Chinese is regarded as one of the most difficult languages to learn and as such people do not often taking up the challenge. Whether you’re just learning how to say hello in Chinese or wishing to master the language it matters little, the only thing that matters is your desire and commitment to learn!
China is a vast nation that is made up of hundreds of subcultures and societal groups. There are eight recognised linguistic groups in China followed by countless dialects and linguistic variations, not to mention colloquialism and idiolects too, just to add to the confusion!
The language most commonly spoken in China is the Beijing dialect of Mandarin and this has become known worldwide as Standard Chinese and is one of the six languages of the United Nations.
It is a common misconception that Cantonese is a dialect of Standard Chinese, this is certainly not the case. Cantonese is a language in its own right. Whereas Mandarin is spoken predominantly in mainland China, Taiwan and Singapore, Cantonese is spoken the regions of Guangdong and Guangxi that surround the Pearl River Delta. Cantonese is also the main language of Hong Kong, aside from English, and the island of Macau too.
How to Say Hello in Chinese
With many different languages and dialects spoken in China there are too many different ways to say hello in Chinese.
Many people think that to say hello in Chinese you must say ‘“Nǐ hǎo”. This is not the case, although “Nǐ hǎo” is a greeting in China it is more common, and regarded as less awkward if you say “Nǐn hǎo”, especially if you wish to show respect to the person you are greeting.
Again, it is another common misconception that it is customary to bow when greeting people in China. This is not the case, as Japan ruled over China for over 50 years some of the social rules blurred together. It is not offensive to bow when greeting someone in China, it is just not common practice.
“Nǐn hǎo” is the perfect phrase to use when meeting new people in informal situations and people that you know. As Chinese is a tonal language make sure you get your tone correct too!
Saying Hello in Formal Occasions
Body language is more important in formal situations that what you actually say. Although you should always try your best to speak with the utmost formality if the occasion calls for it! A handshake is always a good place to start. A firm handshake is not appreciated in China, it is a sign of dominated and intimidation. Try to match the person’s grip with your own to avoid causing offence.
“Nǐn hǎo” would be acceptable if said in an honesty and sincere manner during a formal occasion but an even more polite greeting would be ‘Xing Hui’ which translates to ‘how do you do’. This, coupled with a handshake, would make for a successful formal greeting.
To meet half way, so not in an informal situation but equally not dressed in a suit and tie you could use the phrase ‘Hen Gao Xing Ren Shi Ni’ which means ‘nice to meet you’ or ‘glad to see you’.
How to Say Hello in Cantonese
Cantonese, as we mentioned earlier is not the most widely spoken language in mainland China. However, if you find yourself in the regions of Guangdong and Guangxi that surround the Pearl River Delta be sure to try your hand at Cantonese rather than Standard Chinese. Likewise, if you are travelling to Singapore, Taiwan or Hong Kong Cantonese is widely spoken amongst the native populations.
Like with Standard Chinese you can use the phrase ‘Nǐn hǎo’ to greet people in the Cantonese language. Additionally you could add the phrase ‘fùnyìhng’ to your repertoire which means ‘welcome’. This could be used if you’re inviting someone into your home or if you’re the first to arrive at a meeting or dinner party.
Alternatively, if you are greeting someone who you know well and have not seen for a considerable amount of time you could skip the hellos and exclaim ‘hóunoih móuhgin’ which means ‘long time no see!’.
How to Say Hello in Mandarin
As we have talked about before, the greeting for ‘hello’ in Standard Chinese and therefore in Mandarin too is simply “Nǐn hǎo”.
If you are answering your phone to a Mandarin speaker you can answer with “Nǐn hǎo” although it is quite common for people to answer calls with an English ‘hello’ or ‘hi’. Funnily enough this applies to many languages around the world, including Thai, Nepali and Indonesian. Mandarin speakers also use the word ‘wéi’ when they answer their phone although this word is strictly not used for a greeting in person.
If you are greeting more than one person then you should use ‘’nǐmén hǎo’’ rather than ‘Nǐn hǎo’ as this is the phrase in plural form. This should be pronounced ‘knee-men how’, adjoining the first two syllables but not the third.
The word ‘nǐmén’ is the plural version of you, meaning you use this word to address multiple persons.