How To Make Communication in Chinese Better – Taxi Phrases in China

When you first see this title you might lose interest in reading this article because you can find related phrases in every textbook. But before you close the page, let me tell you a past experience of mine.

One summer I brought two of my best students to Shanghai for a long field trip. One of the purposes of this trip was to immerse them in Chinese. So they were supposed to complete some language based tasks. One day after a visit at campus, I told them: “Now I’m going to visit my friends, so you should go back by yourselves by taxi.” It was a very simple task for them since they had already been learning for two years and they were trained with survival phrases. All they needed to tell the driver was where they wanted to go. This is how the dialogue would usually go:


Driver:你好,你要去哪儿?/ 你去哪里?(Nǐ hǎo, nǐ yào qù nǎr? / Nǐ qù nǎlǐ?)
Hello, where are you going?

Passenger:我要去……/ 我去…… (Wǒ yào qù …. / Wǒ qù …)
I’m going to…

I was so confident in their Chinese ability until I got their call 5 minutes later because the driver asked a question that never show up in their textbook.

Driver:要走高架吗?( Yào zǒu gāojià ma?)
Do you want to take the elevated highway?

This type of question can be very frustrating for everyone learning Chinese. I realized no matter how much you learn from your textbook, there are some commonly used phrases you miss out on. The textbook is designed to teach the basics, but you need something more specific to the situations. So let’s look at these out of the book phrases that taxi drivers in Shanghai often might ask you.

Q: 你想怎么走?( Nǐ xiǎng zěnme zǒu?)
How would like to go? (Literally the sentence means: “how do you get there?” The driver isn’t lost but asks this question because he wants to make sure he picks up the way you like in case you complain that he takes the long way)

A: If you are an “old China hand”, let him know the way you prefer. If not, 随便 Suíbiàn (up to you) is a good one to imply that you are not just someone who has doesn’t know the way.

Q: 走隧道吗?(zǒu suì dào ma?)
Shall we cross the tunnel?

In Shanghai, Pudong and Puxi are separated by Huangpu River. There are tunnels and bridges that connect two areas, and the driver may ask you which one you prefer. You can answer with either one.

A: 走隧道(zǒu suì dào)。/走大桥(zǒu dà qiáo)。
Go through the tunnel./ Go through the bridge.

Q: 走外环/中环/内环?( zǒu wài huán /zhōng huán /nèi huán?)
Shall we go outer ring/middle ring/inner ring? This is another question about 高架(gāojià). There are three different highways in Shanghai that you can take. Of course, the best answer is still 随便(Suíbiàn).

Q: 卡还是现金?(Kǎ háishì xiànjīn?)
Card or cash? Credit card is not accepted in taxis. The card that they are referring is a ‘transportation card’ 交通卡. If you have one, you can use it however most of the time, just tell them cash.

A: 现金。( Xiànjīn.)

Q: 打表吗?( Dǎ biǎo ma?)
Shall we use the meter? This question is not asked often in town. Technically, it’s illegal to not use the meter. But at the airport or suburb area, sometimes a driver might try to cheat you with the taxi fare. So he might ask and your answer should always be: yes.

A: 请打表。(Qǐng dǎ biǎo.)

Here are some other useful phrases for comfortable taxi ride:

请慢一点(Qǐng màn yīdiǎn)
Please slow down.

I often use this phrase. Sometimes I think taxi drivers drive too fast especially on the way to the airport.

安全带呢?(ān quán dài ne?)
Where is the seatbelt?

Sometimes the seatbelt in back seat is missing. If it is, the driver will tell you that you don’t need a seatbelt. Most of the time, a seatbelt is not required to wear if you are in the back seat.

请轻一点。(qǐng qīng yī diǎn)
Please turn down the radio.

Many drivers like to listen to the radio and there is also a TV on the back of the car. So if you need some peace and quiet, you can use this phrase.

请开一下后备箱。(qǐng kāi yī xià hòu bèi xiāng)
Please open the trunk.

This statement is useful when you have a lot of luggage that you are traveling with that you can’t carry in the back seat with you.

I think now you are ready for a taxi ride in Shanghai. Carry the notes with you and have a safe trip.

Vera Zhang

After graduating from East China Normal University in 2005, Vera Zhang (张晓丽) started her career in teaching Chinese as a second language. Her first teaching job was teaching high school Chinese in Philippines and realized how much she loved this job. In 2007, she came back Shanghai and spent 7 years in ChinesePod. During that, she also went to America to learn language learning knowledge and curriculum editing by teaching in a high school. Now she works in a start-up company and has developed a new Chinese learning app-HelloChinese. She hopes she can share her knowledge in Chinese and make Chinese learning easy and fun.

  • Siddharta Gautama

    Another great article, I learned a lot from it, thanks!