What are the best Mandarin Chinese phrase books 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 guide books, 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.
That’s where good Mandarin Chinese phrase books can come in very handy. Even for somebody who has studied the language for a year or two, having these 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.
RELATED: Check out our comprehensive list of the best tools for learning Chinese!
After looking at the comparison table, scroll further down for a more detailed description and review of each Mandarin phrase guide book and app.
|*RECOMMENDED*||Other Excellent Chinese Phrase Guides|
|Lonely Planet||DK Travel||iTranslate||Basic Chinese||Business Chinese|
|Addons||–||Free Audio||Voice Translation||Free Audio||–|
1. Lonely Planet Mandarin Phrase Guide (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 including:
- Phrases having to do with transportation, direction, border crossings, etc.
- Phrases having to do with 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 book to carry around but if you’re looking for something comprehensive, the Lonely Planet Mandarin Phrase might be the right choice for you.
Unfortunately, this newer edition of the Chinese phrase book 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.
2. DK Travel Mandarin Chinese Phrase Book
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 that comes in the form of a downloadable app for your mobile device.
- 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.
#3 iTranslate Chinese Phrase Book & Voice Translator
Although this isn’t your traditional “Chinese phrase book,” 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 this method include:
- No Need for a Book since this Chinese phrase book is loaded directly onto your phone and can be accessed with or without a network connection.
- Voice Translation is included, which means that with a network connection, 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:
4. The Most Basic Chinese Phrase Book
If you’re looking for something simple, a basic guide that just lets you communicate without bogging you down with hundreds of phrases you’ll likely never have to use, The Most Basic Chinese might be a good option for you. While it’s available in print form, it’s best consumed in ebook format (which, incidentally, is also cheaper).
Even though the book comes in at only 34 pages, here’s what you should expect to get:
- A jump start on the most useful Chinese phrases.
- Aimed specifically at first-time China travelers.
If you only plan to be here for a couple weeks and want to know the most important things to say, this book offers a good start. The only thing I wish it had was audio to accompany the phrases.
5. 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 big un-professional, the content is actually very good. m
While it will cover a lot of situations that you’ll get in the other phrase guides (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.
Conclusion | Chinese Phrase Books
Obviously you don’t need to purchase all of these Chinese phrase books, but having some sort of guide is an essential part of packing for your trip to China. 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 Mandarin phrase book, be prepared.
Finally, I wanted to add that there are plenty of online Mandarin phrase guides that can help you study, it’s just hard to take them on the go with you.
Have you used a Chinese phrase book during your travels around China? What was your favorite?