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20+ Questions and Phrases to Start a Conversation in Chinese

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If you are an introvert like me, you might feel nervous in many social situations where you have to make conversations with total strangers. You might also be uncomfortable with the presence of awkward silence during conversations and struggle to find what to say next to keep the conversation going. As if it’s not challenging and nerve-racking enough, you have to start conversations in the Chinese language!

Don’t worry, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, I’ll show you how to start conversations in Chinese with more than 20 phrases to ask questions and make comments on basic conversation topics. In addition to the conversation starters, you’ll learn the most common responses to those starters, so you know what to say when asked these questions and will be more prepared for conversations and social interactions with Chinese native speakers.

Want to know how you can make the best use of this article? Pick your favorite phrases and questions from the list below, create your own Chinese conversation starter cheat sheets, and review them before you go!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Chinese Table of Contents
  1. A Few Tips
  2. Mingling and Socializing
  3. First Day of School/Work
  4. First Date
  5. Reconnecting with a Friend
  6. Conclusion

1. A Few Tips

Here are some general tips on how to break the ice and get conversations going with people you don’t know or just met, regardless of which language you’re using. Rehearse the conversation starters at home and make sure you present them in the most natural way. It may also be helpful to tell them you just started to learn Chinese.

    ★ Ask people’s names and say them correctly and frequently.
    ★ Give specific and sincere compliments.
    ★ Ask questions and show genuine interest in the topic.
    ★ Mention something you may have in common.
    ★ Ask for help.

Just like Dale Carnegie reiterated in his famous book How to Win Friends and Influence People, the most important rule is to make other people feel important. Keep this golden rule in mind no matter what social setting you’re in, and you will benefit a lot from it.

Guy in Suit in Front of a Muscled Shadow

2. Mingling and Socializing

Imagine you’re invited to a party where you don’t know anybody but the host, but the host is busy entertaining all guests and can’t chat with you. How would you survive for the rest of the party? Striking up conversations with strangers is not easy and requires interpersonal and conversational skills. But once you get conversations started, you are on your way to winning new friends and starting new relationships!

People Talking and Laughing at a Party

Here are some basic Chinese conversation example phrases you can use to start a conversation with people around you at a party:

  • 你们是怎么认识[host] 的?
    (
    Nǐmen shì zěnme rènshi [host] de?)
    “How did you meet/know the [host]?”

You might get the following responses:

    ❖ 我和他/她是同事。
    (Wǒ hé tā/tā shì tóngshì.)
    “He/She and I are colleagues.”
    ❖ 他/她是我同学。
    (Tā/tā shì wǒ tóngxué.)
    “He/She is (was) my classmate.”

Food is a great topic to talk about. An excellent choice for starting a conversation. 

  • 你吃的是什么?看上去很好吃。
    (
    Nǐ chī de shì shénme? Kàn shàngqù hěn hào chī.)
    “What are you eating? It looks delicious.”

A few example responses include:

    ❖ 我吃的是墨西哥卷饼。
    (Wǒ chī de shì Mòxīgē juǎn bǐng.)
    “I’m eating a (Mexican) taco. “
    ❖ 这个是玛格丽特披萨。
    (Zhège shì mǎgélìtè pīsa.)
    “This is Margarita pizza. ”

Asking how long it takes for someone to get to this place is another common and small talk question in Chinese.

  • 你住的离这儿远吗?
    (
    Nǐ zhù de lí zhèr yuǎn ma?)
    “Do you live far from here?”

You don’t have to give an accurate answer if you’re uncomfortable, simply replying with a 挺远的 (tǐng yuǎn de) “pretty far” or 不远 (bù yuǎn) “not far” is enough. 

To give a more specific answer to that question, you may say:

    ❖ 挺远的。坐地铁30分钟。
    (Tǐng yuǎn de. Zuò dìtiě sānshí fēnzhōng.)
    “Pretty far. It takes 30 minutes on the subway train. ”
    ❖ 还行。我打车10分钟就到了。
    (Hái xíng. Wǒ dǎchē shí fēnzhōng jiù dào le.)
    “It’s alright. I took a taxi and I got here in 10 minutes.”
    ❖ 很近。我走路来的。
    (Hěn jìn. Wǒ zǒulù lái de.)
    “Very close. I walked here.”

Asking someone what they do is not rude in Chinese culture. So you can start your conversation by asking:

    你是做什么工作的?
    (
    Nǐ shì zuò shénme gōngzuò de?)
    “What do you do?”

You don’t have to give a detailed report of what exactly you do and what organization you’re in. Here are some responses you might be able to use when asked this question.

