We all get lost every now and then, so make sure you know how to ask for directions in Chinese so you’ll never be lost in China!
Getting lost anywhere can be a stressful situation, especially when you’re in a foreign country. While navigation apps are getting more and more precise, they can only take us so far. Sometimes, finding the exact location of a store or building can be beyond the scope of any app, so we’ll have to rely on locals to help us get there. When that happens, your best bet is to be prepared with a few ways to ask for directions in Chinese.
In this article, we’ll show you not only how to ask for directions in Chinese, but also everything you need to know to understand them. From the names of buildings to parts of the road and public transit, we’ll cover everything you need to know to get to where you need regardless of your mode of transport.
So, if you have places to go and people to see, let’s get started right away to get you on your way!
Table of contents
- How to say compass directions in Chinese
- How to say position directions in Chinese
- Must-know vocabulary words about navigation and locations
- How to ask for directions in Mandarin
- How to give directions in Mandarin
- Fengshui and directions
- FAQs about directions in Chinese
- Chinese idioms about directions
How to say compass directions in Chinese
First things first, we have to talk about the cardinal points in Chinese. Not just because they’re the basic blocks of directions, but because they’re a critical part of Chinese culture. The cardinal points were hugely influential in helping ancient Chinese civilizations make sense of the universe and organize their life. They are an integral part of the Theory of the Five Elements, which explains the constantly changing nature of the universe.
You’ll notice that many city and province names in China have a cardinal point in them, like 北京 (běi jīng) and 湖南 (hú nán). Then, Feng Shui places a lot of emphasis on the cardinal directions, but more on that below!
For now, let’s get started with the basics about directions in Chinese.
|Northeast||东北||dōng běi||dong beei|
|Southeast||东南||dōng nán||dong nan|
|Southwest||西南||xī nán||shi nan|
|Northwest||西北||xī běi||shi beei|
|Eastern||东方的||dōng fāng de||dong fang de|
|Southern||南方的||nán fāng de||nan fang de|
|Western||西方的||xī fāng de||shi fang de|
|Northern||北方的||běi fāng de||beei fang de|
|Eastern part||东部||dōng bù||dong buh|
|Southern part||南部||nán bù||nan buh|
|Western part||西部||xī bù||shi buh|
|Northern part||北部||běi bù||beei buh|
|Eastern side||东边||dōng bian||dong bian|
|Southern side||南边||nán bian||nan bian|
|Western side||西边||xī bian||shi bian|
|Northern side||北边||běi bian||beei bian|
How to say position directions in Chinese
Position directions are those that only tell us the position of an object relative to the position of another object. They’re words like above, below, left, right, and toward that use another object as a reference to help guide us closer to our destination. Unless you’re a pirate navigating the high seas, these will be much more useful to you on a day-to-day basis than the cardinal directions. It’s generally easier to understand “turn left at the pharmacy” than “turn east at the pharmacy,” so choose wisely!
|In front of||前||qián||chyan|
|On top / above||上边||shàng bian||shanq bian|
|Below / under||下边||xià bian||shiah bian|
|Above||之上||zhī shàng||jy shanq|
|Before||之前||zhī qián||jy chyan|
|Inside||里面||lǐ miàn||lii miann|
|Outside||外边||wài bian||way bian|
|Behind||后头||hòu tou||how tou|
|Front||前头||qián tou||chyan tou|
|In the front||在前方||zài qián fāng||tzay chyan fang|
|In the back||在后方||zài hòu fāng||tzay how fang|
Must-know vocabulary words about navigation and locations
Besides direction words, you should also dedicate some time to learning some vocabulary words about navigation and locations. In particular, we’ll cover vocabulary words for places, buildings, and traffic to help you reach your destination, no matter where you are.
Let’s start with general words about navigation and locations. While these may not come up on a daily basis, being familiar with them is still important if you’re interested in geography or navigation in general.
|Compass||指南针||zhǐ nán zhēn||jyy nan jen|
|Compass||罗盘||luó pán||luo parn|
|World map||世界地图||shì jiè dì tú||shyh jieh dih twu|
|Direction||方向||fāng xiàng||fang shianq|
|Position||位置||wèi zhì||wey jyh|
|Geography||地理||dì lǐ||dih lii|
|Geographic position||地理位置||dì lǐ wèi zhì||dih lii wey jyh|
|Region||地区||dì qū||dih chiu|
|Place||地方||dì fāng||dih fang|
|Located||位于||wèi yú||wey yu|
Directions will often involve the locations of other buildings, like “turn right at the gas station” or “walk past the park to get to the train station.” That’s why we’re going to cover 23 location places below, so you always know how to reach your destination.
