Going to China Without Knowing Chinese? Yes You Can!

If you’re looking at enjoying life in China but you don’t want to be dealing with the language, you may be considering the ideation of going to China without knowing Chinese. Is this something you can do? Should you do it? These are all common questions that you’ll find answers to below.

In fact, there are many people who go to China without knowing a word of Chinese and do just fine. As you start to spend some time out and about, you learn a few basic words. You’ll also learn the places nearby that do have English-friendly services.

Not knowing the Chinese language doesn’t mean that you should avoid China. You’ll pick up the bare essentials in no time at all and you’ll relish the fact that you can travel relatively freely without the language.

5 Tips to Help You Get Around China without Speaking Chinese:

If you find yourself in China and you are looking for some tips on how to navigate around without speaking the language outside of those essential phrases or picked-up words, there are plenty of options that you can consider to make it stress-free and easy.  Here are 5 fantastic tips to help you move around China (in the country as well as in the bigger cities) without having to worry so much about not speaking the language.

1. Use Apps to Help You Out

Going to China Without Knowing Chinese Tips use apps

There’s no reason that you have to simply go to schools in hopes of learning Chinese. You can rely on apps to help you understand basic Mandarin in terms of hearing it spoken as well as reading its characters.

From game-based apps that help you learn to translation apps that will help you translate what you need to ask or know from one language to another, apps are great for use and you absolutely should put them into action. Take a look online to see which ones are preferred by frequent travellers.

2. Carry a Small Phrasebook or Dictionary with You

Going to China Without Knowing Chinese tips carry a phrase book

Both phrasebooks and dictionaries can help make up for the fact that you are travelling in China without Chinese.  Designed for the non-Chinese speaker, these put together the most common phrases and questions or responses complete with instructions on how to make use of them. If you find yourself in a tough spot, these can make the difference between making a bad decision and a good decision.

Most of these are designed to slip into your pocket or your bag, too, so they aren’t inconvenient to have close by.

3. Be Animated When Talking if Needed

Going to China Without Knowing Chinese tips use gestures

If you do find yourself talking (in English or in Chinese), make sure that you are using lots of gestures to help yourself along. These would be sounds (imitating a fire truck or car, for instance) as well as pointing and miming out activities. These can help pass the language barrier and also make sure that you are getting the right information from them as well.

If they see you being animated in your use of body language and sound effects, they’ll do the same when delivering the information to you. You don’t need to worry about looking silly or strange by doing this, as it happens a lot and everyone’s done it at one point or another to get their point across. If it works, use it! They’ll appreciate it as much as you will.

4. Look for English Signs in Public Facilities

Going to China Without Knowing Chinese look for english signs in public facilities

The reality is, English is spoken a lot all over the world, China included. When you are in public spots, take a look for English on signs. While it won’t be the first language on the sign, it often is included to make sure that English travellers can understand.  Also, a lot of Chinese people speak some level of English. Consider speaking English in major cities and see how, or if, someone responds to you. Speak slowly and use simple words at first.  Even if they themselves don’t speak English, there may be someone else nearby that does or they may be able to include menus or other items in English once they hear that you are speaking it.

5. Always Have Your Address in Chinese with You

Going to China Without Knowing Chinese tips always have your address in Chinese with you

For safety, it’s always a good idea to have your address in Chinese with you. That way, you can at least get back to where you are staying and know that you are going to be fine when it comes to finding your way back home.

Safety first, so keep that in mind as much as possible.  When in doubt, have someone who does speak Chinese make sure that you do have it written down correctly.


Without question, you CAN live in China without knowing Chinese and many people have done it. But it definitely is going to bring some challenges, just like living anywhere without knowing the language, would bring.

Depending on where you intend on travelling in China, it might be a good idea to have some sort of Chinese experience in order to expand your horizons and also give you access to things that otherwise may not be possible, or consider a few of the more critical phrases and questions to help give you a little bit of comfort in taking on your trip. Even if it’s just a few phrases from your phrasebook or a quick lesson with a friend. Anything can and will help you out.

The good news is that if you are someone who is interested in both language and culture, you can easily pick up all of the basics you are going to want to know.

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