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How to Make Small Talk in Chinese

Making small talk in Chinese is just the same as in English. Touch on familiar topics like jobs, sports, children — just say it in Chinese! Small talk describes the brief conversations that you have with people you don't know well. Small talk is where friendships are made. If you know how to make small talk in Chinese you'll be able to "break the ice" and get to know some of the people you meet during your trip.

Small talk generally consists of greetings and introductions and descriptions of personal information and interests. If you are able to hold your own in each of these areas, you'll be able to handle most small talk situations.

Greetings and introductions

Although the Chinese are often more formal than we are in America, you don't need to wait around to be introduced to someone. Take the initiative to walk up to someone and say hello.

The most common ways to greet someone is to simply say hello (nĭ hăo!). Introductions don't have to be complicated or stuffy. The following phrases are all you need to get a conversation started.

  • wŏ jiào . . . (My name is . . .)

  • nĭ jiào shénme míngzi? (What’s your name? [Formal])

  • nín guì xìng? (What is your surname? [Formal])

  • nĭ xìng shénme? (What is your surname? [Informal])

  • wŏ xìng Liú. (My surname is Liu.)

  • ní dè míngzi zĕnme fāyīn? (How do you pronounce your name?)

Greetings and introductions are usually accompanied by a nĭ hăoma? (How are you?) There are many possible responses, but the most common would be to say wŏ hĕnhăo, xièxie (I’m doing great, thank you.) or tĭnghăode (I’m fine.).

Personal information

After the necessary introductions, small talk is really just a question of sharing information about yourself and asking the other person questions about themselves. The following phrases will come in handy when you're chitchatting with someone new.

  • nĭ cóng năr lái? (Where are you from?)

  • nĭ cóng năge guójiā lái? (What country are you from?)

  • wŏ cóng mĕiguó lái. (I am from the United States.)

  • nĭ cóng năge chéngshì lái? (What city are you from?)

  • wŏ cóng niŭyuē lái. (I am from New York.)

  • nĭ shì zuò shénme de? (What do you do?)

  • wŏ shì yīshēng. (I’m a doctor.)

  • wŏ shì xuéshēng. (I am a student.)

  • wŏ zài zhèr xué zhōngwén. (I am here to study Chinese.)

  • wŏ zài zhèr liúxué. (I am here on a study- abroad program.)

  • nĭ yŏu nǚpéngyou ma? (Do you have a girlfriend?)

  • nĭ yŏu nánpéngyou ma? (Do you have a boyfriend?)

  • nĭ jiēhūnle ma? (Are you married?)

  • nĭ yŏu háizi ma? (Do you have any children?)

  • wŏ méiyŏu háizi. (No, I don’t have any children.)

Although very few topics are considered personal in China (including your salary), two topics you should avoid are Taiwan and Tibet. They are very sensitive subjects and have a very long and complex history. You can easily offend people.

Personal interests

Many friendships are forged on the bond of common interests. You can use the following phrases to compare interests when making small talk.

  • nĭ xĭhuān wán shénme? (What do you like to do for fun?)

  • wŏ xĭhuān kàn diànyĭng. (I like going to the movies.)

  • wŏ xĭhuān qù tiàowŭ. (I like to go dancing.)

  • wŏ bú kàn diànshì. (I don’t watch television.)

  • nĭ xĭhuān shénme yùndòng ma? (Do you play any sports?)

  • wŏ dă gāoĕrfū qiú. (I play golf.)

  • wŏ tī zúqiú. (I play soccer.)

  • wŏ shì yí gè yùndòng mí. (I am a big sports fan.)

  • nĭ xĭhuān chī shénmeyàng de fàn? (What kind of food do you like?)

  • zhè shì wŏ zuì xĭhuān de fànguăn. (This restaurant is my favorite.)

That's it. By mastering these simple sentence structures, you'll soon be able to make small talk with everyone you meet.

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