5 Pitfalls in English for Chinese Students

difference between english and chineseImagine yourself in a classroom to learn the English language; you have probably envisioned this before when you decided that you might need classes to be able to speak the universal language fluently and correctly.

Here is the aspect that probably haunts you. You start with grammar and the teacher goes, “try again”, while in your head all you can think is “wow, I am a slow learner.” You move on to pronunciations – the teacher says, “say it again”, and you start thinking “I bet lingual allergy is a thing… and if not, I am about to discover it!”
The truth is that you are not slow, and you are definitely not suffering from an unexplainable medical condition. Before you let yourself feel down about it, know that it is difficult for Chinese speakers to be able to converse in English as their second tongue compared to others. This is because, as a person fluent in Wu, Mandarin, or Cantonese, you have to completely transform 5 aspects of your lingual capability before you ace English.

Alphabets vs. Symbols

Unlike English, Chinese does not have alphabets. Chinese dialects make use of a logographic system for the written language. In the logographic systems, single symbols can denote entire words. Words are not created out of letters as is the case with alphabetic systems. This is one of the reasons why Chinese have trouble reading texts in English.


There are certain aspects of the English phonological system that cause difficulties for Chinese learners. For instance, if you are trying to translate English into Chinese, you might not realize that certain English phonemes are not present in your native language and therefore end up forming incorrect sentence structure.

Chinese – It’s Now or Never

In the English language, a lot of information is carried through auxiliaries and inflections. Words like is/were/are easily convey the tense. This is unlike Chinese where you convey tenses through inflections of the present tense but you add in the sentence that it has already happened or that it will happen in the future.

Articles and Word Order

The Chinese language is devoid of articles; you have to start by grasping the concept first before you even begin forming sentences. In Chinese, questions are conveyed through intonation, and unlike English, the verb and the subject are not inverted.
Therefore, when your mind is in the early stages of learning the new language, you try to put the rules of Chinese into English wordplay and end up with typically unusual sounding sentences, also one of the reasons why we have so many bad jokes.

Words You Use

Let’s take the example of phrasal verbs here. These are short verbs that commonly combine with prepositions such as ‘give in’, ‘take on’, etc. Chinese do not have anything like that in their language, so again, a good idea would be to start with grasping the concept and then moving on to sentence structure.
So, as you can see, these are the differences between English and Chinese you should pay close attention to. They are very important if you want to become an advanced English speaker and that’s the reason you should always remember them.

About Terry Qin

Terry Qin is a 27-year-old R&D engineer from Shenzhen currently living in the US. He is interested in programming, new trends and blogging.