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Asking for and Giving Directions in Chinese



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Being able to ask for and give directions is one of the practical skills we need to learn in life. It’s also one of the survival skills we need to equip ourselves with before visiting a new place.

If you don’t want to get lost in China, have a stressful time on your trip, or miss an excellent chance to communicate with locals and try out your Chinese speaking skills, you must read this survival guide on how to ask for and give directions in Chinese.

Don’t have time to read all the details in this article? Not a problem. Check out the comprehensive vocabulary list on positions and directions on ChineseClass101.com!

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Table of Contents
  1. On the Map
  2. On the Road
  3. Landmarks
  4. Must-know Phrases for Asking for Directions
  5. Must-know Phrases for Giving Directions
  6. Bonus: Taxi Directions in Chinese
  7. Conclusion


1. On the Map

Looking at a Map and Taking Notes

Before going to a place that you’ve never been to before, it’s always a good idea to check where things are on a map, which requires us to have the basic vocabulary for reading maps, such as north and west in Chinese.

1- Cardinal Directions in Chinese


The four basic cardinal directions, otherwise known as compass directions, in Chinese are:
  • In Chinese: 东
    Pinyin: dōng
    In English: east

  • In Chinese: 南
    Pinyin: nán
    In English: south

  • In Chinese: 西
    Pinyin:
    In English: west

  • In Chinese: 北
    Pinyin: běi
    In English: north

2- Intercardinal Directions in Chinese


The directions between the four basic cardinal directions are called intercardinal directions. The four most commonly used ones are:
  • In Chinese: 东南
    Pinyin: dōngnán
    In English: southeast

  • In Chinese: 东北
    Pinyin: dōngběi
    In English: northeast

  • In Chinese: 西南
    Pinyin: xīnán
    In English: southwest

  • In Chinese: 西北
    Pinyin: xīběi
    In English: northwest


In everyday Chinese, we often add 边 (biān) meaning “edge” or “side,” 方 (fāng) meaning “direction,” or 面 (miàn) meaning “side” after the cardinal directions. This makes phrases like 南边 (nánbiān) meaning “south side,” 北方 (běifāng) meaning “north part,” and 东面 (dōngmiàn) meaning “east side.”

Here are some example sentences.
  • In Chinese: 北京在中国的北方。
    Pinyin: Běijīng zài Zhōngguó de běifāng.
    Literal Translation: Beijing at China’s north part.
    In English: Beijing is in the north part of China.

  • In Chinese: 中国在俄罗斯的南边。
    Pinyin: Zhōngguó zài Éluósī de nánbiān.
    Literal Translation: China at Russia’s south side.
    In English: China is to the south of Russia.

  • In Chinese: 兵马俑在西安的东面。
    Pinyin: Bīngmǎyǒng zài Xī’ān de dōngmiàn.
    Literal Translation: Terracotta Warriors on Xi’an’s east side.
    In English: The Terracotta Warriors are on the east side of Xi’an.


2. On the Road


Directions

1- Position Words


When it’s time to finally hit the road, we’ll need to know more position and location words, such as left in Chinese, right in Chinese, front and back in Chinese, and more, in order to navigate and communicate.

Here are four pairs of opposites that describe position.

In Chinese: 前
Pinyin: qián
In English: front
In Chinese: 后
Pinyin: hòu
In English: back
In Chinese: 上
Pinyin: shàng
In English: up
In Chinese: 下
Pinyin: xià 
In English: down
In Chinese: 左
Pinyin: zuǒ
In English: left
In Chinese: 右
Pinyin: yòu
In English: right
In Chinese: 里
Pinyin:
In English: inside
In Chinese: 外
Pinyin: wài
In English: outside


Language Learning Tips: Memorizing opposites is a great way to expand your vocabulary, and it makes learning faster and easier.

Just like when we’re describing cardinal directions, we also add words like “side,” or 边 (biān), and 面 (miàn) after position words in everyday Chinese. This makes phrases like 前面 (qiánmian) meaning “front,” 上面 (shàngmian) meaning “up,” and 左边 (zuǒbiān) meaning “left side.”

