐngwèn, nín kěyǐ bāng wǒ xiě xiàlái ma?

With this phrase you’ll be making connections between spoken and written language in no time. Perfect for adding new vocabulary to your journal or remembering that impossibly long address.
9. Can you speak a little slower please? 
(S) 您可以说得慢一点吗?
(T) 您可以說得慢一點嗎?
(P) Nín kěyǐ shuōde màn yì diǎn ma?
Sometimes it isn’t the content that trips us up, but rather the speed of delivery. Slow things down down with this easy-to-master phrase!
10. Can I say ____?
(S) 可以说___吗?
(T) 可以說___嗎?
(P) Kěyǐ shuō ___ ma?
There is no doubt in my mind that taking risks is  great way to learn a language fast. But how the heck do you know if what you said is correct or not–aside from blank stares and funny looks? This simple phrase allows you to check sentences with others and often leads to even more information.
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