    ❖ 我在外企工作。
    (Wǒ zài wàiqǐ gōngzuò.)
    “I work for a foreign company.”
    ❖ 我是教英语的。
    (Wǒ shì jiāo Yīngyǔ de.)
    “My job is teaching English.”
    ❖ 我是设计师。
    (Wǒ shì shèjìshī.)
    “I’m a designer.”

After you start a conversation with a couple of rounds of questions and answers, you can try to break the ice even more by offering help. 

  • 我去拿点儿吃的。你需要什么吗?
    (
    Wǒ qù ná diǎnr chī de. Nǐ xūyào shénme ma?)
    “I’m going to get something to eat. Do you need anything?”

The other person might say:

    ❖ 不用了, 谢谢。
    (Bùyòng le, xièxiè.)
    “No, thanks.”
    ❖ 我跟你一起去吧。
    (Wǒ gēn nǐ yīqǐ qù ba.)
    “Let me go with you.”

3. First Day of School/Work

The first day at a new school or a new job can be exciting and terrifying at the same time. You’ll meet new people and familiarize yourself with a new environment. Knowing what questions to ask and how to approach people politely is the key to making a good first impression. In this section, you will learn some must-know phrases for Chinese beginners. 

Kid with Backpack Arriving at School

Don’t be embarrassed by the fact that you’re a newcomer and you don’t know everything. Start your conversations by introducing yourself and/or asking questions, such as:

  • 你好。我叫[name]。这是我第一天上班/上学。请问怎么称呼您?
    (
    Nǐ hǎo. Wǒ jiào [name]. Zhè shì wǒ dì yī tiān shàngbān/shàngxué. Qǐngwèn zěnme chēnghu nín?)
    “Hi, my name is [name]. It’s my first day working/studying here. How should I address you?”

In just a few sentences, you greet the other person, tell them your name and your situation, and politely ask for their name. It is the perfect way to be part of the organization.

People may respond to your question as follows:

    ❖ 我姓王,你可以叫我小王。
    (Wǒ xìng Wáng, nǐ kěyǐ jiào wǒ Xiǎo Wáng.)
    “My last name is Wang. You can call me Little Wang. “
    ❖ 免贵姓周。
    (Miǎn guì xìng Zhōu.)
    “My last name is Zhou. “

Note: 免贵姓[last name] is a polite and formal set phrase to introduce your last name. 

  • 你好。我叫马克。
    (Nǐ hǎo. Wǒ jiào Mǎkè.)
    “Hi. My name is Mark. ”

You can also use a general greeting to get someone’s attention and ask your question right away.

  • 你好。请问[place/thing/person]在哪儿?
    (
    Nǐ hǎo. Qǐngwèn [place/thing/person] zài nǎr?)
    “Hello. I’m new and don’t really know my way around here. Where can I find [place/thing/person]? ”

The next two questions are perfect conversation starters for lunchtime, which is a great opportunity to socialize with your classmates or coworkers:

  • 我可以坐这儿吗?
    (
    Wǒ kěyǐ zuò zhèr ma?)
    “Can I sit here?”
  • 你要一起去吃午餐吗?
    (
    Nǐ yào yīqǐ qù chī wǔcān ma?)
    “Would you like to go to lunch together?”

People may respond to the “may-I-sit-here” question with:

    ❖ 当然可以。
    (Dāngrán kěyǐ.)
    “Of course you can.”
    ❖ 不好意思,这里有人了。
    (Bù hǎoyìsi, zhè li yǒurén le.)
    “Sorry, someone took this seat.”

You may get responses to the “go-to-lunch-together” question such as:

    ❖ 好啊,走吧。
    (Hǎo a, zǒu ba.)
    “Sure, let’s go.”
    ❖ 我一会儿再去。你先去吧。
    (Wǒ yīhuǐr zài qù. Nǐ xiān qù ba.)
    “I’ll go later. You go ahead.”

Asking how long someone has been doing something is not only a good conversation starter but also a good way to get to know people.

  • 你在这儿工作/上学多久了?
    (
    Nǐ zài zhèr gōngzuò/shàngxué duōjiǔ le?)
    “How long have you been working/studying here?”

Compliments work like a charm in most situations. You can make yourself sound more genuinely interested and impressed by following them up with questions such as “Where did you get it?”

  • 你这个裙子/衬衫真好看。在哪儿买的?
    (
    Nǐ zhège qúnzi/chènshān zhēn hǎokàn. Zài nǎr mǎi de?)
    “Your dress/shirt looks really nice. Where did you get it?”

