Perhaps you already know how to say this common greeting, but do you know what you are actually saying ?
The common way to greet in Mandarin Chinese is :
ni3 hao3 – 你好
People will tell you this means “hello” in English but in my opinion that is a very poor translation. When I personally am studying new words I like to know the literal translation of everything I learn. That way I know how to use those words in other situations and I can also recognize them when they are used elsewhere.
When you say “ni3 hao3 – 你好” you are actually saying “you good”. That’s what those 2 words literally translate as. By telling someone they are good you are essentially saying “hello” or in otherwords you are greeting them.
If you want to ask someone “how are you” you simply add the question tag “ma” to the end of the sentence :
ni3 hao3 ma1 ？ – 你好吗 ？
So now you are turning the statement “you good” into a question “are you good?” which is how to ask someone “how are you?”. In English we might say “Hello, how are you?” but in Chinese you can’t say “nihao, nihao ma?” – that just sounds ridiculous.
Another way to ask someone “how are you” is by saying “you how about?” :
ni3 zen3meyang4 – 你怎么样 ？
You could also just say “zen3meyang4” as the “you” is implied by whom you are talking to. “zenmeyang” means “how about” or “what about”.
Now for goodbye :
zai4jian4 – 再见
Here again we don’t literally have “goodbye” as there is no word that I know of in Chinese to say goodbye. However in English “goodbye” is what we say when we part and in Chinese “zaijian” is the common parting phrase which literally means “again see”. So you are basically saying “see you again”.
Another common parting phrase is :
xia4 ci4 jian4 – 下次见
Notice “jian4” is again the last word, so we have the word “see” used once more. The first word “xia4” can be translated as “next” but also can mean “under”. The “ci4” means “time” or “instance” i.e. “this is the third time/instance this has happened”. So the farewell phrase above simply means “next time see” or “see you next time”.
When learning new Chinese words I recommend breaking them down individually to know their literal meaning. This will help you to understand the language better. When you know how Chinese speakers “think” you will be better able to grasp the language and speak like a native.