How to Make Small Talk in Mandarin Chinese Like a Native in 2018
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How to Make Small Talk in Mandarin Chinese Like a Native in 2018

Hi everyone! Welcome to ChinesePod. I’m Fiona. 大家好,欢迎来到中文播客
Hi everyone, welcome to ChinesePod. 我是Constance
I’m Constance. So in today’s lesson, we’re gonna talk about how native speakers actually greet each other. Now you’re wondering, what does that mean? Does that mean I’ve been greeting native Chinese speakers wrong? Kind of. Especially if you’re using the translation method, right? So, let’s maybe talk about some weird examples of- you’ve often heard from students. 学生说…
Students say… “老师好, 你好, 你好吗?”
“Lǎoshī hǎo, nǐ hǎo, nǐ hǎo ma?” So again, typical. “你好, 你好吗?”
“Nǐ hǎo, nǐ hǎo ma?” Which translates perfectly as “Hello, how are you?” But that doesn’t work in Chinese. And then again, so with these “what’s up?” questions It’s kinda like “hey, what’s up?” You know, it’s a very common greeting in English. And if you translate it, you could translate it into… “怎么样?”
“Zěnme yàng?” “你在干嘛?”
“Nǐ zài gàn ma?” “What are you doing”, right? “How are you?” And it just sounds a bit odd and we’re kinda trying to figure out why. And the reason is you guys are asking the wrong question. You guys are asking “How do I say what’s up in Mandarin?” When the question should really be… “How do native speakers actually greet each other?” So remember that Mandarin state of mind. So let’s get cracking with common examples of how native speakers greet each other. 好的!
Alright! So at this point, you’re like…”what?” The first sentence I learned in my Chinese class which is “你好” or “你好吗” is wrong? Well, it’s not wrong, right? So, when do native speakers actually use “你好?” 第一次见面的时候, 比较礼貌的时候
When you’re meeting someone for the first time, or when you’re being polite. So when you first meet someone or in a very kind of formal setting. It’s kind of like, “hello, good day to you”, right? 你好
Nǐ hǎo But after you met someone for the first time, it’s very awkward if you’re like… 你好! 你好吗?
Nǐ hǎo! Nǐ hǎo ma? And often it’s just because we don’t want to correct you, you know. Because it’s nice that you’re using Chinese, you know, in a real conversation but let’s give you some better ways to do that. So we’re gonna break it down into three main sections today, the first one is just like a general “hello.” The second one is more kind of a stranger, maybe a neighbor that you’ve seen a couple of times in the lift. And then the third one, we’re gonna talk about when you’re really close with someone, how you could greet them. So let’s start with the first one. 好
Okay 要是你已经认识这个人, 你最好可以称呼他然后说”好”
If you already know this person, the best way is to just use their name or title and then add a “Hǎo” 比方说, “田欣好”
For example, “Tián xīn hǎo” 方瑾好!
Fāng jǐn hǎo! 好
Right. 或是”老师好”
Or “Lǎoshī hǎo” 对, “老师好”
Right, “Lǎoshī hǎo” That’s a very important thing that often students kind of get muddled up. They all say… 老师, 你好
Lǎoshī, nǐ hǎo Sounds a bit odd, we often shorten it so we say… “老师好”
“Lǎoshī hǎo” 要是你说”你好”
If you say “Nǐ hǎo” 可能你还想要告诉他什么事情
It makes it seem like you still want to tell them something. So when we hear “你好” or “你好吗”, we’re kind of like, our brains start going like… “What do you wanna know, is there something I need to tell you?” So the easiest way is just to say their name or their title and then just add one “好”. So 老师好, 伯伯好, 阿姨好 or 田欣好
So Lǎoshī hǎo, Bóbo hǎo, Āyí hǎo or Tián xīn hǎo Number two. So now we’re gonna kinda talk of acquaintances, neighbors, people that you don’t know so well. Now I really think Chinese greeting is kinda based on the time of the day. If it’s in the morning, the most common greeting is… So we don’t say – I mean you can say “早安” but it’s very formal.
Zǎo ān So first thing for example When I walk into the office, I say… And if I see Constance in the room, I’ll be like… And then when it gets to lunch time. Food is very important in Chinese culture, so we always wanna know that you’re full and you’re okay. So you’ll often hear this and English speakers initially are like… “What, why are you asking me about this?” So what is the question that you often hear? That means “Are you full yet, have you eaten yet?” Now they’re not really asking you whether you’ve eaten. They’re just kind of inquiring about, you know, just how your day’s going. So like… 吃饱了没?
Chī bǎole méi? And it seems as a very affectionate, very caring way to greet someone. 吃饱了没?
Chī bǎole méi? or 吃了没
Chīle méi? And then, what do you respond? You can be like… 还没, 还没
Hái méi, hái méi 吃了, 吃了
Chīle, chīle 对对对
Right. Okay. Can you lie? Of course you can lie. Yeah, okay. We don’t care. Now we just got – No no no, we care. Now we just got a question from Gwilym behind the camera and he said, “can you lie?” Of course you can lie, it’s small talk, right? 吃了没?
Chīle méi? 吃了, 吃了
Chīle, chīle 啊, 对对
Ah, right. Because usually that’s a good way to kind of stop the conversation if you’re like… “Oh, I’ve already had food”, right? It’s alright, it’s alright. 要是你说”还没吃”, 可能这个人想”那-”
If you say “Hái méi chī”, this person might think- 哇, 打雷!
Whoa! Lightning! 要是你说”还没吃“, 可能一个阿姨或者是那个人觉得
If you say “Hái méi chī”, then that person or auntie might will think… 是不是我应该帮你的忙, 请你吃饭或者是跟你一起去吃饭
Do I need to help you and invite you to lunch or go to lunch with you? Yeah, so the best thing is to say… “Yep, I’m full.” So when it gets to the afternoon, kind of late afternoon, going onto the evening. You might ask… “Oh, you’ve finished work huh?” Or maybe you see your neighbour, she’s collected her kids and she’s walking into your complex or your house. You could say… 或是
or 小孩放学啦?
