For every easy thing in the Chinese language there are innumerable hard things. There is no conjugation ( the joy ); instead there are a myriad of complements. There are no tenses; instead there is aspect. There are no plurals; instead there are various “measure words” under which all nouns are classified. The grammar is fairly straightforward; there are TONES which I am finding near impossible to reproduce at a conversational speed.

In any case, this is not about the ins-and-outs of the Chinese language. It is a selection of useful phrases, some of which I use regularly, some of which are in reserve for that emergency situation, and all of which the well-equipped foreigner needs to know in Beijing. I took a few ideas from the book in the cover photo, but nearly all of the sentences are my own creations. If you’re desperate to know how to pronounce them then you can paste the characters into Google, find the Pinyin, and be just as confused as before.



听不懂 – I don’t understand

我不知道 – I don’t know

请再说一遍 – Please say that again

可以吗?- [All purpose question asking if something is OK or understood]

对不起,我是英国人,就迷路了 – Excuse me, I’m British and I’m lost

你会说英语吗,你刚才说的话一句我听不出来 – Do you speak English, I didn’t catch a word of what you just said

不是美国人,而是英国的,难道侮辱我吗?- I’m not American, I’m British. Are you trying to insult me?


这个 – This [accompanied with a pointed finger] (Probably my most used word)

多少钱?- How much does it cost?

真的吗,付要价吧?- Really? You think I’m going to pay the full price?

我只是学生,要价太高了 – I’m just a student, the asking price is too high

不要你卖的玩意儿 – I don’t want that junk you’re selling


Jin David Dave
This has nothing to do with the current post, it’s just a photo of me on an electric bike with Jin and Dave. Courtesy of Jade, who didn’t fancy being the fourth passenger.


好的,可以跟我拍照 – OK, you can take a photo with me

你疯了 – You’re crazy!

走开 – Get out of the way!

别盯着我!- Don’t stare at me!

你在放屁!- You’re talking rubbish! (lit: you’re farting)

你真是笨得够呛,连方便面都不会煮 – You’re so stupid you can’t even cook instant noodles


服务员!- Waiter/Waitress!

Happy Hour 什么时候开始?- When does Happy Hour start?

两瓶糟糕的青岛什么 – Two bottles of that Tsingtao crap please

我要点还一扎桶性感沙滩吗? – Do we want to order another pitcher of sex on the beach?


你的女儿其实很漂亮,但恐怕现在不可能结婚 – Your daughter is indeed very pretty, but I’m afraid I can’t get married right now

我不是愚蠢的游客啊!- I’m not a stupid tourist!

如果你再吐痰,我就揍你一顿 – If you spit again I’m going to knock you one

这份面怎么吃呢?有哈尔滨那么冷!- How am I supposed to eat these noodles, they’re as cold as Harbin!

我马上要去英国使馆,也许是外交风波引起的 – I need to go to the British Embassy straight away, I might have just caused a diplomatic incident