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What are the overused words by Chinese students learning English?


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Chinese students learning English often overuse words or expressions. This is true even among English majors at University level.  


One common example is describing all food as "delicious" whether  they have eaten it yet or not.    Another is translating the word 玩儿 as "play"  when talking about socializing, meeting up with etc.  Finally students my use words or phrases that are archaic or overly formal - using the word "cherish" or the phrase "intangible cultural heritage" for instance.


While these usages may be technically 'correct', they often sound strange, jarring and even inappropriate to native speakers and are therefore important to point out to more advanced students.


These issues are often caused by direct translation or L1 interference - for example  the word "hero"  is often translated by my students as "hero in my heart"  (as direct translation of 我心目心中的英雄).


As part of a project I'm compiling a list of these issues, so I'd be really interested in knowing if anyone else has come across any good examples of words that are overused by Chinese students or sound strange to the ears of native English speakers. 


Thanks in advance!  




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Thanks, "sleepy" is a great example of what I'm talking about.  I don't know what the Chinese word would be that they are trying to express but it obviously doesn't have the childish connotation of the English word (or make you think of Snow White!) 

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#5 -- @giokve --




Yes, that's a good one. It, I think, like so many others, comes from an unconscious translation of a common Chinese word. In this case, 方便, which has a much broader application and range of meanings than its English dictionary equivalent.


And in the original post, "delicious" is a good example but the "very delicious" that I often hear is even stronger. Probably an unconscious translation of 很好吃, which in Chinese is fine. 


Another is translating the word 玩儿 as "play"  when talking about socializing, meeting up with etc.


Took me the longest time to get used to "有空,过来玩儿。"

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'interesting' - everything is interesting


Why do you like soccer? Oh, I think it's interesting.

Why do you want to be a scientist? I think this job is very interesting

What's your favorite subject in school? I like math. It's very interesting

What did you think of that movie? The story was very interesting.


'delicious' - describing 'run of the mill' foods as delicious or asking if they are so is very common too. For instance, I've been eating plain bread at school and students ask me if it's delicious. I know this stems from the (mis)translation of 好吃 but it's still grating.


'game over'

This isn't quite in the game catergory as above but, as a teacher of young children, they often like to say this when joking about someone being injured, in trouble or dead. A lot of them know the word for 'dead' or 'die' etc but just like to say 'He is game over' as a joke. It's a strange way to use this phrase but actually it can be useful when talking to students sometimes . Talking about somone being dead feels kind of grim but if you just say 'game over' then everyone knows what you mean.

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Agree with "bye-bye", only kids say that in English.


Disagree with "sleepy". "Sleepy" is a perfectly acceptable word, and has a subtly different meaning from "tired"; I'd say the two words have a more-or-less one to one correspondence with “困” and “累”.


Here are a few I can think of:

  • "Self-abased" as a translation for “自卑”.
  • Overuse of "seldom"; underuse of "rarely".
  • "Have a nice day" when talking to a friend.
  • "Activity" as a translation for “活动” (correct, but a lot of the time people would say "event", or colloquially just "thing", e.g. "are you going to the thing tonight?")
  • "Gonna", "wanna" etc. in situations other than reported speech and texting.
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I hate it when kids say "I'm boring" instead of "I'm bored" but I guess that's more of a grammar issue.

The one that first comes to mind is "filial piety" when something like "respect you elders" would an fine.

And "maybe"! Oh my...

Me: "Timmy, will you do the homework?"

Timmy: "Maybe."

Me: "Did you enjoy the film?"

Timmy: "Maybe."

Me: "Do you understand what I'm saying?"

Timmy: "Maybe."

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I was thinking it might be interesting to have the reverse topic to this: Chinese words overused by foreigners... direct me to it if it already exists!


Straight in at number 1...?  你好吗? Always cringe whenever I hear someone say this.

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Well I never...


The only time I've heard it used in a real conversation by a non-Chinese person was some guy said it to a waitress in a bar with a little glint in his eye *facepalm*.


Anyway, back to the original topic...


I once heard a student telling a foreign teacher what was so good about his phone and he said it just like an advertisement, "with my new iphone 6 I can enjoy a longer battery life".  Learning from non-native speakers has its pitfalls, but you also need to be smart what native type material you use!

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  • 1 month later...

"Actually, I think that you can..."

"Maybe there are some things you can try..."



Just something I've noticed. Maybe not words so much as over used patterns. I think the use of "can" may be a carry over from 可以. For example, I once had a teacher who when asked in what context a word could be used would often reply, "all can." I think it's a direct translation of "都可以"

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