Here are some example sentences:
  • In Chinese: 故宫里面有商店。
    Pinyin: Gùgōng lǐmian yǒu shāngdiàn.
    Literal Translation: Forbidden City inside has store.
    In English: There are stores inside the Forbidden City.

  • In Chinese: 售票处在大门的右边。
    Pinyin: Shòupiàochù zài dàmén de yòubiān.
    Literal Translation: Ticket place at gate’s right side.
    In English: The ticket office is on the right side of the gate.

  • In Chinese: 出租车的前面有一辆公交车。
    Pinyin: Chūzūchē de qiánmian yǒu yí liàng gōngjiāochē.
    Literal Translation: Taxi’s front has a city bus.
    In English: There’s a city bus in front of the taxi.

2- Direction Phrases with References


In order to pinpoint a location, we often use other locations as references. For example: “the ice cream store is next to the park,” or “the convenience store is across the street from the subway station.”

The following is a comprehensive list of direction phrases with references in Chinese:
  • In Chinese: 在……(的) 左/右边
    Pinyin: zài …(de) zuǒ / yòubiān
    In English: on the left/right side of…

  • In Chinese: 在……(的) 前/后面
    Pinyin: zài …(de) qián / hòumian
    In English: in front of/behind…

  • In Chinese: 在……(的) 里/外面
    Pinyin: zài …(de) lǐ / wàimian
    In English: in the inside/outside of…

  • In Chinese: 在……(的) 上/下面
    Pinyin: zài …(de) shàng / xiàmian
    In English: under/on top of …

  • In Chinese: 在……(的) 旁边
    Pinyin: zài …(de) pángbiān
    In English: next to…

  • In Chinese: 在……(的) 对面
    Pinyin: zài …(de) duìmiàn
    In English: across the road from…

  • In Chinese: 在……之间
    Pinyin: zài … zhījiān
    In English: between…

  • In Chinese: 离这里……米
    Pinyin: lí zhèli …mǐ
    In English: …meters away from here

  • In Chinese: 离这里……分钟车程
    Pinyin: lí zhèli …fēnzhōng chē chéng
    In English: …minutes’ ride away from here

Here are some example sentences to show how to use direction phrases with references:
  • In Chinese: 麦当劳在必胜客的上面。
    Pinyin: Màidāngláo zài Bìshèngkè de shàngmian.
    Literal Translation: McDonald’s at Pizza Hut up.
    In English: McDonald’s is located above Pizza Hut.

  • In Chinese: 洗手间在电梯和收款处之间。
    Pinyin: Xǐshǒujiān zài diàntī hé shōukuǎnchù zhījiān.
    Literal Translation: Washroom at elevator and cashier in between.
    In English: The restroom is between the elevator and cashier.”

  • In Chinese: 外滩离这里十分钟车程。
    Pinyin: Wàitān lí zhèli shí fēnzhōng chē chéng.
    Literal Translation: Bund away from here ten minutes car distance.
    In English: It takes ten minutes to drive to The Bund from here.

3. Landmarks


Skyline of Shanghai Over the River

When it comes to finding out and describing where certain places are located in Chinese, we should know the basic vocabulary for landmarks. In particular, this may come in handy when giving or receiving driving directions in Chinese.

