Learn Chinese Language
to travel China

Let’s get familiar with the Chinese language before visiting China. On the golden route, you would need to master Mandarin (Putonghua) for the mainland and Cantonese for Hong Kong.

I am not going to help you learn the language, as there is no fast track. However, I am here to help you jump the language hurdle for your China travel.

Language Golden Rule for
China Travel

Body Language + Keywords

To learn Chinese language is not easy, but learning keywords is easy.

Before we start learning keywords for travel purposes, let’s get to know some basic rules of Chinese language first.

Chinese Names

Knowing how to read Chinese names will help you read maps, road signs and address people.

Chinese Names of People

  • Family name comes first, followed by given name.
  • For example, President Hu Jintao. Hu (胡) is the family name, Jintao (锦涛) is the given name; NBA player Yao Ming, Yao (姚) is the family name, Ming (明) is the given name.
  • Family names can be single or dual. Likewise for given names.
  • Below please see examples of each combination.

Person Family Name Given Name Greeting English
President 胡 Hu锦涛 Jintao胡先生 Hu XianshengMr. Hu
NBA player 姚 Yao 明 Ming姚先生 Yao XianshengMr. Yao
Ancient Military Strategist 诸葛 Zhuge亮 Liang诸葛先生 Zhuge XianshengMr. Zhuge
Ancient Literate 司马 Sima相如 Xiangru司马先生 Sima XianshengMr. Sima

Want a Chinese name for yourself?
Click here for a free Chinese name translation

How do we write Chinese names?
In mainland China, all Chinese names begin with family name, followed by a space and the given names are written together. For example, our President’s name is written Hu Jintao.

In Hong Kong, the general public writes all words separately. For example, Hong Kong Secretary for Justice is Wong Yan Lung. Wong is the family name, Yan Lung is the given name. However there are variations. Some people like to hyphenate the given name Yan-lung. My name on my Hong Kong ID Card is YUEN, Lai Wing.


  • Mainland Chinese names are based on Mandarin phonetics. Hong Kong Chinese names are based on Cantonese.
  • Mainland China use simplified characters, Hong Kong use traditional.

Chinese Names of Places

Formula for Chinese Names of Places

Name of Place + Description of Place (if any)
+ Nature of Place

Here are some examples:

Name of Place Description of Place Nature of Place English
北京 Beijing   大學 University Beijing University
北京 Beijing 師範 Normal 大學 University Beijing Normal University
美國 America*   銀行 Bank Bank of America
麻省 Massachusetts* 理工 Technology 大學 Institute Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

* You would notice ‘America Bank’ in English is actually Bank of America. However in Chinese language, the rule of names is very strict, nature of the place must be at the end. Therefore we write in the order of ‘America Bank’ 美國銀行. Likewise, MIT must be written in the order of ‘Massachusetts Technology Institute’ 麻省理工大學.

Now let’s keep the rule of Chinese names in mind.

Reading A Chinese Map

I am going to introduce some terms in order for you to read Chinese maps and road signs.

Bear in mind, these are tools for you to use in mainland China. If you read and speak English, your language barrier in Hong Kong is minimal.

Let’s begin with directions.

  東      Dong      East  
Nan South
西 Xi West
Bei North

Knowing the directions of Dong, Nan, Xi and Bei will make finding your way extremely easy.

Study this chart and practice reading the Beijing map below.

Chinese Word   Pronunciation   English
   街 Jie Street
   大 街 Dajie Main Street
   路 Lu Road
   胡 同 Hutong Lane
   門 Men Gate
   中 Zhong Middle or Central  
   前 Qian Front
   山 Shan Mountain or Hill
   海 Hai Sea

Beijing Map

Now let's try reading the above Beijing map.

Chinese language - reading Beijing road sign

East/west bound roads are named xxxx Dong Dajie or xxxx Xi Dajie. North/south bound roads are named xxxx Nan Dajie or xxxx Bei Dajie.

Wangfujing Dajie inside the red box is Wangfujing Main Street (王府井大街).

At the top left corner, Beihai Park is North Sea Park (北海公園).

Zhongshan Park, the park south of Forbidden City, is Central Mountain Park (中山公園).

At the bottom of the map, Qianmen Dong Dajie is Front Gate East Main Street. (前門東大行)

Beijing, the capital city of China, is actually Northern Capital (北京).

Anna's Notes
By now we know some basic rules of Chinese language and we are familiar with the structure of Chinese names. We can recognize some general terms on maps and road signs.

We’ll move on to speak the Chinese language. Remember we need to speak Mandarin for mainland China and Cantonese for Hong Kong.

My travel story about how I
learn Chinese Language (Mandarin) in Beijing

Have fun learning Chinese Language!