Common English Mistakes Chinese Speakers Make

On Tuesday, we looked at some common English mistakes Spanish speakers make, but they’re far from the only language group that has issues when writing in English.  The third largest language group in the US are the various Chinese languages, mostly Mandarin or Cantonese.  That language family has different issues with English than Western Romance languages, and it’s important to keep those in mind when writing, translating or editing.

The various Chinese dialects—Mandarin, Cantonese, Taishanese and so forth—aren’t interchangeable, but they all share some traits and forms that are different than English.  Here are some of those common features that lead to mistakes in English—trouble-spots to watch out for.

Gendered Pronouns

Chinese does not have separate gender pronouns—no “his” or “her” or “he” and “she”; they use one gender-neutral pronoun in most cases.  That can often translate over into English, with native Chinese speakers picking a pronoun and using it in all cases, and that generally ends up being “he” or “his”, which can lead to awkward writing.

Singular/Plural Nouns

Something you’ll see a lot in many Asian languages, including Chinese, is the lack of distinguishing between singular and plural nouns.  Directly translated, it’s perfectly fine in Chinese, or Japanese, Korean or Thai, to say “one book”, “two book”, “many book”…the equivalent of the word “book” is either singular or plural, based on context.  In English, however, nouns change based on their number; there are singular and plural forms.  You’ll often catch native Chinese speakers forgetting to pluralize their nouns, relying on the number to do all the work.

Verb Issues

Similar to the lack of noun changes, there are fewer verb changes in Chinese than there are in English.  In Chinese, you don’t conjugate verbs to match the subject—there aren’t separate forms for “I like music” and “she likes music”.  Verbs aren’t conjugated to show tense, either—context is used to determine past, present, future and all other tenses.  English can’t do that; it needs the form of the verb to change based on how it’s being used.  You’ll often find Chinese speakers defaulting to the basic, present force of verbs, because it’s simply not something they’re required to do in their native language.


Chinese also doesn’t use articles—a, an or the—in front of nouns.  The equivalent of “sun is hot” would be correct in Chinese; they don’t use anything that would mean “the sun is hot”.  That can lead to a couple different errors in English.  First, Chinese speakers may omit the article when it is needed, and write awkward-sounding sentences like “I bought banana”.  Alternatively, they may overcorrect and add articles where English normally wouldn’t have them.  “You’ve gained the weight last month” is an example of that; it’s a problem of remembering that English does this thing that Chinese doesn’t, and applying it to frequently.

These are just a few of the more common mistakes; there are dozens of tricky sticking points between the two languages.  If you want to make sure you’ve cleaned everything up in your English, why not stop by Wordsmith Essays’ order page today?  Our team of international editors will help ensure that everything looks good in all your writing.  Check us out today!


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