Shopping vocabulary is something that helped me practice speaking Chinese because when we lived in Taiwan for a few months, most people I came across while shopping did not speak any intelligible English. I recall being told by another American business man’s wife that the most useful shopping words I would learn would be:
不要 (bu2 yao4) “not want”
我不要 (wo3 bu2 yao4) “I not want”
Adding the 「我」to the above phrase makes it a bit softer and more polite.
She said this was because it was not uncommon to be approached by vendors on the street who might be inclined to pester foreigners. I actually didn’t find this to be the case very often. Maybe I was shopping in different places than she did. Still, even if I was getting desired help in a store, those words proved very useful for communication.
Most places I shopped, the sellers were quite willing to be patient with my attempts to speak Chinese. For one thing, that was the only way they were likely to get a sale; but some seemed to genuinely enjoy helping me practice. The hardest part was inevitably tuning my ear to distinguish their response, so I strongly recommend practice listening, such as to the audios associated with my blog, to get your ear more accustomed to recognizing the Chinese language.
Below is an array of shopping related vocabulary that you may find useful if shopping some place Mandarin Chinese is predominantly spoken. The emphasis will be on how it is spoken in Taiwan, but from what I am told, most Mandarin speakers know of the idiosyncrasies of language in other regions, so it can be helpful anywhere.
For starters, here is a list of terms for stores. Even though they mean what they do when used in these combinations, I will list the translations of each character, since I can always remember definitions better with concrete understanding of the characters involved:
(chao1) (ji2) (shi4) (chang3)
(to jump over, excel, rise above) (grade, level, class) (market) (area)
(za2) (huo4) (dian4)
(miscellaneous, sundry) (commodities, goods, products) (store)
(bai3) (huo4) (gong1) (si1)
(hundred, many, numerous) (commodities, goods, products) (public, open to all) (to have charge over, department)
(da4) (mai4) (chang3)
(big) (to sell) (area)
big box store
You might see that the words 場 (chang3) “market” or 店 (dian4) “store” can be prefixed by almost anything to indicate a certain type of store, such as in
巧克力店 (qiao3 ke4 li4 dian4) chocolate store
水果店 (shui3 guo3 dian4) fruit store
麵包店 (mian4 bao1 dian4) bread store
賣場 (mai4 chang3) specialty store
便利商店 (bian4 li4 shang1 dian4) (handy, convenient + benefit, advantage + trade, business, merchant) convenience store
Once inside a store, you will frequently see a
店員 (dian4 yuan2) (store + member, someone engaging in a particular field of activity) thus, “shop assistant” This is the more modern term used.
伙計 (huo3 ji4) (companion, to combine together + to calculate or count) “shop clerk” This is more old-fashioned.
伯伯 (bo2 bo.) Technically “uncle, “ but frequently a friendly term of respect for an older male, which sometimes ends up being in the context of them being the shopkeeper.
叔叔 (shu2 shu.) is the designation for uncles younger than your father, so can be used similarly for men younger than your father, but in his generation.
However, the exact terms are
老闆 (lao3 ban3) (old + boss, owner) proprietor, boss
老闆在不在？(lao3 ban3 zai4 bu2 zai4) (proprietor at not at) “Shopkeeper, are you here?”
老闆娘 (lao3 ban3 niang2) (niang2= mother, girls, women) proprietor’s wife or proprietress
Thus, you might also ask: 老闆娘在不在？
The store will be
(zuo4) (sheng1 yi4)
(to do, to make, to work) (living, to produce + idea = business)
…… (zhuan4 qian2)
……. (make money)
Doing business to make money
Which can also be said as
(zuo4) (mai3) (mai4)
(to do) (to buy) (to sell)
Here are sentences using that vocabulary:
(ni3) (zuo4) (shen2 me.) (sheng1 yi4) (ne.)
(You) (to do) (what) (business) (question sound)
What business are you in?
(wo3) (zuo4) (guo2 ji4) (mao4 yi4)
(I) (to do, work, make) (national + border, between = international) (to trade + to exchange = trade)
I am in international trading.
(wo3) (zuo4) (yin3 liao4) (lian2 suo3) (dian4)
(I) (to do, work, make) (to drink + material, stuff, makings = beverage) (to connect, mutual + a lock = franchise) (store)
I work with beverage franchise stores.
(zhe4 jia1) (dian4) (de.) (sheng1 yi4) (zhen1) (hao3)
(this + measure word for store or building) (store) (’s) (business) (really) (good)
This store’s business is doing really well
Do you see how this is the same as the previous sentence, just with 「麵包」, which means “bread,” added to describe the type of store?
(wo3) (cong2) (gou4 wu4) (wang3 zhan4) (mai3) (xu3 duo1) (dong1 xi)
(I) (from) (to buy + thing = to go shopping) (a net + station = website) (to buy) (many) (things)
I buy a lot of things via the internet.
When you go into a store, you will almost certainly hear either a machine or a person sing out one of the most complete greetings in the world:
[(huan1) (ying2)] [(guang1) (lin2)]
[(pleased) (to receive)] [(light, honor) (to look down from above, to visit, to approach)]
[to welcome] [please grace us with your presence]
You will probably want to know how to understand various sales and at least try asking some questions using some of the following vocabulary:
(duo1) (shao3) (qian2)
(much) (few) (money)
How much money?
The words for “this” (這個, zhe4 ge.) have been added in the front of the previous sentence.
(ke3 yi3) (pian1 yi4)(yi4 dian3) (ma.)
(able to) (inexpensive) (a litte) (question indicator)
Can it be a little bit cheaper?
(mai3) (yi1) (song4) (yi1)
(to buy) (one) (to receive) (one)
Buy one, get one free.
(zhe4) (shi4) (ni3 men.) (dian4) (li3) (de.) (you1 hui4) (jia4 ge2) (ma.)
(this) (to be, is) (you plural) (store) (inside) (adjective marker, possessive) (good, excellent + intelligent, wise = preferential, favorable, premium) (prices) (question marker)
Is this your stores’s best price?
(wo3) (xi3 huan1) (zhe4 jia1) (dian4) (mai4) (de.) (dong1 xi1) (de.) (pin3 zhi2)
(I) (to like) (this) (store) (to sell) (adjective marker) (things) (adjective marker) (quality)
I like the quality of goods that this store sells.
(guo4) (nian2) (guo4) (jie2) (de. shi2 hou4) (bai3 huo4 gong1 si1) (dou1) (hui4) (you3) (you1 hui4) (da3 zhe2)
(Passing) (year) (passing) (holiday) (when) (department store) (all) (will) (to have) (premium) (to beat, to strike, to smash, to get + to break, to discount in price = at a discount)
Department stores will all have premium discounts around the New Year and the holidays.
When you are done shopping, and ready to pay, you may get asked:
(ni3) (yao4) (shua1 ka3) (hai2 shi4) (fu4) (xian4 jin1)
(you) (to want) (swipe card) (or) (to pay) (fresh money).
Do you want to pay with a credit card or cash?
And then told something like:
(zhao3) (gei3) (ni3) (er4 shi2) (yuan2)
(to find, to make change) (to give) (you) (two ten) (circular, monetary unit)
Here is 20 (monetary change units of coin) in change.
My tutor says that sometimes people are lazy and leave the「給」out of the previous sentence.
The only difference between this last sentence and the one right before it is the use of「快」instead of 「圓」to mean “pieces of money.”
Sometimes, I think it would be good practice to go sit in a coffee shop in Taiwan, somewhere near the register, and listen to the same basic things being said over and over all day. I am still hoping for another trip there. Meanwhile, here is an audio recording of my tutor saying all of these phrases to help me practice: