Chinese people are wonderfully curious about foreigners visiting their country, and you will often find yourself bombarded with a whole array of questions; this is great news for learners since it’s a perfect way to practise the language. Here are some of the most common questions you will face and how to answer them.
1. 你是哪个国家的？(nĭ shì nă ge guójiā de) – Which country are you from?
Probably the first thing you will be asked – there are several ways to formulate this question, but this version is common. Although it might not be the most ‘elegant’ or grammatically perfect way to phrase this question, it is a form you will commonly hear ‘on the street’ or when taking a taxi, for example.
To answer, say 我是…人 (wŏ shì…rén), inserting the name of your country in the gap.
英国 (yīngguó) is the Chinese word for the UK, but it is also used as a colloquial shorthand to refer to England. Since some Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish students might baulk at the idea of saying they are from 英国, they might prefer to use 苏格兰 (sūgélán – Scotland), 威尔士 (wēiĕrshì – Wales) or 北爱尔兰 (bĕiaìĕrlán – Northern Ireland) instead. The word for England as a separate nation is 英格兰 (yīnggélán), although it is not so commonly used.
2. 你多大了？(nĭ duō dà le) – How old are you?
In Western countries, it’s not really polite to ask someone’s age directly when you first meet, but in China, it’s quite acceptable.
To answer, say 我…岁了 (wŏ…suì le), inserting your age in the gap. Note that in China, you are considered to be one year old when you are born, so on your first birthday, you are already two!
3. 你来中国学习还是工作？(nĭ lái zhōngguó xuéxí háishi gōngzuò) – Are you in China to study or for work?
Another obvious question that people will ask. You can answer with 来上课 (lái shàng kè) if you are studying or 来工作 (lái gōngzuò) if you are there to work.
4. 你学中文多久了？ (nĭ xué zhōngwén duō jiǔ le) – How long have you been studying Chinese?
You can answer by saying the number of years followed by 年了 (nián le) – for example, 三年了 (sān nián le), meaning ‘three years’.
5. 你结婚了吗？(nĭ jié hūn le ma) – Are you married?
You can say you’re married, 结婚了 (jiéhūn le), or that you’re not (married) yet, 还没有 (hái méi yŏu).
In China, be ready for lots of personal questions! Young Chinese often have huge pressure from their parents to find a job, get married, settle down and have a baby, and you will often be asked if you’re married too. If you’re around 30 and still not married, expect this to be followed by 为什么还没有？(wèishénme hái méi yŏu) – why aren’t you (married) yet?
The perfect way to practise the basics
Since the Chinese are usually so keen on engaging foreign visitors in conversation, language students in China should take advantage of this to practise the basics. Even if you repeat the same exchange ten times, it’s the perfect way to fix the questions and answers in your head. Before you know it, giving these responses – and even taking the conversation a little further – will become second nature.