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A great way to practice your Chinese skills is to make phone calls. This utilizes both your listening and speaking skills, and it’s good for improving your fluency. After all, if you can smoothly make a phone call – even one that’s just a minute long – you’ve come a long way in your quest to learn Chinese. This post will set you well on your way by teaching some useful words and expressions for making a phone call in Chinese.
In order to make a phone call, you’ll first need to understand the numbers on the dial pad in Chinese. Here’s a bit of review of the numbers 0-9. See if you can notice which one is different from what you’ve probably learned:
When reading out numbers – telephone numbers, room numbers, license plate numbers – you don’t use the usual Chinese word for “one” (一 – yī); rather, you use the word 幺 (yāo). One idea as to why this is done is to help more clearly distinguish the number one from seven, as yī and qī sound a bit similar and could easily be confused. Try to practice reading your phone number out in Chinese to get started. Here’s how you ask/answer about a phone number:
Now let’s take a closer look at some of the phone-related vocabulary that you’ll need to be able to make phone calls in Chinese.
Now it’s time to build up your phone-making vocabulary a bit, starting with how to answer the phone. While most English speakers pick up the phone and say “Hello,” Chinese don’t usually greet people with a 你好 when answering the phone. The most common greeting on the phone is actually 喂 (wéi). You can’t really translate this character; it’s just a telephone greeting. You’ll never hear people say this when greeting others face-to-face. Oftentimes, people will answer the phone by saying “喂… 你好.” Here’s some more useful vocabulary for making a phone call:
Here’s a short sample phone call for you to review, including some of the vocabulary learned above. Do your best to go through the conversation in Chinese and understand it before opening the English translation:
Hello, is Xiao Wang there?
This is Tian Le.
Please wait a moment. Let me see if he’s home or not.
He’s not here. Do you want to leave a message?
No need. What time will he be home?
He should be home after 6.
Ok then I’ll call back at 6:30. Thanks.
You’re welcome. Goodbye.
You can see a lot of this phone vocabulary in action in this video lesson from CCTV in their “Growing Up Chinese” series. Watch the video and see if you can follow the conversation!
Making phone calls is great and all, but these days fewer and fewer people in China are actually making calls. Why’s that? Thanks to smart phones and social media apps, traditional phone calls are becoming a thing of the past. We’ll take a look at the biggest app in China – WeChat – in the next post.