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How to Talk on the Phone in Mandarin Chinese

JINNA WANG

Speaking in Chinese on the phone can be intimidating. Without the face-to-face interaction, it is harder to read context clues from the other person’s body language. Additionally, there are also some “phone Chinese” specific phrases that you rarely use in everyday conversations. 

It’s one of the big challenges on the language learning journey!  If you plan on studying or working in China one day, you will have to get used to speaking on the phone in Chinese. 

Don’t be afraid of the challenge.  Practice makes perfect, so you’ve got to just be brave and dive in. 

To give your phone skills a boost, here is our guide to essential vocabulary and expressions for talking on the phone in Mandarin Chinese. 

1. Answering the Phone


喂 (wéi) - hello/hey


The classic way to answer the phone in Mandarin Chinese is “喂 (wéi).” 


When read in the second tone, this is specially used to answer the phone. 


Note that  喂 (wéi) on its own is a fairly casual way to answer the phone. If you are expecting a more formal phone call, it is better to use “喂, 你好 (wéi nǐ hǎo)” as your “hello.”


2. Who’s on the line?



请问是哪位 (qǐng wèn shì nǎ wèi)? - Whom am I speaking to?/Who is this?


This is useful for when you pick up the phone from an unknown number. More casually, you can also say, “请问你是 (qǐng wèn nǐ shì)?” - "Who are you?" 


If you need to tell the person who you are, you can then say: "我是... (wǒ shì)" - "I am…"


If you are answering the phone on behalf of a company or organization, you can say: “这是 (zhè shì),” as in “This is.” 


For example, you can say: 


“喂,你好,这是上海建筑公司 (wèi nǐ hǎo zhè shì shàng hǎi jiàn zhú gōng sī)", which means: “Hello, this is Shanghai Construction Company.”


... 在吗 (zài ma)?/...在不在 (zài bu zài)?- Is … there?"


The caller might ask for someone else in your household with these phrases. You can respond with:  "他在/他不在 (tā zài/tā bú zài) - He’s here/He’s not here."


Since the sounds for “he” and “she“ are the same in Chinese, this phrase will work whether they are looking for 他 (tā) or 她 (tā). However, if they have the wrong number completely, you can say: "你打错了(nǐ dǎ cuò le)" - "You have the wrong number/You dialed wrong."


3. Useful Expressions 


请再说一遍 (qǐng zài shuō yí biàn) - Please say that again


Oftentimes, you’ll miss something the other person said. It’s okay to ask them to repeat it. If you want to be even more polite, you can say “不好意思, 请再说一遍 (bù hǎo yì si)”, which means “Sorry, please say that again.”


等一下 (děng yí xià) - Hold on a second


Sometimes you need to put the other person on hold, where this phrase would be useful. If you need to hang up and call them back, you can then say: "我马上再打给你 (wǒ mǎ shàng zài dǎ gěi nǐ) - I’ll call you right back."


需要留言吗 (xū yào liú yán ma) - Can I take a message?


It could be difficult to take down the message in one go and have everything be accurate. It’s best to confirm by repeating the message back by asking:  "对吗 (duì ma)" - "Is that right?"


This gives you a chance to make sure you got everything right.

4. Saying Goodbye/Hanging Up



• 我没别的事了 (wǒ méi bié de shì le) - I don’t have anything else/That’s all


When you’ve wrapped up all the business you had to take care of on this call, you can say this to signal that’s all you had to say.


我先挂了 (wǒ xiān guà le) - I’ll hang up first


This is a very common way to end a conversation on the phone. 


拜拜 (bái bái) - Bye bye


Lastly, the English “bye bye” has been translated phonetically into Chinese as an easy way to say goodbye over the phone. It sounds more similar to how we say it in English than the Chinese 4th tone pronunciation.

That’s it for our guide on how to talk on the phone in Mandarin Chinese! Do you have any thought or questions? 需要留言吗? leave them in the comments below!


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JINNA WANG is a freelance writer and translator living in New York. She grew up in the snowy city of Harbin, and now spends many weekends recreating the northeast Chinese cuisine of her childhood. You can usually find her traveling, eating, and writing about both.

Wed, 14 Nov 2018 08:00:00 GMT

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