It is almost inevitable that people learning a foreign language will make mistakes like this: arranging sentences according to their native language habits. This is very common among English speakers learning Chinese. Elementary and intermediate level students always need a “translating process” before they open their mouths to speak in Chinese.
That is, when they decide to say a sentence in Chinese, they first form the correct English sentence in their minds, then translate this English sentence into Chinese. This process not only slows down their delivery, but also makes it difficult to avoid typical grammatical mistakes. Here are some of the most common grammatical mistakes.
Chinese is a tonal language. The same pinyin (Chinese phonetics) spelling with five different tones produces five completely different meanings.
Because English is not a tonal language, memorizing the correct tone for every Chinese word is a very challenging task for all English speakers. Using tones incorrectly has created many funny stories among Chinese learners. Let’s share two stories now.
The first story is well known in Mandarin-teaching schools in Shanghai. In a group class, a male American student tried to say “May I ask you?” in Chinese to his female teacher. The correct sentence should be:
“Wǒ kěyǐ wèn nǐ ma?”
But instead, he actually said:
“Wǒ kěyǐ wěn nǐ ma?” which means, “May I kiss you?”
The second story tells of a conversation between a Chinese wife and her American husband. The Chinese wife was showing off a new silk dress to her husband.
“Zhè shì sīchóu liàozi, liángkuai,” which means “This is silk fabric, nice and cool.”
Her American husband exclaimed, “Liǎng kuài?! Tài piányi le!” which means, “Two RMB? So cheap!”
The Chinese verb 见面 [jiàn miàn] is intransitive, which means this verb cannot be followed by an object. The meaning is “meet” in English. Because the English word “meet” can be used either as a transitive verb or an intransitive one, English speakers often compose Chinese sentences using the English structure A 见面 B, which is never used by Chinese speakers:
结婚 [jié hūn] is also an intransitive verb, which means “to marry” in English. Like见面, it cannot appear before an object. Because you can say “A married B” in English, many English speakers try to express the same idea in Chinese as “A结婚了B,” which is wrong.
Then how do you express A married B in Chinese correctly? First you need to learn two new Chinese words.
These are three correct ways to talk about Mary and Tom getting married.
If you use the structure “A结婚了B,” it will result in a grammatical mistake.
The most typical parts-of-speech mistake by English speakers is 都, which means “all” in English. “All” in English can be used as an adverb, an adjective, or a noun. However, 都 in Chinese only can be used as adverb. The adjective and noun form of “all” in Chinese has a completely different word 所有 [suǒ yǒu]. Typical wrong ways to use 都 by English speakers are: 都+noun or using 都 as a noun.
Here are the correct ways to use 都 and 所有:
Because English allows placing a time expression at the end of a sentence, many students also put Chinese time expressions in that position. This is wrong. Time in Chinese can be put at the beginning of a sentence or just after the subject, but you cannot put time after the predicate.