Essential Tips and Phrases in Mandarin to Use if You Get Sick in China!

Whenever we get out of our comfort zone we always run the risk to get sick. Be it the water, the food or even a sudden change in weather, we need to be able to ask for help. Any of us can be in need of a doctor or a pharmacy, and there is nothing more frustrating than being sick and not being able to communicate with the only person able to help us. In this article, I will give you some tips on how to deal with the type of unpleasant situations in the Mandarin language.

Before setting off, I would recommend learning some Chinese to avoid arriving completely unprepared like I did. Mandarin Blueprint promises to teach you how to read and understand basic Mandarin in 2 months, how to read (graded) books and stories in under 6 months and to have complete conversations in under a year. Ambitious? Very. Possible? Why not. They offer a 30-day trial so it’s worth trying. Check it out now!

READ MORE: How to plan a perfect trip to China

Mandarin language if you get sick
Chinese medicine for cold

Seeking help in Chinese when sick in China – Table of content

Truth be said, in Shanghai there are many Western hospitals where doctors speak English, but they are hugely expensive because meant for expats. Also, it’s also possible that you will not be in Shanghai, but exploring some other parts of China where English is still not as important to know and you are better off mastering some phrases in the Mandarin language.

Moreover, in Shanghai, and I believe in Beijing too, also local hospitals are increasingly hiring English-speaking staff, but they are not so common yet, so probably a basic knowledge and understanding of what to say in Mandarin in these cases can help.

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Mandarin language if you get sick
Many kinds of teas are part of traditional Chinese medicine

Talking to the doctor in Chinese

I would say that the first thing you can think of if you are sick abroad, is to get to the hospital (yi yuan – 医院) and see a doctor (kan yi sheng – 看医生). You would approach the doctor telling him you don’t feel well: “Dàifu, wo hen bù shufu” (大夫, 我很不舒服), and he will reply asking you what’s wrong: “Ni nali bù shufu?” (你哪里不舒服?).

You might have the typical symptoms of the flu, such as a headache (tóu téng – 头疼), cough (ké sòu – 咳嗽), fever (fa shao – 发烧), which, in a complete sentence, might sound like this: “Tóu téng, ké sòu, haoxiàng you yì dianr fa shao” (头疼, 咳嗽, 好像有一点儿发烧).

If these are your symptoms, very likely, the doctor will tell you that you caught a cold or the flu, so he will give you the prescription for the medicines to buy and how many days to take them, and will suggest going back to see him if you don’t get better: “Ni ganmào le, wo gei ni dianr yào, zhèxie yào yàofáng dou néng mai dào. Ni xian chi san tian, rúguo hái bù hao, zài lái yi yuàn.” (你感冒了, 我给你点儿药, 这些药药房都能买到. 你先吃三天, 如果还不好, 再来医院).

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Common flu symptoms in the Mandarin language

To catch a cold: Ganmào le (感冒了)

Headache: Tóu téng (头疼)

Coughing: Ké sòu (咳嗽)

Stomachache: Wèi tòng (胃痛)

Sore eyes: Wo yanjing bù shufu (我眼睛不舒服)

Fever: Fa shao (发烧)

Toothache: Yá tèng (牙疼)

Have diarrhea: La dùzi (拉肚子)

Mandarin language if you get sick
Preparing Chinese soup. In traditional Chinese medicine, food is an important way to prevent being sick and strengthen the immune system

Facing a doctor’s visit in Mandarin

Once your visit ends, you might be able to buy the medicines directly at the hospital’s pharmacy (Yào fang – 药房) or you might need to get to a chemist (Yào diàn –  药店) for either Western or Chinese traditional medicine. The first thing you will tell the chemist after they ask you how they can help you is that you need to buy medicines: “Ni hao, wo yao mai yào” (你好, 我要买药). Very likely, the chemist will ask you to show him the prescription (chufang – 处方): “Qing, gei wo kan nide chufang” (请给我看你的处方).

When you get the medicine, you will obviously need to know how many times a day to take it: twice a day (yì tian chi liang cì – 一天吃两次), three times a day (yì tian chi san cì – 一天吃三次), four times a day (yì tian chi si cì – 一天吃四次), etc., or eat after meal (fàn hòu chi – 饭后吃).

The whole sentence of the chemist telling you for example that your kind of medicine is to be taken twice a day every morning and evening (zaowan ge yí cì – 早晚各一次) after meal and each time two tablets, might sound like this in Mandarin language: “Zhe zhong yao yì tian chi liang cì, zaowan ge yí cì, mei cì liang piàn, fàn hòu chi” (这种药一天吃两次, 早晚各一次, 每次两片, 饭后吃).

It’s obviously impossible to list all kinds of sickness and all the treatments a doctor or chemist can give you. Here I tried to describe the most common situations and a variety of word combinations in the Mandarin language you might find in the prescription, but, as usual, if you think I’ve missed something important, leave a comment and I will update the post.

Tips on how to deal with everyday life situations in Mandarin Chinese:

READ MORE: Book review: A Geek in China, a guide to the Middle Kingdom and life in China

about me: Angela Corrias
About the author

I'm Angela Corrias, an Italian journalist, photographer, and travel writer located in the heart of Italy's capital. Welcome to my website, your comprehensive source for your travels and expert guidance for crafting your dream travel experience.

10 thoughts on “Essential Tips and Phrases in Mandarin to Use if You Get Sick in China!”

  1. Quel article interessant! ça me rappelle quand on a été à Pékin( pardon Beijing) , dans le resto de notre hotel, quel fatigue pour avoir de l’eau! Mais qu’est-ce qu’on s’est amusés!!!

    • True, as we always bring some drug, I think it’s important to be prepared with some language too, especially with a difficult language such as the Chinese, where if you don’t know a word and the other part doesn’t speak any English, the conversation can go really blank, it’s truly impossible to “guess”.

  2. I fared better in Shanghai than Beijing, but in both cases my Mandarin could have been better. We usually pack a small pharmacy as we often forget that most places aren’t like the US where you can get just about anything you might need for minor illness. You do have to be careful at customs, though.

    • In China I’m finding everything at the pharmacies, both traditional Chinese and Western medicine, just the problem was to be able to say what was actually my problem.. Ok, not that now ALL my language issues are solved, but it’s getting better :)


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