How to Say Hello in Mandarin Chinese

When you know how to say hello in Mandarin Chinese, you will be properly equipped to greet the more than 1.3 billion people who speak this language. There are many ways to say hello, but the most basic ones will ensure your basic greetings will work anywhere in Asia. Did you know that Mandarin is the most widely spoken language in the world?

While it is a difficult language for native-English speakers to learn, it can be done with patience and persistence. Even saying a short word like hello in Mandarin can have different meanings depending on how you say it and which tones are used.

There are many variations, but Mandarin is the closest you can get to a common, unified dialect in China. Mandarin is known as “simplified Chinese” because it only has four tones.

Informal and Easy

If you are going for an informal, quick greeting, you can say Ni hao (pronounced “nee haow”). This is the basic greeting in Chinese and you can’t go wrong saying it. It literally translates to “you OK/good” but at its heart, it means “hi” or “hello.”

Formal

It’s customary to show elders and authority figures more respect. If you add just one letter (ni becomes nin), you can instantly formalize your greeting. Say nin hao (pronounced “neen haow”), which is a much more polite version of the standard greeting. The first word (nin) should be spoken in a rising tone.

If you would like to turn nin hao into “how are you?”, you just have to add the question word ma to the end. Say “nin hao ma?”.

Simple Responses

A simple ni hao is great, but what if you took it another step further to elicit a smile or quick conversation? If someone says hello to you in Mandarin, consider it in good taste to respond with something, anything! It would be bad etiquette otherwise.

Try responding with:

  • Hao: good
  • Hen Hao: very good
  • Bu Hao: not so good
  • Xie Xie: thank you
  • Ni ne: and you?

Take a look at this simple greeting sequence and try it out on your friends when practicing:

  • You: Ni hao! (hello)
  • Friend: Ni hao ma? (how are you?)
  • You: Wo hen hao! Xie xie. Ni ne? (I am very well, thanks. And you?)
  • Friend: Hao. Xie xie. (Good. Thanks.)

You may wonder if you should bow when saying hello. The answer is no. It’s not like in Japan, where you would bow to greet someone. In China, you would only bow before meeting an opponent in a match, at a funeral to show respect or as a sincere apology. Some Chinese people will shake hands as well, especially if they know they are in the company of someone from the West.

Ready to learn Mandarin greetings and so much more? Contact BRIC Language Systems today.