1- In the City:


  • In Chinese: 机场
    Pinyin: jīchǎng
    In English: airport

  • In Chinese: 火车站
    Pinyin: huǒchē zhàn
    In English: railway station

  • In Chinese: 地铁站
    Pinyin: dìtiě zhàn
    In English: subway station

  • In Chinese: 公交车站
    Pinyin: gōngjiāochē zhàn
    In English: bus stop

  • In Chinese: 市中心
    Pinyin: shì zhōngxīn
    In English: downtown

  • In Chinese: 公园
    Pinyin: gōngyuán
    In English: park

  • In Chinese: 医院
    Pinyin: yīyuàn
    In English: hospital

  • In Chinese: 银行
    Pinyin: yínháng
    In English: hotel

  • In Chinese: 商场
    Pinyin: shāngchǎng
    In English: mall

  • In Chinese: 博物馆
    Pinyin: bówùguǎn
    In English: museum


2- On the Road


  • In Chinese: 红绿灯
    Pinyin: hónglǜdēng
    In English: traffic light

  • In Chinese: 路口
    Pinyin: lùkǒu
    In English: intersection

  • In Chinese: 拐角
    Pinyin: guǎijiǎo
    In English: corner

  • In Chinese: 斑马线
    Pinyin: bānmǎ xiàn
    In English: crosswalk

  • In Chinese: 天桥
    Pinyin: tiānqiáo
    In English: overpass

  • In Chinese: 指示牌
    Pinyin: zhǐshì pái
    In English: sign

  • In Chinese: 停车位
    Pinyin: tíngchē wèi
    In English: parking spot

  • In Chinese: 报刊亭
    Pinyin: bàokān tíng
    In English: newspaper stand


3- In a Building


  • In Chinese: 大门
    Pinyin: dàmén
    In English: main gate

  • In Chinese: 电梯
    Pinyin: diàntī
    In English: elevator/escalator

  • In Chinese: 楼梯
    Pinyin: lóutī
    In English: stairs

  • In Chinese: 洗手间
    Pinyin: xǐshǒujiān
    In English: restroom

  • In Chinese: 问询处
    Pinyin: wènxún chù
    In English: information desk

  • In Chinese: 安全出口
    Pinyin: ānquán chūkǒu
    In English: emergency exit


4. Must-know Phrases for Asking for Directions


Asking Directions

1- Question Patterns



Now we’re only one step away from asking directions in Chinese with complete questions.

Here are three commonly used question patterns used in this situation:

1- ……在哪?(…zài nǎ?) meaning “Where is…?”


Example:
  • In Chinese: 洗手间在哪?
    Pinyin: Xǐshǒujiān zài nǎ?
    Literal Translation: Restroom at where?
    In English: Where is the restroom?

2- 去……怎么走?(Qù … zěnme zǒu?) meaning “How do I get to …?”

Example:
  • In Chinese: 去天安门怎么走?
    Pinyin: Qù Tiānānmén zěnme zǒu?
    Literal Translation: To Tian’anmen Square how to go?
    In English: How do I get to Tian’anmen Square?

3- ……离这儿有多远?(…lí zhèr yǒu duō yuǎn?) meaning “How far is … from here?”


Example:
  • In Chinese: 广州离这儿有多远?
    Pinyin: Guǎngzhōu lí zhèr yǒu duōyuǎn?
    Literal Translation: Guangzhou from here has how far?
    In English: How far is Guangzhou from here?

2- Polite Expressions


To sound more polite, put a 请问 (qǐngwèn), meaning “excuse me, may I ask…,” in front of your question.

For example, to politely ask where the subway station is, say:
  • In Chinese: 请问地铁站在哪?
    Pinyin: Qǐngwèn dìtiě zhàn zài nǎ?
    Literal Translation: May I please ask subway station at where?
    In English: Excuse me, where is the subway?

Or to politely ask how to get to the closest convenience store, say:
  • In Chinese: 请问最近的便利店怎么走?
    Pinyin: Qǐngwèn zuìjìn de biànlì diàn zěnme zǒu?
    Literal Translation: May I please ask the closest convenience store how to go?
    In English: “Excuse me, how do I get to the closest convenience store?”


After you get the directions, don’t forget to thank the person who helped you for their kindness. Here are some common thank-you phrases to use in this situation.
  • In Chinese: 谢谢你。
    Pinyin: Xièxie nǐ.
    In English: Thank you.


