Saying “Hello” Like a Chinese Native

“你好。Nǐ hǎo. Hello. 你好吗? Nǐ hǎo ma?How are you?” If you are or were a typical Chinese student like me. You are probably guilty of having said this over and over to your Chinese friends and teachers. 你好 was perhaps the first thing you learned, and you were hard pressed to not say it to everyone who would listen. Other greetings newbies typically say are:

  • What’s up?
    Zěnme yàng?
  • What are you doing?
    Nǐ zài gàn ma?

Did you know that these are not at all native? 你好 is appropriate in formal settings or when you meet someone for the very first time. If you keep saying, “你好。你好吗?” every time you greet your Chinese friend or teacher, you will sound a bit awkward. They will not tell you, however, because they applaud your attempts to use their language.

What should I say instead? You could say the person’s name or title and follow it with 好. For example, Ashley好 or 老师好 Lǎoshīhǎo (Teacher hello). Just remember to say the name or title first, before 好. Although we can place hello first in English, this is incorrect in Chinese.

Also, while 早安 zǎo ān does indeed mean “Good morning,” natives consider it very formal. The shorten 早 is the preferred greeting. If you are greeting a group, 早大家好 Zǎo dàjiā hǎo (“Morning, hello everyone.”) is appropriate.

In a future blog post, we will discuss the famous native greetings: 吃饱了没 Chī bǎole méi? (“Are you full?”) and 吃了没 Chī le méi? (“Have you eaten?”).

下次见!Xià cì jiàn! See you next time.

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