4. First Date

Nobody wants to spoil the first date! Doing some homework ahead of time will help calm your nerves and make your time together more enjoyable.

A Couple Having Dinner Together

Here are some safe and fun things to talk about on your first date:

  • 你今天真美/帅。我特别喜欢你的发型/项链/鞋子/香水。
    (
    Nǐ jīntiān zhēn měi/shuài. Wǒ tèbié xǐhuān nǐ de fǎxíng/xiàngliàn/xiézi/xiāngshuǐ.)
    “You look so beautiful/handsome today! I especially like your hair/necklace/shoes/cologne.”

If your date looks like they’ve spent quite some time dressing up (or even if they don’t!), tell them how great they look! Find a particular item on them to make your compliment more meaningful.

If your date is Chinese, take into account that they may not take the compliments like Westerners do. Instead, they might say something to deny or disagree like:

  • 没有没有,我随便穿的。
    (Méiyǒu méiyǒu, wǒ suíbiàn chuān de.)
    “No no, I just picked something out quickly without thinking much about it.”

For the younger generations who are influenced by Western culture, they may thank you for the compliment with a shy smile.

Once the ice is broken, here are some great questions you can ask to get to know more about each other.

  • 你是在哪里长大的?
    (
    Nǐ shì zài nǎlǐ cháng dà de?)
    “Where did you grow up?”
  • 你有宠物吗?
    (
    Nǐ yǒu chǒngwù ma?)
    “Do you have any pets?”
  • 你最喜欢的演员/歌手/明星是谁?
    (
    Nǐ zuì xǐhuān de yǎnyuán/gēshǒu/míngxīng shì shéi?)
    “Who’s your favorite actor/singer/celebrity?”
  • 你休息的时候喜欢做什么?
    (
    Nǐ xiūxi de shíhòu xǐhuān zuò shénme?)
    “What do you like to do in your free time?”

5. Reconnecting with a Friend

As we settle into romantic relationships, new friendships, family, and careers, we seem to have less time for friends we already made. If you have friends that you’d like to keep, you need to have frequent and regular check-ins and interactions. Let’s say you haven’t talked to your friend Karen for a few months; what would you say in a text to reconnect with her?

Here are some ideas:

  • 这个周末有空聚一聚吗?
    (Zhège zhōumò yǒu kòng jù yī jù ma?)
    “Hey, do you have time to get together this weekend?”
  • 好久不见了。有空给我打电话!(
    Hǎojiǔ bùjiàn le. Yǒu kòng gěi wǒ dǎ diànhuà!)
    “It’s been a while. Give me a call when you have a chance.”
  • 什么时候出来吃饭?
    (
    Shénme shíhòu chūlái chīfàn?
    “When can we go have dinner together?”

The sentences above are directly asking your friend to reconnect by seeing or talking to each other. You can also send a text out of the blue to ask for opinions. For example,

  • 你帮我看看哪个好看。蓝色的还是紫色的?
    (Nǐ bāng wǒ kàn kan nǎge hǎokàn. Lán sè de háishì zǐsè de?)
    “Help me choose which one looks better. The blue one or the purple one?”

You can also ask silly questions that will lead to a corny joke. Here’s an example (a good one!)

  • You: 请问,1和0谁比较节俭?
    (
    Qǐngwèn,yī hé líng shéi bǐjiào jiéjiǎn?)
    “Who is more thrift? 1 or 0?”
      Karen: 谁啊?(Shéi a?)
      “Who?”

    You: 1啊,因为零花钱。(
    Yī a, yīnwèi línghuāqián.)
      “1, because 0 spends money.”

Note: 零花钱 (línghuāqián) is a phrase that means “pocket money,” but it’s used as a pun in this joke with 零  (líng) “zero” being a person who 花钱 (huāqián)  “spends money.”

Chinese Money - 1 Yuan

6. Conclusion

I hope you have collected enough phrases for basic Chinese conversations from this article to make your own cheat sheet. The more you practice, the better you will get. The most important thing is to take the first step, and don’t worry too much about what other people think of you!

While preparing yourself for your next party and working on getting more fluent in Chinese, take advantage of the abundant amount of vocabulary lists on ChineseClass101.com. Practice with audio recordings and speak with more confidence. 

If you’d like to further boost your Chinese skills and learn with specific goals, you can always upgrade to Premium PLUS subscription and get 1-on-1 coaching from your own private teacher, who will customize a Chinese learning pathway just for you!

Ask your teacher about personalized exercises, assignments, and audio samples. They would be more than happy to find the right materials for you. On top of that, feedback and necessary corrections will always be ready for you within two business days. Find your private teacher now on ChineseClass101.com!

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