Learning another language is hard, and we all make mistakes. If you are studying languages as different as English and Chinese, you might make even more! If your native language is Mandarin, and you are studying English, here are ten common mistakes in “Chinese English” (“Chinglish”) and how you can correct them.
“Nice to meet you” versus “Nice to see you”
“Nice to meet you” is only appropriate for the first time you encounter a person, such as the moment in which you are introduced. Each time afterwards, you should say, “Nice to see you.” If you don’t remember if you have met a person before or not, you should say “Nice to see you” to be safe.
Saying “No thanks” instead of “You’re welcome”
This problem stems from a direct translation of Chinese to English. However, in English, the appropriate response to “Thank you” is “You’re welcome.” Saying “No thanks” is not correct - “No, thanks” can only be used as a response to a question or offer, such as “Would you like more pizza?” when you mean “No, thank you, I would not.”
Since these words are pronounced the same in Chinese, Chinese students often forget to make the adjustment when speaking English. Stop and think about it. You can save yourself (and others) a lot of embarrassment by remembering to use “he” for a man and “she” for a woman.
“To stay” versus “to live”
These verbs can be the same in Chinese, but in English, the distinction is important. You only “live” with certain people, in your home, in your hometown, or for a long period of time. If you are visiting friends or traveling to hotels for a short period, you should say “stay.” For example, “I am living in New York during college, but next weekend my roommate and I will stay in California for a conference.”
Translating “外国” as “foreign”
If you look in the dictionary, these words do, in fact, mean the same thing. Culturally, however, “foreign” is a sensitive word in English, and you may offend someone if you call a person “foreign,” even if he or she is from another country. It is better to say things like “international students” or “international customs.”
“Do you want to make a boyfriend?”
In English, one cannot “make” a boyfriend or girlfriend. This conjures up an image of a doll or a clay figurine, assembled piece-by-piece. To express acquiring a romantic partner, the verbs “find” or “have” are better.
“No why” instead of “because”
If you say something like, “I don’t like winter” and someone asks you “Why?” you cannot say “No why.” “Why” is not a noun. Instead, you can say, “(There is) no reason,” but the best response is “because…” followed by an explanation.
“Fashion” versus “fashionable”
“Fashion” is a noun, while “fashionable” is an adjective. A person cannot be “fashion;” rather, he or she must be “fashionable.” It is correct to say, “She always follows the latest fashion, so she is a fashionable woman.”
It is common in Chinese to well-wish people to be more and more of something - beautiful, rich, young, etc. However, in English, this is only grammatically correct for one-syllable adjectives. Therefore, you can say “I hope you will be more and more beautiful” but you should say “I hope you will be richer and richer” or “I hope you will be younger and younger.” Culturally, however, these are odd sentiments in English-speaking countries.
This is another direct translation that is endearing, but to a native English speaker’s ears, it sounds incomplete. Say “May you be happy every day” or “I hope you will be happy every day” instead.
If you can remember these ten things, you are well on your way to being a better English speaker and writer. Good luck!