Every country makes slightly different mistakes when they’re speaking English and that’s because they apply the rules in their language to English. With Chinese it’s exactly the same. There are many mistakes Chinese speakers make because that’s how they would say it in Chinese.
Most of time they’re harmless and people will know what you mean but sometimes you need to be careful that you don’t cause confusion or offence.
If you have Chinese students or if you’re Chinese yourself then hear are some of the common English mistakes that Chinese people make for you to watch out for.
Overuse of how about it
In Chinese, it’s very common to say ‘the apple, how about it.’ This is just their way of asking how’s the apple. But this will often be used to ask about a lot of things.
As you probably know in English we don’t really use this expression and although you can work out what it means, it does sound quite unnatural to an English speaker. ‘How’s the apple?’ sounds much more natural and English than ‘the apple, how about it?’
How about it would be used more for suggesting an idea and seeing if someone would like to do that idea.
r vs. l
This is a common pronunciation mistake that most Chinese people will struggle with at first regardless of where they’re from in China. That’s because in Chinese, the r sound isn’t like our r sound in English. It’s hard to type the pronunciation of [r] so check out this quick youtube video instead.
As you can see the r makes a completely different sound, so when Chinese speakers are trying to pronounce the English r this can be something they really struggle with and often comes out sounding more like an ‘l’ sound.
Check out this video to see how to pronounce l and r differently.
l vs. n
This pronunciation problem is interesting because it is only specific to certain regions of China. People in Shanghai won’t necessarily have a problem hearing the difference between l and n, but in places like Sichuan they will really struggle because these are not separate letters in that region.
This is something that people from Sichuan should practise if they want to reduce their accents and sound more like English speakers. Check out this video on how you can pronounce l and n differently
Getting mixed up with he/she
In Chinese they don’t have different words for he/she, they just have one way tā. So when a Chinese speaker starts learning English, it is very common for them to just say he/him for everything rather than specifying which gender they mean.
Although this is a harmless enough mistake, it can cause a bit of confusion and even offence if you call the wrong man a woman. They’re really not going to like it.
So for Chinese speakers, I can’t stress this enough, try and learn how genders work as soon as possible, to avoid confusion and to avoid getting yourself into a sticky situation.
Open/close the light
This is probably my favourite mistake that Chinese people make when speaking English and it’s relatively harmless. If you tell someone to close the light they’re probably going to know what you mean, it definitely won’t cause anyone any offence and it also sounds kind of cute.
The reason for this is that turn on the light and turn off the light in Chinese literally translates to open light and close light. It makes complete sense right? It’s just something we saw a little differently in English. So if you have Chinese students you can expect them to make this mistake and if you’re Chinese yourself then try saying ‘turn on/off the light’ instead.
They might struggle with look, watch and read
This is because in Chinese they only have one word for these three words, and you determine the meaning by the context of the situation.
This word in Chinese is kān 看.
So you may want to take some time to learn the differences between these three words.
Not knowing when to use borrow or lend
In Chinese, they also only have one word for borrow and lend, which is obvious to the speaker depending on the context at the time. So when they come to speaking English you may hear phrases such as:
“Can you borrow me your book.”
You’ll know what they mean but it may still be quite confusing.
Saying someone’s last name before their first name
In Chinese, people’s surnames are said before they first names because the family name is seen as being the most important name. So if a Chinese person has just started to learn English, don’t be surprised if they call you Brown Gary instead of Gary Brown.
We hope you’ve found this article on common English mistakes that Chinese people make useful. If you can think of any other common English mistakes that you know Chinese people make then please let us know in the comments below.
Also if you want us to produce any other articles about common English mistakes people make from other countries then let us know in the comments below.
You can check out our common English mistakes that Spanish speakers make here.
And remember, that making mistakes is always ok and is a completely natural part of learning a language. We just highlight these errors in case you want to improve your English and these are some of the mistakes you may be making without even realising.