Answering the Question "Can You Speak Chinese?"

How to Explain Your Level of Speaking and Comprehension

Be sure to practice your Mandarin Chinese every chance you get. With just a few words and phrases, you can have a simple conversation with a native speaker.

Here are a few useful phrases to explain your level of Mandarin and whether you understand or not. Note that there is a difference between understanding spoken Mandarin (听的懂; tīng dé dǒng) and written Chinese (看的懂; kàn dé dǒng) – the difference between understanding the sound (听; tīng) and the sight (看; kàn) of the language.

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Level of Chinese

When starting a conversation in Chinese, you may need to explain your level of Mandarin Chinese so that your conversation partner knows what to expect. Here are a few different ways to answer the question: do you speak Chinese?

Do you speak Mandarin?
Nǐ huì shuō Zhōngwén ma?
(trad) 你會說中文嗎?
(simp) 你会说中文吗?

I speak Mandarin.
Wǒ huì shuō Zhōngwén.
(trad) 我會說中文。
(simp) 我会说中文。

I speak a little Mandarin.
Wǒ huì shuō yīdiǎndiǎn Zhōngwén.
(trad) 我會說一點點中文。
(simp) 我会说一点点中文。

Yes, a little.
Huì, yī diǎn diǎn.
(trad) 會,一點點。
(simp) 会,一点点。

Not very well.
Bú tài hǎo.

My Mandarin is not good.
Wǒ de Zhōngwén bù hǎo.

I only know a few words.
Wǒ zhǐ zhīdao jǐge zì.
(trad) 我只知道幾個字。
(simp) 我只知道几个字。

My pronunciation is not very good.
Wǒ de fāyīn búshì hěnhǎo.​
(trad) 我的發音不是很好。
(simp) 我的发音不是很好。

Does Your Friend Speak Mandarin?

If you are with another person, you may be to answer for them if they do not speak Chinese.

For example:

Does your friend speak Mandarin?
Nǐ de péngyou huì shuō Zhōngwén ma?
(trad) 你的朋友會說中文嗎?
(simp) 你的朋友会说中文吗?

No, my friend doesn’t speak Mandarin.
Bú huì, wǒ de péngyou bú huì shuō Zhōngwén.​
(trad) 不會, 我的朋友不會說中文。
(simp) 不会, 我的朋友不会说中文。

Listening and Writing Comprehension Skills

With these phrases, you can explain your level of Chinese beyond just speaking but also in terms in writing.

Do you understand (spoken) Mandarin?
Nǐ tīng dé dǒng Zhōngwén ma?
(trad) 你聽得懂中文嗎?
(simp) 你听得懂中文吗?

Do you understand (written) Mandarin?
Nǐ kàn dé dǒng Zhōngwén ma?
(trad) 你看得懂中文嗎?
(simp) 你看得懂中文吗?

I can speak Mandarin, but I can’t read it.
Wǒ huì shuō Zhōngwén dànshì wǒ kàn bùdǒng.
(trad) 我會說中文但是我看不懂。
(simp) 我会说中文但是我看不懂。

I can read Chinese characters, but I can’t write them.
Wǒ kàn dé dǒng Zhōngwén zì dànshì wǒ bú huì xiě.
(trad) 我看得懂中文字但是我不會寫。
(simp) 我看得懂中文字但是我不会写。

Do You Understand Me?

Your conversation partner might check in from time to time to make sure you're understanding everything that is being said. If they are speaking too fast or inaudibly, here are some helpful phrases you can ask.

Do you understand me?
Nǐ tīng dé dǒng wǒ shuō shénme ma?
(trad) 你聽得懂我說什麼嗎?
(simp) 你听得懂我说什么吗?

Yes, I can understand you.
Shì, wǒ tīng dé dǒng.
(trad) 是, 我聽得懂。
(simp) 是, 我听得懂。

I can’t understand you very well.
Wǒ tīng bú tài dǒng nǐ shuō shénme.
(trad) 我聽不太懂你說什麼。
(simp) 我听不太懂你说什么。

Please speak more slowly.
Qǐng shuō màn yīdiǎn.
(trad) 請說慢一點。
(simp) 请说慢一点。

Please repeat that.
Qǐng zài shuō yīcì.
(trad) 請再說一次。
(simp) 请再说一次。

I don’t understand.
Wǒ tīng bú dǒng.
(trad) 我聽不懂。
(simp) 我听不懂。

Ask For Help

Don't be shy! The best way to learn new words is to ask.

If you're trying to convey an idea in a conversation but find that you can't, ask the person you're talking to if they can give it a try. Then, try and bring up that phrase again and again in future conversations; repetition is good practice for memorization.

How do you say XXX in Mandarin?
XXX Zhōngwén zěnme shuō?
(trad) XXX 中文怎麼說?
(simp) XXX 中文怎么说?

Test Your Knowledge

Now that you're familiar with the phrases in this lesson, take the audio quiz to test your knowledge: Do You Speak Mandarin audio quiz.