What is the best Mandarin Chinese phrasebook for travelers and expats in China? Unless you’re fluent in Chinese, you’re probably going to want something that will help you communicate in a pinch. In this guide, I’ll cover not only the best phrase guides for 2023, but also ebooks and apps for the tech-savvy traveler.
Being able to communicate during your journey to China can make a huge difference in how much you enjoy your travel.
While I’ve already talked about how it is certainly possible to travel to China without speaking Mandarin, the truth is that some level of language – even if it’s extremely basic – is vital.
In the same way that a great China travel guide book helps with knowing where to travel, a good Mandarin Chinese phrasebook comes in handy for language needs.
Even for somebody who has studied the language for a year or two, having these phrase guides easily accessible can eliminate so much headache while overseas. Below is a quick introduction to my favorite Mandarin Phrase Guides covering everything from print editions, ebooks and even smartphone apps.
After looking at the comparison table, scroll further down for a more detailed description and review of each Chinese phrasebook and app.
|*RECOMMENDED*||Other Excellent Chinese Phrase Guides|
|Lonely Planet||Rough Guide||DK Travel|
|Addons||—||Free App||Free Audio|
In addition to the above Mandarin phrase guides, I’ve also included reviews on two bonus guides that you might find helpful:
- iTranslate: A voice translator you can use on your phone;
- Business Chinese: A phrase book specifically geared toward business travelers.
Note: Some links in this article are affiliate links, which means that at no extra cost to you, I may be compensated if you choose to use one of the services listed. I only recommend what I’ve personally used, and I appreciate your support!
Lonely Planet Mandarin Phrasebook (Recommended)
As with many things having to do with travel in China, Lonely Planet leads the pack with its Lonely Planet Mandarin Phrase Guide.
With a whopping 256 pages worth of language help, it’s certainly not a simple guide but it covers pretty much every scenario that you could imagine while traveling in China.
These scenarios include:
- Phrases having to do with transportation, direction, border crossings, etc.
- Translations for shopping, banking or going out to eat
- Phrases having to do with emergencies, police and health
The list goes on. The book even includes an abridged English-Mandarin and Mandarin-English dictionary at the end.
It’s a hefty Chinese phrasebook to carry around but if you’re looking for something comprehensive, the Lonely Planet Mandarin might be the right choice for you.
Unfortunately, this newer edition of the Chinese phrasebook doesn’t come with any sort of audio files to help you with pronunciation. If that’s important to you, grab the older edition that includes a CD.
Rough Guide Mandarin Chinese Phrasebook
As the most recently published guide in this entire list, the Rough Guide Mandarin Chinese Phrasebook has a few benefits other phrase books won’t have.
It boasts over 7,000 different words and phrases organized based on situation as well as a searchable dictionary.
But that’s not what makes it unique. What makes the Rough Guide Mandarin phrase book desirable is the fact that it comes with a companion smartphone app that will help you with pronunciation.
Other benefits include:
- Text-ready Phrases: Plan to use social media while traveling in China? Rough Guides offers phrases you can use for social media and texting.
- Business-ready Phrases: If you’re traveling to China for business, there’s an entire chapter dedicated to the vocabulary you’ll need.
Rough Guides books are known for their beautiful photography and pleasing layout. This is a book that’s easy to flip through and equally helpful as you travel around China.
DK Travel Mandarin Chinese Phrasebook
The DK Travel Mandarin Chinese Phrase Book is an excellent alternative to Lonely Planet and offers just as much information presented with their own unique twist.
In addition to what you would expect with the typical phrase guide, DK Eyewitness Travel also includeas:
- Free Downloadable Audio to help you pronounce the words and phrases correctly.
- 2,000 Word Mini-Dictionary for quick reference.
- Menu Guide that will help you decode a Chinese restaurant menu.
Like Lonely Planet, DK Travel also offers phrases in both Chinese characters and pinyin, which is useful for both pronunciation or just using the guide to point and show a Chinese person.
What I love about all of the DK guides is their attention to detail in layout. The books are beautiful and they are organized in such a way that makes them very easy to open and use. Usually, there’s no need to go flipping through multiple pages to find exactly what you want.
Bonus: iTranslate Voice Translator
Although this isn’t your traditional “Chinese phrasebook,” I think the iTranslate app is certainly worth a mention here.
There are a number of great Chinese voice translation apps, but iTranslate is one of the only ones that offers a phrase book as well.
The benefits of using an app like this instead of the traditional phrasebook include:
- No Need for a Book since this Chinese phrasebook is loaded directly onto your phone and can be accessed with or without a network connection.
- Voice Translation is included, which means that as long as you have a Chinese SIM card in your phone or you’re connected to good WiFi in China, you can speak and have your words immediately translated.
- It’s Cheaper! Although since it’s a subscription service, if you use it for more than a month, it will add up.
You may or may not always be able to carry around a hefty book during your travels, but you’ll almost certainly have your phone. For this reason, I’m becoming a big fan of these app Chinese phrase books.
Download the iTranslate app for both Apple iOS and Android here:
Bonus: Chinese Phrase Book for Business Travelers
If you’re planning to visit China on business, the fact is that the vocabulary you need to be familiar with is a little different than that of the average traveler.
That’s where the Chinese for Business Travelers comes in handy. If you can just ignore the cover, which in my opinion is a bit unprofessional, the content is actually very good. m
While it will cover a lot of situations that you’ll get in every other Chinese phrasebook (taxis, hotels, etc.), it also goes into details about:
- Networking and Making Friends – including cultural tips for China
- Business Dining – again, cultural tips on etiquette in China
- Negotiating – how to properly negotiate in Chinese
Best of all, the guide comes in a cheap ebook format which I have enjoyed.
More than likely your business will provide a translator but you will earn a higher level of respect if you at least attempt to speak during your business travels. This book will help you do that.
Final Thoughts | Best Chinese Phrasebook
Obviously you don’t need to purchase more than one Chinese phrasebook, but having some sort of guide is an essential part of packing for your trip to China in 2023.
It also helps to know whether you prefer a physical book in your hands or don’t mind an ebook or downloadable app.
RELATED: Click to get this comprehensive packing guide for China.
It’s also worth noting that while Mandarin is the official language of China, there are many parts of the country that speak either different dialects or a different language altogether.
You should be fine 90% of the time with a Chinese phrasebook, be prepared.