|Airport||机场||jī chǎng||ji chaang|
|Railway station||火车站||huǒ chē zhàn||huoo che jann|
|Metro station||地铁站||dì tiě zhàn||dih tiee jann|
|Bus station||公交车站||gōng jiāo chē zhàn||gong jiau che jann|
|Downtown||市中心||shì zhōng xīn||shyh jong shin|
|Park||公园||gōng yuán||gong yuan|
|Garden||花园||huā yuán||hua yuan|
|Hospital||医院||yī yuàn||i yuann|
|Bank||银行||yín háng||yn harng|
|Hotel||酒店||jiǔ diàn||jeou diann|
|Mall||商场||shāng chǎng||shang chaang|
|Museum||博物馆||bó wù guǎn||bor wuh goan|
|City hall||市政厅||shì zhèng tīng||shyh jenq ting|
|College||学院||xué yuàn||shyue yuann|
|Pharmacy||药房||yào fáng||yaw farng|
|Embassy||大使馆||dà shǐ guǎn||dah shyy goan|
|Library||图书馆||tú shū guǎn||twu shu goan|
|Movie theater||电影院||diàn yǐng yuàn||diann yiing yuann|
|Restaurant||餐厅||cān tīng||tsan ting|
|Store||商店||shāng diàn||shang diann|
|University||大学||dà xué||dah shyue|
|Zoo||动物园||dòng wù yuán||donq wuh yuan|
Sometimes, you’ll need to find a location of a specific room within a building, like a shop at the mall or a classroom in a school building. Most notably, knowing the numbers in Chinese will come in handy here, as you’ll be able to tell what floor you should be on. Doing so is extremely easy, as you just place the number right before 楼 (lóu) to specify a floor. So, the third floor becomes 三楼 (sān lóu) and the seventh floor becomes 七楼 (qī lóu), and so on.
|Building||大楼||dà lóu||dah lou|
|House||房子||fáng zi||farng tzy|
|Apartment||公寓||gōng yù||gong yuh|
|Skyscraper||摩天大楼||mó tiān dà lóu||mo tian dah lou|
|Main gate||大门||dà mén||dah men|
|Elevator/escalator||电梯||diàn tī||diann ti|
|Stairs||楼梯||lóu tī||lou ti|
|Floor||楼层||lóu céng||lou tserng|
|Room||房间||fáng jiān||farng jian|
|Restroom||洗手间||xǐ shǒu jiān||shii shoou jian|
|Restroom||卫生间||wèi shēng jiān||wey sheng jian|
|Information desk||问询处||wèn xún chù||wenn shyun chuh|
|Emergency exit||安全出口||ān quán chū kǒu||an chyuan chu koou|
|Brick wall||砖墙||zhuān qiáng||juan chyang|
|Dormitory||集体宿舍||jí tǐ sù shè||jyi tii suh sheh|
|Dormitory room||宿舍||sù shè||suh sheh|
|Office||办公室||bàn gōng shì||bann gong shyh|
|Fire escape||逃生梯||táo shēng tī||taur sheng ti|
|Yard||院子||yuàn zi||yuann tzy|
If you plan to drive in China, whether it is to your new job or on a fun road trip through the beautiful scenery of Sichuan, then you need to be acquainted with the following road and traffic vocabulary in Chinese. Not only will it help keep you safe, but it will also be useful if you need to ask for directions on the road!
