Can I teach English in China without speaking Chinese?

In China, Mandarin Chinese is spoken. This is one of the world’s most widely-spoken languages due mainly to China’s vast population, and as a tonal language it’s vastly different to spoken and written English.

Find out all about teaching English in China with these commonly asked questions.

It’s not essential to speak Mandarin in order to teach English in China. Most TEFL employers are keen for their teachers to use only English in the classroom, so generally during teaching hours you won’t need much of the local language – however, we would always encourage aspiring TEFL teachers to pick up some basics in the language of their host country in order to assimilate into local life as well as possible. Living in a new country is an amazing opportunity to learn the language first hand, so you could be teaching and learning at the same time.

Remember, if you have even a basic grasp of the local language when dealing with people, they’ll open up to you much quicker and you’ll often find them much more ready to help when you make a little effort. You’ll inevitably experience one or two communication issues along the way which is completely natural, so enjoy them, learn to laugh and learn from them!

Here are a few handy phrases to help you on your way

Even if you can just master the pronunciation of ‘Nǐ hǎo’ (hello), you’ll stand a really good chance of getting ahead. Don’t worry about all the complicated characters for now – they may look daunting, but they’ll begin to make more sense the longer you stay in China!

How much? -> Duōshǎo qián? 多少钱?
No trip to any store or fruit stall should be completed without this essential phrase. You’ll often find if you can ask just this basic question the price will come down as they can see you’re not a complete beginner to the country.

Thank you -> Xièxiè. 谢谢.
Nice and easy, and you’ll use this a lot hopefully – don’t want to get a reputation as an impolite foreigner!

Don’t need/don’t want -> Bùyào. 不要.
If you teach abroad in China, you’ll be using this phrase a lot. In fact, it will be one of the most common phrases you’ll use! Literally meaning “No want”.

How are you? -> Nǐ hǎo ma?你好吗?
Let people know you care about their feelings! The direct translation of this sentence into English is “You good yes or no?”!

Can you speak English? -> Nǐ huì shuō yīngyǔ ma? 你会说英语吗?
If you’re ever in a tight spot, you could always ask to see if the other person speaks English. If not, they might know somebody who does.

I can’t speak Chinese -> Wǒ bù huì shuō zhōngwén. 我不会说中文.
Won’t be needing this one for too long, will we?

I don’t like to eat…. Wǒ bù xǐhuan chī…. 我不喜欢吃….
If you come to teach abroad in China, it is inevitable that sometime during your stay you’ll experience some weird and wonderful dishes when it comes to dinner time. This phrase is essential for those situations where you want to avoid embarrassment.

If you can say just a few of these sentences by the time you arrive to teach English in China, then you’ll be well on your way to becoming a Běndì lǎowài (local foreigner)!

Keen to get started teaching English in China? View our Paid China TEFL Internship here.

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