Common Student Errors with Spoken English in China, Part 2: Chinglish

How do you or can you say (something)?
Error: How to say? / How to spell? This comes from the direct translation of Chinese to English: ‘zen me shuo?’ / ‘zen me pin xie’.
This is the most common mistake made by Chinese students. It is an ingrained habit that you will hear everywhere.

What does it/this mean?
Error: What is meaning? / What’s meaning? This comes from the direct translation of ‘shenme yisi?’ or ‘what meaning?’

It’s been a while / It’s been a long time used if we haven’t seen someone for a while.
Error: Although everyone knows ‘Long time no see’ we rarely use it. Chinese students may often use this as it is common to say ‘Hao jiu bu jian’ which is its direct translation.

I like to use the computer/ play computer games
Error: ‘I like to play computer’ is less of a problem from direct translation, rather than one of laziness that generalises both statements. Firstly it is missing the preposition ‘with’ and also the possessive pronoun ‘my’. Normally we would say ‘use my computer’ and ‘play (computer) games’.

I really like it
Error: ‘I very like it’. This unfortunate sentence comes from the translation of ‘feichang xihuan’ (very like). Unfortunately the Chinese language has no way of modifying a verb as in English which places ‘very much’ after the verb. In colloquial English we can say ‘really like’ instead of ‘very’ before the verb. ‘Very enjoy’ is another example of this.

Another problem that can occur along side the misuse of ‘very’ is the confusion between ‘like’ and ‘enjoy’. Because of this you may hear ‘I am very liking it’. The word ‘like’ expresses a state or condition so it is not used as a continuous verb. If used to give approval of something it can be used in the continuous sense though this is rare.

I have a lot of money
Error: ‘I have much money’. This common error originates from the use of ‘hen duo’ which covers, ‘much, many’ and ‘a lot of’. Most students will be aware that ‘a lot of’ can be used with both countable and uncountable and that ‘many’ can be used with countable nouns. However though this is possible, it is not common to use either ‘many’ or ‘much’ in positive sentences. Normally we use them with ‘do not’, for example, ‘I don’t have much money’ or ‘There isn’t much time to eat dinner’.

Text Book English

Nice to meet you.
Error: This should be used only on the first time of meeting. However, it is often mistakenly used instead of ‘Nice to see you (again)’.
‘Nice to meet you’ is also used formally and may be replaced with something more colloquial.

Q: How are you? A: Fine!
Technically there is no error here but in reality native English speakers rarely ask this question. Though this will vary from country to country we would normally say something far more informal. When we give an answer it is also common to say ‘thanks’ after our answer followed by ‘How about you?’


Categories: 07 - Common Student Errors, 08 - Practical Classroom Tips

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