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Common Mistakes that Chinese Speakers Make when Speaking English


Adam_CLO
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Maybe you've been in China too long?

I've definitely been in China too long.

But a friend from London who is here visiting for the first time (arrived Saturday) said it this afternoon in the sense of "I'll leave first" and then was very confused by my amusement.

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Well maybe my ears are off, but I can't imagine say bumping into a couple of friends in a street in London, having a quick chat and then hearing one of them say "I'll go first" to indicate that they wanted to end the chat and go off. Well, I can imagine it, but only if the friend in question was Chinese.

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I recall, many years back, hearing 'I'll go first' used in this context by a Chinese friend. I just happened to bump into them on the street, but once I'd heard them say this, a degree of mild panic set as I wondered if I'd somehow misunderstood the situation and had inadvertently arranged to follow them back to their house.

Using 'it' instead of the gender-specific personal pronoun to describe pets is another one. I appreciate the logic with this one, but having seen the horrified expression of a close relative on hearing their beloved feline friend described as 'it' by a Chinese guest, I would urge caution in using it.

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Using 'it' instead of the gender-specific personal pronoun to describe pets is another one. I appreciate the logic with this one, but having seen the horrified expression of a close relative on hearing their beloved feline friend described as 'it' by a Chinese guest, I would urge caution in using it.

I think some grammar books used in China are largely responsible for the excessive use of ‘it” to refer to animals, especially pets. Chinese students’ inadequate exposure to real English (not Chingish) has also contributed to the problem.

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  • 3 weeks later...
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Just to pipe in on a couple of the disagreements here:

1.) "I'm a Chinese" definitely sounds strange to my ears, even though it seems to be grammatically correct. I believe it's because 'chinese,' when referring to nationality is almost always used as an adjective. We're so used to hearing it as an adjective that when used as a noun, it sounds odd. Someone pasted a section of an article earlier in the thread that mentioned a 'a contingent of Chinese.' This example doesn't really shine any light on the matter; the determiner is linked to the noun 'contingent' in that case. You can say 'a contingent of troops,' but not 'a troops,' right?

2.) "I'll go first" works if you're headed to the same destination; no question there. It does, however, sound very unidiomatic and unnatural to say in many situations. For example, if you're finished eating a meal with friends and, whilst sitting around chatting after the meal one person stands up and says, "I'll go first," it's going to sound strange. However, in the same context, saying "我先走了" is fine.

(Also, someone had said that '我先走了‘ implied some level of 不好意思ness, but I disagree. I think it's just very similar to "I've got to get going" or "I'm going to take off" without having any apologetic undertone.)

That's my take...

And here's another: Using 'back' as a verb, as in: "When will you back to Beijing?"

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  • 2 weeks later...

Ugh you really can't say "I'm a Chinese" in modern English at all and you'd struggle to find a publication like the NY times actually say something like "He married a Chinese". In modern English there's basically a rule of thumb as to when an adjective to describe nationality doubles as a noun and can be used with "a" - that is when the adjective ends in -n.

He is an Egyptian/American/Indonesian/Mexican/Australian - GOOD

He is a French/British/Chinese/Turkish/Greek - BAD

You can trawl dictionaries all you like and come up with all the most bizarre sentences in the word and argue they're "grammatically correct" but that doesn't mean it's not bad English. I NEVER allow my students to say "I'm a Chinese" and make sure they know it's not acceptable.

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1) One of the commonest mistakes is that they use the present tense instead of the past tense.

2) They usually say sentences like: "I've been to there", but "I think you will like there"

3) I often heard from a friend: "It's a kind of the tofu, the food etc."

4) Sometimes I heard sentences such as: "She is beautiful than me" (probably because there is no "more" in Chinese: 她比我漂亮)

I don't know if it helps. I'm not a native speaker, so I make mistakes myself :(

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  • 3 weeks later...

While some are mistakes, is cock vs rooster a mistake though? I personally find it to be interesting choice of words, but not a real mistake.

I think the term "good" is used inappropriately very frequently with ESL, almost like accross the board when there's better words to use.

And very true about oranges/tangerines/clementines. I still call clementines oranges for instance.

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