Xiǎohái fàngxué la? Now you might be wondering, why are we just stating the obvious? You can obviously see she’s picking up her kids or you can obviously- you’ve obviously just finished work. Well I think there’s a common theme with greeting someone that you’re not very close with or kind of acquaintance or a stranger. It’s always allowing them to not have to- you’re giving them the opportunity to not carry on the conversation. I think that’s a very key thing in Mandarin greetings. 对
Right. You state the obvious, so they can either just say… “Yes”, “No” “对”, “没有”
“Duì”, “Méiyǒu” And they have the choice, the person you’re speaking to. They have the choice to end the conversation. So you know exactly where you’re at, right? They don’t wanna chat, that’s okay. And if they continue, then you have a friendly chit-chat. 没错
Exactly. Number three! So let’s look at greetings you use with people that you’re close with, with your friends. Now just a bit of disclaimer, these greetings can seem a bit harsh. Especially if you’re coming from a Western cultural perspective. Because they often refer to your kind of physical appearance. Now, there is no malice in this. And they’re just trying to show you that they care, they notice that you’ve changed or something’s changed because they’re very close to you. So let’s have a couple of examples. 好。最常见的, 也是外国人最受不了就是…
Alright. The most common one, and the one that most foreigners can’t stand is… 怎么了?
Zěnmeliǎo? So a very common one is “Oh, you’ve got fat!” And it’s again one of those things that you know, Western speakers are like… “Excuse me? I have not gone fat!” But it’s a very common greeting, you know? They want to show that they notice physical changes in you. And maybe because, maybe you’re very stressed at work, maybe that’s why you’ve gained weight. Or maybe you’re in a very good place in your life, and that’s why you’ve gained weight. So it’s a way of showing they care, and often you’ll hear.. 变胖了, 不错, 生活过的不错
Biàn pàngle, bùcuò, shēnghuóguò de bùcuò Got a bit fat, got a bit chubby, having the good life now, ey? Yeah, 很幸福
Yeah, very happy. And on the flip side of that, you can also say… 方瑾, 你最近瘦好多
Fāng jǐn, nǐ zuìjìn shòu hǎoduō 因为很累, 每天上班很累
It’s because I’m really tired, I’m working every day. So like “Oh, Constance you’ve got so thin recently, are you okay?” So very much surrounding looks. And another one is like… 气色
Qìsè Which is kind of your complexion. I can either say… Constance! 好久不见, 最近气色很棒!
Constance! Hǎojiǔ bùjiàn, zuìjìn qìsè hěn bàng! 对, 因为我开始运动了
Yeah, because I’ve started to exercise! 啊, 难怪, right?
A, nánguài, right? So that’s how like, people that know each other kind of start their small talk, start their chit-chat. 对
Yeah Just to throw a couple of greetings out there that you might use when you’ve just bumped into your friend on the street. You could be like… 穿这么漂亮去哪里?
Chuān zhème piàoliang qù nǎlǐ? So a common one is “Oh, what are you doing here?” “你怎么在这里?”
“Nǐ zěnme zài zhèlǐ?” And the other one is… 穿 那么漂亮要去哪里?
Chuān nàme piàoliang yào qù nǎlǐ? Getting all dressed up swanky, where are you going? Right? So that kind of gives you an idea of how native speakers actually greet each other. With close friends, it’s often very “personal” I’m going to put that in inverted brackets. It’s – they show that they care, you can comment on how they look, how they’re looking recently and then show, express concern or… 最近吃得不错, 看起来很健康
Zuìjìn chī dé bùcuò, kàn qǐlái hěn jiànkāng Right? Or express kind of maybe that their physical appearance shows that they’re doing well. Now with people that you don’t know, it’s very important to give them to opportunity to not continue the conversation. Now that might seem a bit counter-intuitive, but you’re always allowing them to stop the conversation and that’s why we use phrases that state the obvious, like… 下班了?
Xiàbānle? 放学了?
Fàngxuéle? 吃了没?
Chīle méi? You know, even though it’s probably like 2’oclock and they’ve definitely had lunch. And then remember, if you’re just kind of saying “hello” to a person… Use their name or title and add a “好”, so for example… 老师好
Lǎoshī hǎo 老师好 or
Lǎoshī hǎo 方瑾好, 田欣好, 阿姨好
Fāng jǐn hǎo, Tián xīn hǎo, Āyí hǎo Now that we’re wrapping up this video, let’s give you a couple of phrases to end a conversation. So the first one is “I’ll see you next time.” 下次见
Xià cì jiàn And the second one is “let’s chat next time.” 改天聊
Gǎitiān liáo 改天聊
Gǎitiān liáo So for example, if I see Constance after work on you know, our way home. 喔, 下班了?
Ō, xiàbānle? 对啊, 好累, 要回家了
Duì a, hǎo lèi, yào huí jiāle 喔好, 那我们改天聊
Ō hǎo, nà wǒmen gǎitiān liáo 好的
Hǎo de Alright. So there you go, that’s a typical – how a typical bit of small talk might play out in Mandarin. I think the key message from today’s video is that you need to be asking the right questions. If you ask your Mandarin teacher how do you say “what’s up?” They’re going to tell you “怎么样”, which is the correct translation. And your Mandarin teacher might not necessarily understand the implication in your native tongue or how that phrase is used. So it’s important to always frame your questions right. How does a native Chinese speaker do this, that, and the other. Never rely on the translation method because often those cultural difference will make your phrases sound a bit stiff, awkward or even unnatural. So it’s very important to remember that Mandarin frame of mind. Ask the right questions so that you’ll get the best answers. Alright, we hope you found today’s lesson useful and we’ll see you again next time. 我们下次见
Until next time! 啊, 方瑾!
Ah, Constance! 田小姐好!
Hey there Fiona! 你买了木瓜?
You’ve bought a Papaya? 芒果, 芒果
Mango, mango. 对不起
My bad. 便宜, 你可以去买
It’s really cheap, you can go get one too. 好, 好, 好
Sure, sure, sure. 那我们改天聊
Let’s talk some other time. Bye-bye!