|Road||马路||mǎ lù||maa luh|
|Boulevard||大道||dà dào||dah daw|
|Intersection||路口||lù kǒu||luh koou|
|Crossroads||十字路口||shí zì lù kǒu||shyr tzyh luh koou|
|Traffic light||红绿灯||hóng lǜ dēng||horng liuh deng|
|Crosswalk||斑马线||bān mǎ xiàn||ban maa shiann|
|Corner||拐角||guǎi jiǎo||goai jeau|
|Overpass||天桥||tiān qiáo||tian chyau|
|Sign||指示牌||zhǐ shì pái||jyy shyh pair|
|Parking spot||停车位||tíng chē wèi||tyng che wey|
|Newspaper stand||报刊亭||bào kān tíng||baw kan tyng|
|Roundabout||环形路口||huán xíng lù kǒu||hwan shyng luh koou|
|Gas station||加油站||jiā yóu zhàn||jia you jann|
|Expressway||高速公路||gāo sù gōng lù||gau suh gong luh|
|Tunnel||隧道||suì dào||suey daw|
|Sidewalk||人行道||rén xíng dào||ren shyng daw|
|Railroad||铁路||tiě lù||tiee luh|
|Path||路径||lù jìng||luh jinq|
How to ask for directions in Mandarin
Now that you know plenty of vocabulary related to directions in Chinese, it’s time to learn how to ask for directions in Mandarin. There are three common ways to ask where something is in Chinese, so let’s take a look at each of them:
The first and most common way to ask for directions in Chinese is to simply state where you’re trying to go and follow it with 在哪? (___ zài nǎ?). It translates into “Where is ____?” except that the subject is placed at the front of the sentence, as is often the case in Chinese. Here are some example sentences so you always know how to get to where you’re going:
|Where is the bathroom?||洗手间在哪？||xǐ shǒu jiān zài nǎ?||shii shoou jian tzay naa|
|Where is the metro station?||地铁站在哪？||dì tiě zhàn zài nǎ?||dih tiee jann tzay naa|
|Where is the cafeteria?||食堂在哪？||shí táng zài nǎ?||shyr tarng tzay naa|
Another common way of asking for directions is by asking how to go somewhere. For this, we use the structure 去____怎么走？(qù ___ zěn me zǒu?), which roughly translates to “How do I get to ____?” Here are some example sentences:
|How do I get to the library?||去图书馆怎么走？||qù tú shū guǎn zěn me zǒu?||chiuh twu shu goan tzeen me tzoou|
|How do I get to the classroom?||去教室怎么走？||qù jiào shì zěn me zǒu?||chiuh jiaw shyh tzeen me tzoou|
|How do I get to the activity room?||去活动室怎么走？||qù huó dòng shì zěn me zǒu?||chiuh hwo donq shyh tzeen me tzoou|
Finally, you can ask how far away something is. Maybe you’re thinking of going to the mall but not sure if you have enough time or are planning a weekend trip somewhere nearby. For that, we’ll use the structure ____离这儿有多远？(___lí zhè’er yǒu duō yuǎn?), which translates to “How far away is ____ from here?” Here are some examples:
|How far away is the school from here?||学校离这儿有多远？||xué xiào lí zhè'er yǒu duō yuǎn?||shyue shiaw li jeh yeou duo yeuan|
|How far away is the airport from here?||机场离这儿有多远？||jī chǎng lí zhè'er yǒu duō yuǎn?||ji chaang li jeh yeou duo yeuan|
|How far away is Shanghai from here?||上海离这儿有多远？||shàng hǎi lí zhè'er yǒu duō yuǎn?||shanq hae li jeh yeou duo yeuan|
How to give directions in Mandarin
Finally, you might be asked to give directions in Mandarin if you spend some time in China. Although you might not get stopped in the street by strangers if you look like a foreigner, you still want to be a good Samaritan and help out when you do know how to get somewhere. Here is the most important vocabulary you’ll need to give directions in Chinese:
|Go along…||沿着……走||yán zhe…zǒu||yan je tzoou|
|Go straight||直走||zhí zǒu||jyr tzoou|
|Turn left||左转||zuǒ zhuǎn||tzuoo joan|
|Turn right||右转||yòu zhuǎn||yow joan|
|Turn left||左拐||zuǒ guǎi||tzuoo goai|
|Turn right||右拐||yòu guǎi||yow goai|
|Go toward …||往……走||wǎng…zǒu||woang tzoou|
|Make a U-turn||掉头||diào tóu||diaw tour|
|To go upstairs||上楼||shàng lóu||shanq lou|
|To go downstairs||下楼||xià lóu||shiah lou|
|Very close||很近||hěn jìn||heen jinn|
|Pretty far||挺远的||tǐng yuǎn de||tiing yeuan de|
What to respond if you don’t know the directions
And of course, you won’t always be able to tell someone how to get to where they’re going. No matter how long you’ve been living in China, there will undoubtedly come a time when you simply don’t know how to help someone get to where they need to go. For those situations, you can use any of the following sentences to politely let someone know that you simply don’t know how to help them:
|Sorry, I do not know how to get to this place.||对不起，我不知道怎么去这个地方。||duì bù qǐ, wǒ bù zhī dào zěn me qù zhè ge dì fāng.||duey buh chii woo buh jy daw tzeen me chiuh jeh ge dih fang|
|Sorry, I don’t know how to get there. You can ask that person.||不好意思，我不知道怎么去。你可以问那个人。||bù hǎo yì si, wǒ bù zhī dào zěn me qù. Nǐ kě yǐ wèn nà gè rén.||buh hao yih sy woo buh jy daw tzeen me chiuh nii kee yii wenn nah geh ren|
|Sorry, I’m not sure. You’d better ask somebody else. I’m afraid to give you the wrong direction. Sorry.||对不起，我不是很清楚。你还是问别人吧。我怕给你错的方向。不好意思。||duì bù qǐ, wǒ bú shì hěn qīng chǔ. nǐ hái shì wèn bié rén ba. wǒ pà gěi nǐ cuò de fāng xiàng. bù hǎo yì sī.||duey buh chii woo buh shyh heen ching chuu nii hair shyh wenn bye ren ba woo pah geei nii tsuoh de fang shianq buh hao yih sy|
|Sorry, I’m also a tourist and am not familiar with this place.||不好意思，我也是游客，对这里不熟。||bù hǎo yì si, wǒ yě shì yóu kè, duì zhè lǐ bù shú.||buh hao yih sy woo yee shyh you keh duey jeh lii buh shwu|
|Sorry, I don’t live here.||不好意思，我不住在这儿。||bù hǎo yì si, wǒ bú zhù zài zhè’er||buh hao yih sy woo buh juh tzay jeh’el|
Fengshui and directions
You’ve probably heard of 风水 (fēng shuǐ), which is the traditional Chinese philosophy of maximizing the flow of energy in the universe. This energy is known as 气 (qì), which is the underlying basis for traditional Chinese medicine, martial arts, and more. Today, the principles of feng shui are applied in architecture and interior design all around the world, with the cardinal directions playing a significant role in it.
