While there are some similarities between English and Chinese, we all know that the two languages are pretty different. As a result, when English speakers start learning Chinese (Mandarin), there are some common mistakes that they make. Lets look at 14 common mistakes Chinese learners make:
Mandarin’s tones are a source of a lot of trouble for learners. There are 5 tones in the language. If you get it wrong: you may end up calling your mother (mā) a horse (mă)!
2. Gender confusion: In the Chinese language, gender pronouns are not separated (he and she, his and hers) for example.
3. Singular/plural noun confusion: Singular and plural nouns are not different in the Chinese language. Context is what differentiates between singular and plural nouns. As an example, if someone said ‘one cat’, in Chinese then “cat” is singular, but if someone said, ‘many cat’, then “cat” is plural. But there is no separate plural form ‘cats’ in Chinese
4. Over-using 和 (Hé)
The word “and” in English is very versatile, and this often causes English-speaking learners to latch on to 和 in Mandarin and use it for everything.
The main mistake with 和 is using it to connect phrases.
5. Misuse of prepositions: In Chinese there is a character that can mean, ‘in’, or ‘at’ depending on the context 在.
6. Word order of adverbials (time, manner and place)
Mandarin word order: In Mandarin adverbials of time, manner, and place nearly always come before the verb. This is different to English where the placement varies a lot.
7. zh, ch, sh / j, q, x and ü
Back to the pronunciation! Tones are by far the most important part of Mandarin pronunciation but some consonants have peculiar pronunciations too! Here are some examples:
q: similar to ‘ch’ in the English ‘cheap’ – tongue is positioned below lower teeth
x: similar to ‘sh’ in the English ‘sheep’ – tongue is positioned below lower teeth
zh: similar to ‘j’ in the English ‘jam’
8. Not using topic-comment structure
A big feature of Mandarin sentence structure is that it is topic-prominent. This means that the most important item in the sentence should usually be put first, regardless of its grammatical role
9. Conjugations: In Chinese, there is no verb conjugation. In English, we would say, ‘I love dancing’, ‘he loves dancing’. In Chinese however, there are no separate forms: love and loves - it is just “love” for all subjects
10. 是 + adj
The most common way to link adjectives to nouns is with 很. This is often described as meaning “very”, but its main function in this case is just to sit between the noun and adjective. “她很高” can just be translated as “she’s tall”.
11. 没有 + 了
没有 is used to negate past actions, and 了 is used to mark completed actions.了 grammar is confusing, so it’s easy to mistakenly think that 了 is about the past tense. This then leads people to use 了 in phrases with 没有
12. Positive-negative inversion + 吗 (Ma)
Two common ways to form questions in Mandarin are positive-negative inversion, and adding 吗 (ma). After learning both, you can easily slip into putting both into one sentence, which is usually incorrect.
13. Inserting articles: The articles (a, an and the) are not needed in Chinese before a noun. But English speakers usually insert them.
14. Confusing first and last names: In China, the family name is written before the first name, the opposite being the case in English speaking countries.