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?
(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
(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?
(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…
(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?
(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?
(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?
(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?
(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?
(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 ____?
(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.