I Don't Speak Chinese, Can I Easily Travel Around China?

I Don't Speak Chinese, Can I Easily Travel Around China?

Cultured, historic, diverse, and flourishing are the words that international travel lovers have used to describe China. 

China is filled with ancient heritage, spectacular natural wonders, and of course, excellent cuisine. No wonder so many people want to visit China at least once in their life—is it on your destination list? 

Yet, many people often have the same worry and question when it comes to traveling to China: I don’t speak Chinese, can I travel around?

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Places where you don’t need to know Chinese

If you plan to travel to big cities like Beijing or Shanghai, you don’t really need to know Chinese because local people can speak basic English. Chinese people are usually very happy to help or talk to you in English because they see it as a chance to practice the language. 

However, if you want to dig deep into traditional Chinese culture and you plan to travel to the countryside or smaller, less-visited provinces, you should learn some Chinese. Why? People in those places don’t speak English, and you will be less likely to find another foreigner to ask for help. Knowing some Chinese will make your independent travel much easier and enrich your experience. 

Top 3 tips on how to learn Chinese for travel 

1. Learn the names of places you plan to travel 

Traveling in Chinese isn't that difficult when you know where you are traveling and where you are staying. You can say or write that places you need to be at in Chinese ans just show it anyone for directions. Though this information can be easily stored in your cell phone, what if you don’t have it with you? Eliminate the risk by memorizing them before you travel to China, for example:

  • The Great Wall of China: 万里长城 (Wànlǐ Chángchéng)

  • The Forbidden City: 紫禁城  (Zǐjìnchéng

2. Learn basic communication phrases

Knowing how to say hello, thank you, or ask how much something costs in a market are phrases you should have memorized! It lets you communicate easier with local people. It’s also a nice gesture and appreciated by Chinese people as it shows that you’re interested in their culture and language. 

We’ve gathered the most important phrases that you go over before traveling to China:

Chinese phrases 




Nǐ hǎo




Thank you!



How much? 


Tài guìle

Too expensive! 


Hào chī




Check, please! 


Wǒ bù dǒng

I don’t understand. 


Nǐ huì shuō Yīngyǔ ma?

Can you speak English?

Don’t forget to practice listening to some basic Chinese as well. Knowing the useful phrases is all well and good, but it’s often useless if you can’t understand the response.

Learning basic travel words in Chinese such as mountain, beach, sleeping bag, restaurant, hotel, etc., is extremely helpful as many stores or street signs in China don’t have English translations. Plus, telling a shop directly what you want to buy will be so much easier than searching the whole shop to find it by yourself. 

Frequently asked questions 

Do I need to know Chinese to visit China?

No, you don't really need to know Chinese when visiting China. Major cities and tourist destinations will have English text underneath to help you navigate where you want to go. You can also use translations apps and travels guides to help you find your way around. However, learning a few basic Chinese words and phrases will enhance your travel experience and make interacting with the locals more enjoyable.

Do you need to know Chinese to visit Hong Kong?

No, you don't need to know Chinese when you are visiting Hong Kong. English is actually one of the official languages in Hong Kong, so you dont have to worry too much about not being able to navigate or communicate. Though, knowing a few basic Cantonese phrases will impress the locals.

Can I speak English in China?

Yes, you can speak English in China, though mostly in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai. Many local in urban areas can communicate in basic english and are willing to help foreigners. Additionally English text and signs will be around tourist destinations, making traveling accessible for English speakers. But leaning a few Chinese phrases and where you are going in Chinese will enhance the overall experience.

In closing

If you find yourself thinking, "I don't speak Chinese, so can’t travel around China,” fear not. Major cities and tourist attractions will have English signs around to help you out. If not, a local will be eager to try to help you out on where you want to go.

But for a better, deeper immersion, try learning some basic Chinese phrases and words. You'll find that China welcomes curious travelers with open arms, bridging any language gaps for a memorable journey.

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