How do you break the ice with Chinese speakers?
In this lesson, we're diving deep into the art of how to to start a conversation in Chinese with ANYONE.
Whether you're a beginner or an intermediate learner, these conversation starters will give you the confidence to engage in meaningful dialogues with native Mandarin Chinese speakers. We'll cover a range of topics from casual greetings to more complex conversation starters, all designed to help you express yourself more naturally in Mandarin Chinese.
Summary of "The Best Chinese Conversation Starters for Mandarin Learners" from the video lesson above
Starting A Conversation With A Chinese Friend
When you see someone you know, you can spark a conversation with a casual question.
- 怎么样？ zěn me yàng ？How’s it going?/What’s up?
- 你去哪儿？ nǐ qù nǎ er ？Where are you going?
- 你吃了吗？ nǐ chī le ma ？Have you eaten? (Note: Though it literally means “Have you eaten?” its function as a greeting is very similar to “How are you?” in English.)
Now, if you run into a friend that you haven’t seen in a while, simply start by saying their name. Show B roll clip from “Catching up with friends and family video”
And if you don’t know their name, just say:
- 好久不见！hǎo jiǔ bú jiàn ！Long time no see!
After that, you can ask what’s new in their world (related to work, family, hobbies etc.)...
- 最近你在做什么？zuì jìn nǐ zài zuò shén me? What have you been up to lately?
- 家人都好吧？jiā rén dōu hǎo ba？How’s your family?
- 你还在星巴克工作吗？nǐ hái zài xīng bā kè gōng zuò ma ？Are you still working at Starbucks?
- 身体怎么样？shēn tǐ zěn me yàng ？How are you feeling? lit. “How’s your body?” (commonly used with elder people)
Starting A Conversation With A Chinese Coworker
There are many ways to start talking to someone in the office. Show B roll of people in an office
Just consider the timing.
Text note: TIME YOUR CONVERSATION STARTER For example: Dropping a conversation starter when someone is on their way to an important meeting might not be the best option...
Now here are some questions you can use:
- 你忙什么呢？nǐ máng shén me ne ？What are you working on?
- 你今天工作顺利吗？nǐ jīn tiān gōng zuò shùn lì ma ？Is your work “going smoothly” today?
- 你有几分钟的时间吗？nǐ yǒu jǐ fèn zhōng de shí jiān ma ？Do you have a few minutes?
- 请问你对这个有什么想法？qǐng wèn nǐ duì zhè gè yǒu shén me xiǎng fǎ ？May I ask for your thoughts/opinion on this?
- 你有听说新经理下周一开始上班吗？nǐ yǒu tīng shuō xīn jīng lǐ xià zhōu yī kāi shǐ shàng bān ma ？Did you hear that the new manager starts on Monday?
- 你这个周末打算做什么？ nǐ zhè gè zhōu mò dǎ suàn zuò shén me ？(at the end of the week): Do you have any plans for the weekend?
- 你的周末过得怎么样？nǐ de zhōu mò guò de zěn me yàng ？(at the beginning of the week): How was your weekend?
Starting A Conversation With Someone You’ve Just Been Introduced To In Chinese
Now Picture this: A friend of yours has just introduced you to someone.
What do you say to get a conversation started with this person?
Well, it depends…
If, for example, your friend introduces the person as someone who is studying at the same university, you could ask what subject they’re studying.
- 你是学什么的？nǐ shì xué shén me de？What are you studying?
Or, let’s say your friend mentions that the person is really good at a certain activity (e.g. yoga), you could ask how long they’ve been doing it for.
- 你做瑜伽多久了？nǐ zuò yú jiā duō jiǔ le ？How long have you been doing yoga?
And if you don’t have any specific information about the person... There's still plenty of things you can say!
- 幸会, 幸会! xìng huì, xìng huì ！Pleased to meet you!
- 你们俩是怎样认识的？nǐ men liǎ shì zěn yàng rèn shí de ？How do you two know each other?
- 你是哪里人？nǐ shì nǎ lǐ rén ？Where are you from?
- 你是做什么工作的？nǐ shì zuò shén me gōng zuò de ？What do you do for a living?
- 你在这里工作多久了？nǐ zài zhè lǐ gōng zuò duō jiǔ le ？How long have you been working here?
Starting A Conversation With A Stranger In Chinese
One of the easiest ways to start a conversation with someone you don’t know is to make a comment about something in the current environment, e.g. the weather.
When you do that it is likely that the other person will comment on it too.
So let’s consider a few different situations:
- 今天天气非常热！jīn tiān tiān qì fēi cháng rè！It’s really hot today！
- 太冷了！tài lěng le ！It’s really cold!
- 看起来要下雨了。kàn qǐ lái yào xià yǔ le. It looks like it’s going to rain.
- 你的小狗真可爱。它叫什么名字？nǐ de xiǎo gǒu zhēn kě ài . tā jiào shén me míng zi ？Your dog is so cute! What’s its name?
You’re at a work conference…
At a conference you can ask for someone’s opinion of an event.
- 刚才的呈现非常好，我学了很多东西。你呢？gāng cái de chéng xiàn fēi cháng hǎo, wǒ xué le hěn duō dōng xi . nǐ ne ？That was a great presentation – I learned a lot. How about you?
Or you can ask what company they work for.
- 你在哪家公司上班？nǐ zài nǎ jiā gōng sī shàng bān ？What company do you work for?
You’re at a party...
If you’re at a party, you can start by asking how they know the host of the party.
You can also give the person a compliment or ask where they are from.
Another option is make a comment about the food and drinks, or the music...
- 你吃过那些饺子吗？味道好极了！nǐ chī guò nà xiē jiǎo zi ma ？wèi dào hǎo jí le ！Have you tried the dumplings? They’re delicious!
You’re at an art exhibition...
- 这幅画真有意思。你觉得呢？zhè fú huà zhēn yǒu yì si . nǐ jué de ne ？That’s an interesting painting. What do you think of it?
You’re at a bar or club...
- 这首歌真好听，我喜欢爵士。你呢？zhè shǒu gē zhēn hǎo tīng ，wǒ xǐ huan jué shì. nǐ ne ？This is a great song – I like Jazz. How about you?
You’re at a coffee shop...
- 这里的咖啡怎么样？zhè lǐ de kā fēi zěn me yàng ？How’s the coffee here?
You’re at a park or playground...
- 你的女儿真可爱！她多大了？nǐ de nǚ ér zhēn kě ài ！ tā duō dà le？Your daughter is so lovely! How old is she?
And there you have it! With these phrases and topics, you're now ready to start a conversation in Chinese with anyone. Remember, practice makes progress. So, don't be shy to use what you've learned in the real world.
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