Whatever you do, it is inevitable to make mistakes, let alone learning something new, especially a foreign language. Learning Chinese is no exception. Further, even native Chinese speakers make mistakes when speaking or writing. So this often makes the language confusing for learners. So today, I share with you the top 5 mistakes made by Chinese learners.

1. No-verb Sentences

For Chinese language beginners, it is hard to accept the fact that in a great deal of Chinese sentences there are no verbs. It is not difficult to understand but difficult to adapt to. Here are how some of these mistakes are made.

Example 1:
English style: I’m 25 years old.
Chinese style: I 25 years old. ( Wǒ 25 suì.我25岁)
If you translate the sentence into Chinese, there is no verb in the sentence, which is “Wǒ 25 suì” instead of “wǒ shì 25 suì.” Same here:
Example 2:
English style: The weather is nice!
Chinese style: The weather very nice! (Tiān qì hěn hǎo. 天气很好。)

Actually, Chinese people use an adjective functioning as a verb in a statement, without “to be”. In addition, the adjective used as predicate in an affirmative sentence needs a preceding adverb, e.g. “hěn很”. In this case “hěn” should not be stressed and doesn’t mean “very”.

2. Sentence Structure

Your Mandarin teacher always tells you to follow the correct word order, but the truth is it is so hard to keep it right every time you produce a sentence. Here are a few examples comparing the Chinese style of expression to that in English.

Example 3:
English style: What are you going to do tomorrow? I am going to play tennis with Tom at the stadium.
(In English, in our response we would not repeat the word “tomorrow”, leaving it as understood that our reply refers to “tomorrow”.)
Chinese Style: You will do what tomorrow? I tomorrow with Tom at stadium will play tennis.
(Nǐ míngtiān yào zuò shénme? Wǒ míngtiān hé Tom qù tǐyùguǎn dǎ wǎngqiú
Example 4:
English style: My older sister bought me a small black leather handbag yesterday.
(Wǒ jiějie zuótiān gěi wǒ mǎi le yī gè hēisè de pígé xiǎo shǒutíbāo.


From example 3, we can conclude that the Chinese sentence obeys this rule: Subject + Time + (Companion, i.e. “with somebody”) + (Place) + Verb + Object

This rule applies no matter if the sentence is an affirmative or an interrogative one. However, for English speakers, the word order can be completely different from the Chinese, which is Subject + Verb + Object + (Companion) + (Place) + Time. No matter how long Chinese learners may have studied Mandarin, they often have problems with word order. And it is the same challenge for native Chinese speakers when learning English.

Example 4 shows how the order of multiple adjectives are placed in the two languages.

3. Question Word

When hearing Chinese language learners asking questions, we are also confronted with mistakes concerning the selection of question words. From the next example, we’ll see that is easy to get confused.

Example 5:
English style: What is the capital of Australia?
Chinese style: Where is the capital of Australia?
(Aodàlìyà de shǒudū zài nǎlǐ?

From here, we know that when asking a place, Chinese people tend to use “where” instead of “what”, making the translation “Aodàlìyà de shǒudū zài nǎlǐ?” instead of Aodàlìyà de shǒudūshì shénme?’.

Next let’s look at some non-grammatical mistakes!

4. Ignoring the Tones

You probably couldn’t get the tones right at the beginning, and some of the irresponsible language teachers told you just to focus on the pinyin without the tones. The result is you can hardly understand what people are talking about or make yourself understood. Actually, without the proper tones, a Chinese speaker won’t be able to understand you. If you get everything right but the tones, you will actually sound unintelligible to most native speakers of Chinese. So it is essential to pay lots of attention to learning the tones.

5. Dont Use Only a Single Method

Some learners are most comfortable and familiar with the listen-read-and-repeat method to learn a language. Some need a grammar textbook to make sense of learning a foreign tongue. No matter what approach you’ve chosen, it is all fine, but it’s a mistake to rely on just one.

It is proved that if you use multiple methods, you’ll get more chance to practice different skills and be able to see concepts explained in different ways. What’s more, the variety can prevent you from getting bored and stuck in the same learning habit. Remember to combine textbooks, audio lessons, and smart phone language learning apps.

Do you want to know more about mistakes Chinese learners make and try to avoid it? Try a free 1-to-1 live Mandarin lesson now!

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