  • Luise JM

    I fell in love with both of them. This is the third time i see this video in one year just to practice. But today i actually developed a crush. Wo ai both :v

  • Carrie

    Lmao, that mango scene at the end got me. This video is priceless btw. I've been studying mandarin for a long time, even lived there for a year and still never gotten this fully worked out! Thank you!

  • One World

    As abstract and unlikely as this may sound, the way too little Mandarin I've learned I retained by quickly listening for a syllable I could associate with an English word or concept(!). A really simple example is the "how" in "ni hao ma?" From there, I'd recommend familiarity with the use of "mnemonic devices" that can help immensely with memorization, which btw is applicable across many common situations. The day a gf took me home to meet the family at a reunion, I'd scored at least 95% on knowing everyone's name in a room of about 30. Particularly noticeable when 5 of her elderly aunts were the first I'd meet on the way in. Hours later, walking up to them and calling each by name was possible only with the mnemonic method. Paula's wearing a purple blouse, Gina's hair is gray, Barbara has blue eyes, etc. 🙂 Believe me, they were really elated that any young man would know their names so long after.
    Just sharing a helper in case it can work….. invent your own devices, as I learned when my father took me all over the Chesapeake teaching me navigation by markers and how to judge which side the channel's on, etc. In a wonderful year I spent literally scooped up by a family of four sisters from Taiwan (admittedly partly relevant to a soul-in-a-blender affection for one of them), I grew quite a heightened respect for languages outside the Romantic ones in Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, etc. They often found my mnemonic approach to be pretty comical 🙂

  • iwantu

    Hahahhaha i stay taiwan 7 years but i know only, ni hao,hao,toy, pushin ,keyi,only i know basic then i make sentence like a shit..

  • asdasd

    Great job girls , you nailed it however I would say two things 1. You need to slow down a bit 2. Chinese ( mandarin in this case ) isn’t an easy language to get hold on to hence you need to

  • Lydia Stilinski

    Oh, this is so close to the Greek way of greeting. When we have small talk with buddies, we greet each other by saying “Gia su re malaka” which means “Hey, bastard (or asshole, it's a bad word anyways)” and we mean something like: you're my pal and I care bout ya even though you're an idiot wanker that does stupid things. It's not meant as an insult, unless you're having a fight at the time.

  • angel rambau

    My co teacher always say “your thin “ and she say it in English. I didn’t take it well. In my mind I was like “ but I’m bigger than you. what do you mean?”I’m glad you state that it’s just a way of greeting. And she say it mostly after work when she meet me on my way home. She say it in passing.

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