"What Are You Doing" in Chinese: Week 9

Learn to say and answer, "where are you" and "what are you doing" in Chinese. Efrain beginner's guide to learning Mandarin also covers how to use 在 this week.

My name is Efrain, and this is my weekly column on my journey to becoming fluent in Chinese with TutorABC Chinese. You can check out why I want to learn Chinese in my introduction here.

What are you doing, what are you doing at said location, where are you at, and how do you respond to these questions? This week’s lesson has prepared me with more survival phrases, in the event I am ever being interrogated (you never know). “我不知道 (Wǒ bù zhīdào),” I don’t know, my go to answer when being asked a question in any language. Needing more information, I’ve learned to ask and answer these kinds of questions in Mandarin. In previous lessons, I have learned enough to get an idea of how to ask “where are you,” but there is more than one way of doing so? Another thing to add, I was limited to the series of locations I could describe in Chinese, other than some countries and my house. So I was provided with some common places one may go and some useful new verbs.  Now I guess I’ll be asking the questions (even if some people have trouble understanding me at me at times).

What are you doing?


我在上网 (Wǒ zài shàngwǎng). I am on the internet? Automatically I felt as if I was in trouble when first asked 你在做什么 (Nǐ zài zuò shénme)? However, this is fairly normal way to ask. An informal way of asking is to say, 你在干嘛 (Nǐ zài gàn ma), but in some cases this would imply that you’ve probably done something wrong. Like most men in this type of situation and new learners, I am never really sure either way but the lesson showed me verbs that could help me answer these questions in the event I would need to (or want to). 看 (Kàn) Watch or read, 吃饭 (chīfàn) eat, 练习(liànxí) practicing, and 上 (shàng) to get on (as in a computer or a bus), were all verbs that correlated to places I’d be at in the lesson.

Related: Learning Chinese With Efrain, Week 1: "Travel"

This was useful because adding a location after the word 在 (zài) can be done to show where the action is taking place. One example from the lesson was answering, “What are you doing at the home?” I replied, “我在家看电视 (Wǒ zài jiā kàn diànshì),” meaning I am watching TV.

 Where are you at?



After learning the phrase “where are you from,” you would think the word for where, 哪里 (nǎlǐ), would stay the same. As it turns out, many people in northern China (especially around Beijing) tend to use 哪儿 (nǎ'er). This confused me at first, but it's just a regional difference, with southern Chinese tending to use 哪里 (nǎlǐ), especially in Taiwan (which to me is a little easier on the ears). However, depending on the region, you might be more safe going adding the Beijing “er” accent into 哪儿 (nǎ'er) in mainland China. At least the way to answer remained the same, “我在公司 (Wǒ zài gōngsī),” meaning I am at the company (now to only learn to add always to the sentence).

How to use在 (Zài) and why it’s easy

One of the most commonbly used characters 在 (zài) is at the center of these questions and how to express their meaning. Having a very broad definition 在 (zài) can mean: (located) at; in; exist; (before verbs) immediately involved in; right in the middle of doing. I can say I am doing something like in the previous example, say where I am, or even combine the two. This means every action that is happening or currently in progress can answer a question, followed by an action and/or location. Simple.

Related: How To Use: 在 vs. 再 In Chinese

I feel like I am getting a good hold on the basics. Trying to use some of my simple language skills with my Mandarin speaking coworkers has really helped. I will need to practice the vocabulary more though because if I do end up traveling to China anytime soon I will want to remember how to say store, train station, and hospital (again, you never know).

So 你在做什么(Nǐ zài zuò shénme) this weekend and 在哪儿 (nǎ'er)? Let us know in the comments below.

Sentence Structure Review

__Person__在__location _+_verb/action_

__Person__在__location _


Vocabulary List


Navigate/Surf the Web





 Kàn diànshì  Watch TV


 Kàn diànyǐng
 Watch movie


 Děng chē



 Chī zǎocān

 Eat Breakfast


 Zǎocān diàn

 Breakfast Shop











 Túshū guǎn




 Huǒchē zhàn  Train Station








 Jǐngchá jú

 Police Department

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