According to the tradition, if you sit and sleep facing the right directions, then good luck will come your way. That’s why people in China sometimes hire feng shui consultants before purchasing a new home.
FAQs about directions in Chinese
How do you say left and right in Chinese?
Left in Chinese is 左 (zuǒ) and right is 右 (yòu). They are usually accompanied by the word 边 (biān) to indicate that something is to the left or to the right of something, such as 左边 (zuǒ biān) or 右边 (yòu biān). Here are a couple of examples:
|The library is to the right of the museum||图书馆在博物馆的右边||tú shū guǎn zài bó wù guǎn de yòu biān||twu shu goan tzay bor wuh goan de yow bian|
|The kitchen is to the left of the bedroom||厨房在卧室的左边||chú fáng zài wò shì de zuǒ biān||chwu farng tzay woh shyh de tzuoo bian|
BONUS: What happens when you combine both left and right? You get 左右 (zuǒ yòu)! This is a word that means “approximately” or “around” and can be useful when you don’t know the exact amount of something, like time, measurements, distances, and more.
Is Chinese written from left to right?
Yes! Just like English and the rest of the Germanic languages, Chinese is typically written from left to right.
Can Chinese be written from up to down?
It can be! Traditional Chinese used to be written from top to bottom, in columns that went from the right side of the page to the left. However, that is less common nowadays and most books are written from left to right, just as in English.
Chinese idioms about directions
If you’ve been learning Mandarin for a while, then you already know how important idioms are in day-to-day conversations. As such, here are some of the most popular idioms in Chinese involving directions!
|Running around||东奔西走||dōng bēn xī zǒu||dong ben shi tzoou||To run around hurriedly, usually while busy with something|
|Looking around||东张西望||dōng zhāng xī wàng||dong jang shi wanq||To look in all directions|
|Polar opposites||南辕北辙||nán yuán běi zhé||nan yuan beei jer||The literal meaning is that you’re meant to be going south but your horse carriage is heading north, thus, you’re doing the polar opposite of what you should be doing.|
|Coming from south, going to north||南来北往||nán lái běi wǎng||nan lai beei woang||To come and go all the time|
|Southern accent and northern tone||南腔北调||nán qiāng běi diào||nan chiang beei diaw||Having an impure accent and mixed with dialects|
|To glance left and right||左顾右盼||zuǒ gù yòu pàn||tzuoo guh yow pann||To look around|
|Dilemma||左右为难||zuǒ yòu wéi nán||tzuoo yow wei nan||To be between a rock and a hard place|
|Roads open in all directions||四通八达||sì tōng bā dá||syh tong ba dar||Describes extremely convenient in transportation|
|Thousands of times and hundreds of twists and turns||千回百折||qiān huí bǎi zhé||chian hwei bae jer||Describes an intricate story with many twists and turns|
Don’t lose your way with our Mandarin Chinese blog!
Now, you know over 154 helpful phrases that will help you get to wherever you’re going thanks to your stellar Chinese abilities. Even if you get lost in the process, you’ll always be able to find your way and course-correct. And, if you’re lucky enough to be exploring the beautiful and exciting streets of China, getting lost is sometimes the best part. Just trust that you’ll be able to find your way thanks to what you’ve learned in this guide and enjoy the ride!
If you want to polish more of your Chinese, then check out our Mandarin Chinese blog! We regularly publish guides like these to help you improve every aspect of your language journey, from acing the marketing world in Chinese to conquering over 200 drinks in Chinese.