20 keywords to get you speaking your target language from day 1…

My goal is to speak as much of my target language as possible during language tutorials, right from my very first lecture! This post looks at the basic phrases one should learn before your first language tutorial.

I’ve included translations for  Mandarin Chinese, Spanish and French. Chinese is a tonal language, check out my post on The Layman’s Guide to Mandarin Tones.

So let’s get started on these keywords…

1. “Hello”

  • Mandarin Chinese: Nǐ hǎo
  • Spanish: Hola
  • French: Bonjour

2. “How are you?”

  • Mandarin Chinese: Nǐ hǎo ma?
  • Spanish: ¿Cómo estás?
  • French: (formal) Comment allez-vous ?  (informal) Ça va ?

3. “I am good”

  • Mandarin Chinese: Wǒ hěn hǎo!
  • Spanish: Bien!
  • French: Ça va bien!

4. “Thank You”

  • Mandarin Chinese: Xiè xie
  • Spanish: Gracias
  • French: Merci

5. “You’re welcome”

  • Mandarin Chinese: Bù kèqì
  • Spanish: de nada
  • French: Il n’y a pas de quoi

6. “I don’t speak…”

  • Mandarin Chinese: Wǒ bù huì shuō pǔtōnghuà
  • Spanish: Yo no hablo español
  • French: Je ne parle pas français

7. “How do you say …… in ……”

  • Mandarin Chinese: Nǐ zěnme shuō… Yòng pǔtōnghuà
  • Spanish: Cómo se dice en inglés
  • French: comment dit-on en français

8. “Sorry, I don’t understand”

  • Mandarin Chinese: Wǒ tīng bù dǒng
  • Spanish: Lo siento, no entiendo
  • French: Je suis désolé, je ne comprends pas. (masculine) Je suis désolée, je ne comprends pas(feminine)

9. “I understand”

  • Mandarin Chinese: wǒ dǒng
  • Spanish: entiendo
  • French: je comprends

10. “I am…”

“I am” gives you a much broader range of topics to choose from. Such as name, nationality, job etc, etc.

  • Mandarin Chinese: Wǒ shì…
  • Spanish: Soy…
  • French: Je suis…

11. “I’m sorry”

  • Mandarin Chinese: Hěn bàoqiàn or duì buqĭ
  • Spanish: Lo siento 
  • French: Je suis désolé (masculine), Je suis désolée (feminine) or pardon

12. “Yes”

  • Mandarin Chinese: Shì *There is no word for “yes” in Mandarin, but in many cases ‘it is’ works well. Otherwise, just repeat the verb of the question.
  • Spanish:
  • French: Oui

13. “No”

  • Mandarin Chinese: Bú shì  *There is no word for ‘no’ in Mandarin. You need to place the meaningnot” before the verb in question.
  • Spanish: No
  • French: Non

14. “Repeat Please /Say That Again”

  • Mandarin Chinese: Máfán nǐ zài shuō yībiān
  • Spanish: ¿Disculpa?¿Perdón? or ¿Cómo?
  • French: Répétez s’il vous plaît

15. “Speak more slowly, please”

  • Mandarin Chinese: Gèng màn, qǐng
  • Spanish: Más despacio por favor
  • French: Plus lentement s’il vous plaît

16.  “Please write it down…”

  • Mandarin Chinese: Máfan nǐ xiě yīxià, hǎo bù hǎo?
  • Spanish: por favor escribelo
  • French S’il vous plaît écrivez-le

17. “I’d like…”

  • Mandarin Chinese: Wǒ xiǎng yào… 
  • Spanish: Me gustaría…
  • French: J’aimerais…

18. “I don’t like…”

  • Mandarin Chinese: Wǒ bù xǐhuān…
  • Spanish: No me gusta… 
  • French: Je n’aime pas …

19. “See you next week”

  • Mandarin Chinese: Xià zhōu jiàn
  • Spanish: Te veo la proxima semana
  • French: À la semaine prochaine 

20. “Goodbye”

  • Mandarin Chinese: Zàijiàn
  • Spanish: Adiós
  • French: Au revoir

People will always appreciate the effort you have made to speak to them in their own language. Don’t worry about making mistakes as it is how we learn. The more we speak in our target language the better we will become.

Are there any phrases you think should be added to this list or a language you would like me to include? 

Let me know in the comments section below

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The Mindful Language Learner

Trisha, is the founder of Language Learners Journal.com. An award-winning blog dedicated to empowering and promoting a more mindful approach to independent language learning and teaching across the UK and beyond. Trisha has a professional and academic background in psychology and well-being. She has been practicing mindfulness for over 20 years and has professionally taught CBT-based mindfulness for the past 7 years. You can follow Trisha on her official Facebook Page, Instagram or Twitter accounts to discover how to apply simply mindfulness practices and scientifically proven strategies to your language learning...

4 thoughts on “20 keywords to get you speaking your target language from day 1…

  1. Really nice post. Love that Chineasy book. Not learning Chinese (yet) but couldn’t resist buying it.
    In terms of phrases I always learn how to describe my job and hobbies as that is usually what people ask you in early conversations.

    1. Chinese is a beautiful language and once you get your head around those tones and new sounds it isn’t as difficult as some people make out. For example it is a gender-neutral language with similar structure to English and there is less emphasis on tense.

      1. Completely agree. I think the biggest problem most people have is with new sounds, which is why they find Chinese so hard. Once you get the sounds the rest is loads easier. Especially without tenses. I’m learning German at the moment; three genders, lots of tense and then cases to contend with….

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