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Countries where Mandarin Chinese is spoken are often strongly influenced by Confucian ideals. Part of the Confucian tradition is a deep respect for teachers.
Lǎoshī is the Mandarin word for “teacher.” It has two characters: 老師 and the first character lǎo 老 is a prefix which means “old.” The second character shī 師 means “teacher,” so the literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” However, 老 in this context just expressed respect and isn't related to actual age at all. Compare with 老闆 for "boss".
Lǎoshī is also used as a title. You can address your teacher as “lǎoshī” or you can use lǎoshī in combination with a family name when referring to a teacher. This can feel strange at first to learners of Mandarin Chinese since we don't really do that in English, except possibly for younger children. In Mandarin, you can always call your teacher "lǎoshī", including at university.
Examples of Lǎoshī
Click the links to hear the audio.
Lǎoshī hǎo. Nǐ máng ma?
Hello teacher. Are you busy?
Wǒ hěn xǐhuan Huáng lǎoshī.
I really like Teacher Huang.
Note that in the first case, it's not necessary to include 你 or 您 in the greeting to form the standard 你好 or 您好, you just add 好 to the title. This is similar to the way you would say "hello" to a large group: 大家好. The second sentence shows how teachers are usually talked about among students (again, up to and including university).
Update: This article was significantly updated by Olle Linge.