Thank You

Say 'Thank You' in Chinese

It's a good idea to know how to say thank you in Chinese, because you will be saying it often. When you travel in China, you are likely to be on the receiving end of a lot of kindness. Even strangers you meet will see you as a guest in their homeland and want to treat you especially well.

Give it a listen to warm up before we coach you on how to get the pronunciation spot on.

Also, below, we have some very important cultural background that shows you when not to use this Mandarin thank you.

The spelling, using pinyin is like this:

xiè xie

Important Pronunciation Tips

Listen closely to the sound of that 'x' in 'xiè'. You might be tempted to make it with the English 'sh' sound, but really, that's not quite right. Imitate until you find yourself somewhere between an 's' and an 'sh' (if there is such a thing as being in between two sounds).

If you're thrown by the pinyin system, you could think of it as 'shyeh shyeh'. But again, it's not totally right to use the English 'sh', though you would probably be understood. It just wouldn't sound pretty to Chinese ears (or eventually to your own ears once you're more practiced).

Now about the tones (how your voice falls, rises, or holds even, for each syllable - very important for speaking Chinese) . The first 'xiè' is a falling tone. It starts high and drops. The second 'xie' is a neutral tone. The neutral tone should be said lightly and not really have any noticeable tone about it.

Here is an mp3 of Audrey repeating the thank you in Chinese. She goes from super slow to normal speed, which should make it absolutely clear. Say it aloud after she says it each time.

Do you notice how the second 'xie' is much lighter? The first one has the tone dropping down and the second tone is not distinct. Listen above and practice again.

When Not to Say the Chinese Thank You

If you are given a compliment by a Chinese (and you will likely be given many), it is of course very natural to want to say thank you in Chinese in return. But in this situation, you actually should not say thanks. Very strange, isn't it? Let me explain.

Chinese value modesty very highly. It comes from Confucian philosophy from long ago, and like many things in the culture from long ago, it has stuck around. So when someone gives you a compliment - for example, they tell you "Oh, you look so young for your age", the best thing to do is to deny it with a "no no no". It doesn't really matter if you are 35 and in fact look 21 (lucky dog) or if you're 35 and look, well, 35.

For whatever reason, in the Chinese mind, to accept a compliment somehow also means that you are agreeing that it's true. And that's how by saying thank you in Chinese to a compliment, you have just crossed the modesty line and ventured somewhere into arrogance territory.

So remember: After a compliment, do some head shaking, hand waving, plus the "no, no, no". In Chinese, that's a 'bù, bù, bù'. Of course, you can adjust the number of 'bù's according to your inspiration.

Listen to Audrey deflect a compliment with a Chinese no no no...

Does It Really Matter?

One last word about this habit of denying the compliment. I'm a little worried that you may be saying to yourself "Well, that's the Chinese way, but I'm not Chinese. I'll say thank you and they'll just have to learn to deal with my Western ways."

You may want to think again.

The Chinese are often in the habit of throwing around compliments very loosely. The example I gave about saying someone looks young for their age is a great example. Often conversation turns to age, for whatever reason. And when people give the actual number, I have never once in my experience heard that revelation followed by anything other than enthusiastic gestures of astonishment that the person could possibly look so young and have had so many birthdays.

My point is, a lot of these compliments are just routine small talk. I wouldn't call it flattery, because generally it's not so devious. It's just making conversation, or ice-breaking. So if someone sends you a compliment that they don't really mean in their heart of hearts, (though nothing ill was meant by it) after you offer a thank you in Chinese, they may be confounded by the fact that you seemed to accept such an exaggeration instead of playing the normal role of denying it.

But it's up to you how to handle it. Of course there are other options besides the 'bù bù bù', where you will come off fine. But I offer that common response here for the sake of keeping it simple.

Secret Sauce

I hope you found this coverage of saying thanks in Mandarin useful. When I present phrases like this I like to include 2 key ingredients that will prepare you for successwhen using learnt phrases:

  1. sufficient guidance on pronunciation. Chinese pronunciation is not easy for beginners. Simply giving the 'pinyin' (phonetic spelling) may be enough for seasoned learners familiar with the pinyin system, but usually not for the novice out to get some useful phrases under her belt.
  2. cultural knowledge. The phrases you speak are not simply mirror images of their English translation. There is a whole set of cultural behaviors underpinning their usage. To be familiar with this is to really enter the world of Chinese, as opposed to just parroting things and barely touching the surface of this amazing culture.

So you will find similar treatments on these pages:

For more practice to help you nail that 'x' sound in the Chinese thank, you can use these two 5 minute tutorials on tricky pinyin sounds.