This is the second part of the series I’ve started this month aimed at giving some hints on how to get around with basic Chinese in common daily situations.
One of the most important topics and one of the first to be studied in every language course is the one to enable new learners to ask for directions (and understand the answer!).
At the beginning of my Mandarin course in Shanghai, I was very excited to learn how to ask for directions, as this is one of the best reasons to start talking to people. The only problem, I couldn’t manage to understand their answer. This is why here I will write both questions and possible answers with the most common words used in this case. Mandarin pronunciation can be very tricky, especially due to the many ethnic groups living in Shanghai, each of them bearer of a particular accent and way of speaking, but if you know roughly what word they might be saying, you have ore chance to get where you want!
The first thing you can say when approaching someone and to capture their attention is “Qing wen!” (请问!), that corresponds to the English “Excuse me, can I ask you a question?”
There are many ways to ask for direction, either you will need to know where the place you want to go to is, or how to get there.
As an example, you might want to go to Hengshan Road, very popular street downtown Shanghai with a wide selection of great foreign restaurants, and ask about the way: “Qing wen, qù Hengshan lu zenme zou?” (请问, 去衡山路怎么走?).
Other places of interest in Shanghai where you might need to go are
– People’s Square, or Ren Min Guang Chang, where you can visit Shanghai Museum: “Qing wen, qù Ren Min Guang Chang zenme zou?” (请问, 去人民广场怎么走?)
– Nanjing Road East, or Nanjing Dong Lu, the Mecca of shopping malls: “Qing wen, qù Nanjing Dong Lu zenme zou?” (请问, 去南京东路怎么走?)
– the French Concession, or Shanghai Fa Zujie, a former foreign concession in Shanghai from 1849 to 1946: “Qing wen, qù Shanghai Fa Zujie zenme zou?” (请问, 去上海法租界怎么走?)
– Xintiandi, trendy area with two pedestrian blocks that host many foreign brands of restaurants and cafés, maybe a little awkward since it has very little to do with traditional Chinese style, but by all means very popular among foreigners: “Qing wen, qù Xintiandi zenme zou?” (请问, 去新天地怎么走?)
– Yu Yuan garden, or Yu Yuan, in the Old City, reproducing the traditional Chinese gardening style, with abundance of stones and water: “Qing wen, qù Yu Yuan zenme zou?” (请问, 去豫园怎么走?)
– “Where is the closest metro station?”: “Zui jin de ditie zhan zai nali?” (最近的地铁站在哪里?)
On another note, if you are in a restaurant or café or museum and you need the toilet, you will ask for the “wèi sheng jian” (卫生间): Qing wen, wèi sheng jian zai nali? (请问,卫生间在哪里? or “zai nar” 在哪儿 if you are in Beijing or in the North in general).
The main answers locals can give you are:
– Go straight: “Yizhi zou” (一 直走)
– Turn left: “zuo guai” (左拐) or “da guai” (大拐) if you are in Shanghai. “Da” means “big”, and they use it because since they drive on the right side, the left turn is usually wider.
– Turn right: “you guai” (右拐) or “xiao guai” (小拐), small turn.
– Take a taxi: “Da che” (打车)
– In front: “Qian mian” (前面)
– Crossroad: “Lu kou” (路口)
An example: Go straight, in front of the crossroad turn left: “Yizhi zou, qianmian de lu kou zuo guai” (一 直走, 前面的路口左拐).
If you take a taxi, the driver will ask you where you want to go (Qu nali? 去哪里?) – and your reply will start with: I want to go… “Wo yao qu…” (我要去…) plus any destination. Once at the place, either the driver will ask you where to stop: “Ting zai nali?” (停在哪里?) and you might answer “here” “Zheli” (这里), or you will tell the driver to stop in the first place: “Ting yi ting” (停一停). Then, you ask for the price “Duo shao qian?” (多少钱?), and if you want the receipt: “Gei wo fapiao” (给我发票).
Of course, there are countless situations where you need to ask for directions, and it’s impossible to list them all. Here I tried to reproduce the ones I use the most, but if you feel there are other important expressions I have overlooked, please leave them in a comment and I will either reply through the comment form or update the post.