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Adam_CLO

Common Mistakes that Chinese Speakers Make when Speaking English

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Adam_CLO

I'm doing research for a blog post, but am having some writer's block.

Background: Living in Taiwan, I hear a lot of common mistakes that Chinese speakers make when speaking English. When you think about it in Chinese, it makes sense why they make such mistakes. The two I've come up with so far are:

1. Mixing up he and she. Obviously in spoken Chinese, he and she are the same, so it makes sense that they would mix them up in English.

2. Mixing up "borrow" and "lend". The Chinese word for lend and borrow is the same (借) so again, it makes sense that they would mix them up in English.

3. Toast. In Chinese "toast" (吐司) seems to refer to "sliced bread" (cooked or not). Whereas in English it specifically refers to heated, sliced bread.

Are there any other mistakes you can think of that result from differences between English and Chinese?

Conversely, can you think of common vocabulary mistakes that English speakers make in Chinese, owing to differences between the languages?

Appreciate your answers!

Adam

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Kenny同志

They tend to confuse tangerine with orange.

They say "I am a Chinese" instead of "I'm Chinese".

They sometimes use "cock" rather than "rooster".

They may use "color" and "specialise" in the same article.

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Adam_CLO
They say "I am a Chinese" instead of "I'm Chinese".

I've heard this one too. How does it relate to Chinese though? They wouldn't say 我是一个中国人 right? So why make the mistake in English?

Special is a good one. I think that word is used differently in Chinese than it is in English. Thanks!

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li3wei1

They use 'problem' and 'question' interchangeably.

They sometimes use "cock" rather than "rooster".

They do that in the UK as well. :wink:

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imron
Special is a good one

I think he was talking about mixing American and British spelling in the same article, e.g. specialise (British) and color (American)

Other common ones:

Wine - for any type of alcohol instead of just wine.

Orange - instead of mandarin/tangerine.

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count_zero

> They tend to confuse tangerine with orange.

Why would they do that?

> They say "I am a Chinese" instead of "I'm Chinese".

That's not incorrect.

> They sometimes use "cock" rather than "rooster".

That's also not incorrect.

> They may use "color" and "specialise" in the same article.

Americans sometimes write "specialise" for example, in the New York Times.

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count_zero

"Is it delicious?" "Is it more delicious than..?"

"I lived in the hotel for two days"

"make-ups" "informations"

Calling a cockroach or other creepy-crawly a "worm".

I heard that Chinese people may think "an open relationship" means a relationship that is not secret, but I would stake my life on it.

to "make a girlfriend"

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li3wei1
> They may use "color" and "specialise" in the same article.

Americans sometimes write "specialise" for example, in the New York Times.

This isn't the kind of linguistic mistake the OP was talking about, it's just sloppiness, and I've seen it all over, including people using their native language. Using 'grey' and 'gray', capitalising at a whim, hyphenating or not at random, and of course the incorrect apostrophe. Nothing to do with Chinese.

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Kenny同志

As a language learning question, what's wrong with "is it delicious"?

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imron
> They tend to confuse tangerine with orange.

Why would they do that?

Because it looks orange and they haven't been taught otherwise.

> They say "I am a Chinese" instead of "I'm Chinese".

That's not incorrect.

It sure sounds strange though, and my first reaction would be to want to ask: A Chinese what?

> They sometimes use "cock" rather than "rooster".

That's also not incorrect.

Technically no, but still liable to lead to comical misunderstandings, for example, I once had someone tell me that the map of China looked like a giant cock, when their meaning would have been much more clear if they had said a giant rooster.

Americans sometimes write "specialise" for example, in the New York Times.

How common is that though? Google tells me ~18,000 results for specialize compared to ~170 for specialise

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count_zero

> As a language learning question, what's wrong with "is it delicious"?

I'm sure someone will come along in a minute and explain this with the correct grammatical terms.

But think of "delicious" as meaning "very good to eat". You don't ask someone "is it very good" or "is it more very good than the other dish". You ask "is it good?" The person you are talking to might reply "very good!" or "delicious!"

Some people argue that "very delicious" isn't incorrect but the last time I heard that it was a line spoken by a French waiter in a movie. The writers had chosen "very delicious" because it's the kind of thing a foreigner might say but native English speakers very rarely use it.

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imron
As a language learning question, what's wrong with "is it delicious"?

Delicious represents an extreme. There are many things that might taste good, or in fact taste very good, but nonetheless wouldn't be tasty enough to be counted as delicious (obviously everyone has their own perception of what is or isn't delicious). If you ask "is that delicious", what you are sort of asking is "is that one of the best things you have ever tasted".

Instead of asking "is it delicious", you could instead just ask "what do you think?", or "how's your food?" or "do you like it?" etc.

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count_zero

But tangerine/mandarin is 橘子 and orange is 橙子 so surely it would be natural not to confuse the two.

I'm not saying this mistake has never been made but I've never heard it.

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count_zero

The word "cock" certainly should be used with care. But you need to know its primary meaning to understand "weathercock", "cockcrow" and "cock of the walk".

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count_zero

Find the kind of person who likes to say "A Chinese what?" Then show them this paragraph from the NYTimes

---

The abducted workers were part of a larger contingent of Chinese who are helping the Sudanese government build a road through South Kordofan, an oil-rich region that has been the scene of intense fighting between the Khartoum government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, a rebel group that is allied with the newly independent South Sudan.

---

Ask them if they see anything wrong? If they say "no" then your trap has been sprung successfully.

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count_zero

> How common is that though? Google tells me ~18,000 results for specialize compared to ~170 for specialise

To be honest, I don't know. I'm not American.

It's surprising how many words have alternative spellings though. I was looking at the cover of Jasper Becker's "City of Heavenly Tranquillity" the other day and I thought "Hang on a mo... they haven't gone and spelt (spelled) that incorrectly have they?" Nope, two spellings.

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imron
But tangerine/mandarin is 橘子 and orange is 橙子 so surely it would be natural not to confuse the two.

Many people where I used to live (Hebei province) had never seen a 橙子 and couldn't tell you the difference between that and a 橘子, which were very common.

This mistake is very, very common.

Ask them if they see anything wrong? If they say "no" then your trap has been sprung successfully.

Not really. I'm not sure why that usage works, perhaps because the "what" part was answered earlier in the sentence already (abducted workers), or perhaps it's because it's used to refer to a group of people rather than just a singular person. In any event, that usage doesn't sound strange, but "I'm a Chinese" does (at least to me).

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Kenny同志

@Imron and count zero,

Thank you very much for explaining the word “delicious” to me.

@Imron

And thanks for answering count zero’s questions for me.:)

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