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Common Mistakes that Chinese Speakers Make when Speaking English


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I'm still trying to get over the first time an extremely not unattractive 19 year girl rushed up to me (followed by two or three of her equally less than ugly friends) and said in English with perfect pronunciation and intonation etc, "Would you like to play with me?"

My answer of "Oh God! Yes please! But don't tell the wife" was fortunately lost in translation or my inability to coherently speak any language for the next few days!

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Regarding 橘子, 橙子, oranges, mandarins, tangerines, etc.

In my experience with natives in China, they've never confused 橘子 with 橙子. In fact, I never cared or really knew about the differences until I visited China. The reason is that (supposedly) in Chinese medicine, 橘子 has 上火 (heat) properties and 橙子 is considered 寒 (cooling). In general 橙子 is considered the superior of the two and if I'm going to buy some fruits as gifts when visiting, I'd usually buy 橙子. It's also more expensive.

In the US however, we don't distinguish oranges vs mandarins/tangerines to this detail. Yes, technically, they are labeled as such in the store but if I'm offering someone some clemintine mandarins, I'm just going to say, "Hey, do you want some oranges? They're the smaller Cuties oranges." That may be one of the reasons why Chinese speakers just say "oranges" because a lot of native speakers (in the US at least) just use "oranges" when referring to oranges/mandarins/tangerines/etc.

Here's an article (in Chinese) that talks about the Chinese medicinal properties of 橘子, 橙子 and 柚子. The article does state that a lot of Chinese may not know the differences but my experience has been the opposite.

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"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.

To me, it sounds about as clumsy as "a Spaniard", "a Frenchman", and "a Swede" --- not exactly wrong but not commonly used either. Now, "a Chinaman" is truly offensive.

Speaking of which, I have a native Chinese friend who speaks English very well (has lived in Canada for quite a few years), but who said "I think he is a gay." on multiple occasions. Although not formally incorrect, it sounded very awkward and the effect was quite hilarious.

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To me the biggest difference between an orange and a mandarin is the thickness of the skin. Mandarins you can easily just peel with your fingers. Oranges not really, and not without making a lot of mess with all the juice. The next biggest difference is that peeled mandarins split easily into smaller bite-size pieces. Oranges not so much (or at least not with the ease of Mandarins).

Another mistake:

"How about...", used when someone is enquring about the state of something, e.g. "How about your lunch?" instead of "How was your lunch?", or "How about your Chinese?" instead of "What's your Chinese like?"

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In America, a chicken fillet in a hamburger bun is called a chicken sandwich. In the rest of the world it's a chickenburger. Americans can get a bit possessive of what they consider the correct term for this great contribution to world cuisine.

"He's a gay" was probably popularised by the UK's Little Britain comedy show which has been on TV for about 9 years. The Chinese do seem to have taken to that. Perhaps because they are used to saying "he's a comrade". That's just a guess.

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'chickenburger' is fine. What's not fine is trying to find a good hamburger and being repeatedly directed to KFC. Or worse, being told the school cafeteria sells hamburgers only to find something more similar to an egg muffin.

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"He's a gay" was probably popularised by the UK's Little Britain comedy show which has been on TV for about 9 years."He's a gay" was probably popularised by the UK's Little Britain comedy show which has been on TV for about 9 years.

No. They've been saying it for a lot longer than that.

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Thanks for the answers - lots of good ones in there. To be clear, I was looking for mistakes made in English, because of how it's said in Chinese. So the wrong use of "together" is a good one, as is using "how about", because that's how it's used in Chinese.

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Excessive (i.e. unnatural) use of "maybe", "actually", especially at the start of sentences.

Reluctance to start question-sentences with "do you..." / "is it ...." / "would you...." etc, therefore preferring "It is too hot for you?" over "Is it too hot for you?"

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I have previously actually counted the types of English mistakes made by Chinese speakers. The most common are due to grammatical differences rather than just differences in the usage of vocabulary (which is not surprising, as grammar is the underlying structure).

The most common are to do with nouns:

- singular/plural (non-existent or virtually non-existent in Chinese)

- the articles "a", "the" and when to not use an article at all (no articles in Chinese)

Next come the verb conjugations (as it doesn't happen to Chinese verbs for the most part):

- verb-subject agreement where the verb takes an "s" depending on the subject (non-existent in Chinese, and not easy to learn)

- tense conjugations (also virtually non-existent in Chinese)

Another common area of mistakes are in the choice of those small simple prepositions and adverbs that are commonly used in English (actually difficult for all non-European speakers as there are few rules to help and must be memorized from frequent language exposure).

All these mistakes are most obvious in writing, because there are so many spoken mistakes that our listening brains overlook to try and make more sense of the unfamiliar sounding English that our ears are receiving.

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