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Common Mistakes that Chinese Speakers Make when Speaking English


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> I think there are certain characteristic mistakes with articles as well, i.e. 'problems in the society', 'entering the middle age'.

Yes. The classic one is "I like listening to the music." What music?

Though to be fair that's not a problem that's specific to Chinese people. The French will talk about "the love" when in English we speak just of "love".

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@oranges/mandarins: Some Americans seem to use the expression "mandarin orange" though, which would suggest that this fruit is simply a type of orange and can be called "orange" just like a "rose" can be called a "flower". I think this type of non-specific usage is quite common.

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I think you got it backwards there, Chief. Just because they categorize things differently in Chinese than we do in English does not make it wrong. We're talking about mistakes in English. Though that does remind me. On English menus here in Taipei, chicken sandwiches are called chicken hamburgers. A hamburger is never a sandwich, etc. I've tried to explain to people that in English we consider a hamburger to be a type of sandwich, but they just look at me like I'm crazy because a 漢堡 is most certainly not a 三明治. I believe they name their sandwich-type things by what kind of bread is used.

Anyway, here are a few I've noticed frequently from my students and friends:

"She is very beauty."

"Let's go to KTV, it will be funny!" (when they mean "fun")

"OK, see you next next week."

"He is very humor."

"Why are you like to go there?"

"I'll contact with you next week."

"I am regret that..."

"You are a so good teacher."

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I would say that "He is a Chinese" is wrong for the simple reason that Chinese is, in this sense, an adjective and must therefore have a noun to modify. However, the OED records the use of "a Chinese" back in 1878.

You would never say "He is an English." "English" as a noun only relates to the language or to the total populace as in "The English..."

However, you can say "He is an American" because "American" with the meaning of nationality has gained status as a noun (dating back to the 18th century).

"Chinese" seems akin to "English" in this respect. It can mean the language or the entire populace. Never one individual. In the distant past perhaps, but not in modern English. To my ears it sounds clumsy, if not offensive.

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Some of the mistakes listed are, in my opinion, rather nit-picky and not serious errors. I'll be honest, I'm not 100% sure what the difference between a tangerine, an orange, and a Mandarin orange is (size?)

Being an English teacher in China, I'll list some of the more serious errors I see regularly:

1)He/she mixed up. Mostly only happens with lower-level students, but occasionally even better students do it.

2)Verb tense is wrong. Example, "Last Saturday I go shopping." Students will often use the present tense form of a verb when they should use the past tense.

3)Prepositional phrases put in their Chinese position. For example, "I with him go shopping."

4)Related to above, using "together" when it's not needed in English. Example, "I went shopping with him together." or "I with him together went shopping."

5)Use of 'too' to mean 'very'. Go tell a Chinese person "Your eyes are too big." They think it's a compliment.

6)Use of 'too'' or 'very' instead of 'is'. For example, "He too tall." or "The weather very cold."

7)Use of 'very' with 'like' and a few other verbs. For example, "I very like to eat dumplings."

8)"Where are you come from?"

Problems with specific words:

1)Awkward use of the words 'suit' and 'suitable'. Example, "That shirt very suit you." = "That shirt looks good on you."

2)Delicious. Already mentioned. Any food is 'delicious.' A food that tastes bad is 'not very delicious.' Kenny, the reason this is not correct is basically that native speakers just never say this. We say "The food is good." or "It tastes great." or "It's nasty."

3)"Bye-bye". In America, adults don't say "Bye bye" to each other. Sadly, I've started saying this to Chinese people, because it seems they all love to hear a foreigner say it, and they all know what it means.

4)Use of 'open' to mean 'promiscuous'. Man, this one took me a long time to figure out. A Chinese person will say something like, "Westerners are very open with their relationships." or "Western girls are too open." Of course, in English, this actually means that people are honest, but when Chinese say it, it seems to mean something bad. I believe it means something similar to 'loose' or 'promiscuous'. If anyone knows the exact Chinese expression they are translating, I'm curious what it is. I believe it is '开放', but I'm not sure.

I could list more words that are problematic, but these are the most annoying to me.

All the above are very common mistakes, and people who have studied a lot of Chinese should be able to see where they come from.

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4)Use of 'open' to mean 'promiscuous'. Man, this one took me a long time to figure out.

Never heard of an "open relationship"?

"open" also has the 'promiscuous' meaning in English. It is not a Chinese mistake.

I'll agree with your other examples though, but they are just native language interference.

My bugbear is "I'll send you to the bus stop" when they mean "I'll take you to the bus stop". But again it comes from Chinese.

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So if someone said to you, "That girl is very open," the first thing you would think is "That girl is promiscuous?"

No. I didn't say that. I just said that it is an acceptable meaning in English, albeit not the first that comes to mind. It depends on context.

Yeah, Chinese think that hamburger means round bread, sandwich means triangular bread or square slices cut into triangles.

Wow! What a generalisation. Certainly something I've never come across.

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