Note: Putting a 你 () after 谢谢 (xièxie) makes your thank-you sound more sincere.
  • In Chinese: 好。我知道了。太谢谢了!
    Pinyin: Hǎo. Wǒ zhīdào le. Tài xièxiè le!
    In English: OK. I got it. Thank you so much!

  • In Chinese: 我看见了。谢谢。
    Pinyin: Wǒ kànjiàn le. Xièxie.
    In English: I can see it now. Thanks.


5. Must-know Phrases for Giving Directions


Being able to understand directions in Chinese when people give them to you is as important as knowing how to ask for directions. Here’s a list of phrases used when giving directions in Chinese:
  • In Chinese: 在……
    Pinyin: zài
    In English: at…

  • In Chinese: 先……再……
    Pinyin: xiān…zài
    In English: first…then…

  • In Chinese: 沿着……走
    Pinyin: yánzhe …zǒu
    In English: go along…

  • In Chinese: 直走
    Pinyin: zhí zǒu
    In English: go straight

  • In Chinese: 左转 / 左拐
    Pinyin: zuǒzhuǎn / zuǒguǎi
    In English: turn left

  • In Chinese: 右转 / 右拐
    Pinyin: yòuzhuǎn / yòuguǎi
    In English: turn right

  • In Chinese: 往……走
    Pinyin: wǎng …zǒu
    In English: go toward …

  • In Chinese: 掉头
    Pinyin: diàotóu
    In English: make a U-turn

  • In Chinese: 上 / 下楼
    Pinyin: shàng / xià lóu
    In English: go upstairs / downstairs

  • In Chinese: 很近
    Pinyin: hěnjìn
    In English: very close

  • In Chinese: 挺远的
    Pinyin: tǐng yuǎn de
    In English: pretty far

Here are some example sentences combining direction phrases with landmarks.
  • In Chinese: 沿着这条路直走,在红绿灯左拐。
    Pinyin: Yánzhe zhè tiáo lù zhí zǒu , zài hónglǜdēng zuǒguǎi.
    Literal Translation: Along this road straight walk, at red green light left turn.
    In English:Go straight along this road, and make a left at the traffic light.

  • In Chinese: 先出地铁站,再右转,走两个路口。
    Pinyin: Xiān chū dì tiě zhàn, zài yòu zhuǎn, zǒu liǎng ge lùkǒu.
    Literal Translation: “First get out subway station, then right turn, walk two intersections.
    In English: First get out of the subway station, then take a right for two intersections.

  • In Chinese: 上楼之后有个问询处,问询处的对面就是洗手间。
    Pinyin: Shàng lóu zhīhòu yǒu ge wèn xún chù , wèn xún chù de duìmiàn jiùshì xǐshǒujiān.
    Literal Translation: Go upstairs afterwards have an information place, information place’s opposite side is restroom.
    In English: After you go upstairs, there’s an information desk; the bathroom is right across from the information desk.

Check out this example of a complete dialogue of asking for and giving directions in Chinese on ChineseClass101.com.

6. Bonus: Taxi Directions in Chinese


Basic Questions

In addition to the direction phrases listed above, you should know the following phrases for taking a taxi in China.
  • In Chinese: 去这里。
    Pinyin: Qù zhèli.
    In English: To here.

  • In Chinese: 请快一点。
    Pinyin: Qǐng kuài yì diǎn.
    In English: Please hurry up a bit.

  • In Chinese: 请慢一点。
    Pinyin: Qǐng màn yì diǎn.
    In English: Please slow down a bit.

  • In Chinese: 就在这儿停。
    Pinyin: Jiù zài zhèr tíng.
    In English: Please stop right here.

7. Conclusion


Now you’ve learned all the words and phrases you need to talk about directions and locations in Chinese. Are you more confident in touring and getting around in China on your own now? With this guide, and the help of modern technology such as GPS and navigation applications, you don’t have to stress about finding the right places in China.

Just remember: While enjoying your time touring around China, don’t be shy to try out the phrases and expressions you’ve learned from ChineseClass101.com!

Happy Chinese learning!

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