Me No Speak Chinese

January 4, 2007 by

Asia, Places to Go

Me No Speak_coverIf you’re heading to China this year, we have something you should add to your packing list. It’s a new picture-based phrasebook for English speakers who want to get their point across in a Beijing taxi or a Shanghai noodle bar.

What makes this phrasebook different (and better) is that it doesn’t require you to speak the language. I learned this lesson firsthand when traveling in Turkey a few years ago. I had a handy phrasebook at my side but found it useless because, at the risk of stating the obvious, I DO NOT SPEAK TURKISH.

I absolutely dare you to pronounce this properly in Turkish: Afedersiniz! Hala faturamı bekliyorum.

Nope, I couldn’t either. No wonder those very friendly Turks looked at me with polite but befuddled smiles and asked (in perfect English), ‘what are you trying to say?’.

Me No Speak_detail
I don’t want mushrooms, either

The whole things feels like a nasty Catch-22. You buy a phrasebook so you can communicate with the locals, but you can’t properly use a phrasebook unless you know enough of the local language not to need a phrasebook in the first place.

But I digress.

This post is about Chinese. About a new picture-based phrasebook from a company called Me No Speak.

The book itself is available for sale at and at Amazon for US$9.95, which seems like a bargain.

And there’s no need to learn Chinese before you buy the phrasebook, because the authors had the brilliant idea of using pictures and what they call “point-to phrases”. So simple, it’s shocking that we as a language-loving species have survived into the year 2007 without it. So if you’re heading to the 2008 Olympics in China, grab a Me No Speak phrase book and make yourself understood. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand mispronounced words.

Scott McNeely

8 Responses to “Me No Speak Chinese”

  1. Danah Edo Says:

    Sounds like a great resource. Any other titles planned in the series?

  2. Scott Mc Says:

    I’m told they plan to publish titles for many non-romanized languages, such as Japanese, Korean, Turkish (!), Greek and Mongolian. There’s more information on their website.

  3. Susana Says:

    I’ve been in China in October 2006 for a month, 21 days in a tour and 5 days alone with my husband. We are from Uruguay, South America, Spanish speakers. We had no problem in China because everything is written in English, road names, food in restaurants, maps, etc., and people there are learning English to communicate with the world. Besides, Chinese people try to practice English speaking with tourists. Just learn to say “knee how” that means “hello” and to say numbers with your fingers (you’ll have to look it up in internet).

  4. Cheryn Says:

    In the larger cities, one can get by with English – especially when traveling in a tour. However, my experience in China, traveling independently and outside of urban areas, was difficult. My travel partner and I actually spent a few nights eating instant noodles in our hotel room because we couldn’t communicate with staff at restaurants. We also had trouble arranging train tickets in a town where, literally, not a soul spoke English. I drew pictures to get our point across and that’s where the idea for my book came from.

    I believe we should always attempt to speak the language of the places we travel, but having a tool that bridges the communication gap helps during those times when pronunciation and sign language fails. I used this book myself (October 2006) in the Sichuan Province and on the Yangtze River cruise, and I had way more confidence when out in the city (looking for food, hiring a taxi to the airport, etc…)

    Also, the book helped to create opportunities to interact with the locals we encountered as they enjoyed looking at the pictures with us.

  5. I learn Chinese Says:

    I learn Mandarin in Beijing. It’s been five months now that I’m learning this beautiful language. It’s true that Chinese is hard but learning it won’t be that hard if you have the right learning tools and resources. As far as I’m concerned, I use this useful Chinese English dictionary and when I’m stuck, I just post my questions to Chinese learning forums. I also learn Chinese writing online. I hope these learning Chinese tools would help you learn Chinese quickly and smartly. Thank you.

  6. Learning to Speak Mandarin Chinese Is I Says:

    I’m not a fan of the usual phrase books, exactly like what you said.

    That’s a very nifty idea with the pictures.

    If you want to learn how to speak chinese mandarin in 58 minutes, try visiting for the free videos.

  7. Victoria Cruises Says:

    the phrase book is a life saver if you eat at a local restaurant, or walk through the local streets. In addition to the book, if possible i suggest an electronic dictionary, you can input English, and show the Chinese to people.

  8. Learn mandarin online Says:

    Learning Chinese is no longer left to high school and university students, now stay at home parents, retirees, and travelers can learn the language using a few very simple techniques. Whether you are planning an important business trip, preparing to relocate for work or military, or want to explore the history of China for a few weeks, learning Chinese is not only possible, it is now easier to do than ever before. Thanks.