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Advice for English Speakers Learning to Write Chinese

Chinese Street Graffiti - Learn to Write Chinese

Since I started tutoring to help others with their Mandarin Chinese, I began proofreading many many essays. Consequently, this led me to find common mistakes that Chinese learners often make when writing Mandarin Chinese.

Here are some systematic mistakes that I found repeatedly. I’d like to share with you some corrections you should adopt to your own writing of Mandarin Chinese.

USE MORE COMMAS

 It is really exhausting when I read a sentence having 30 or more characters without a single comma. This is perhaps also because, unlike English, there is no spacing between words in Chinese. So please, be merciful to the reader, and use as many commas as possible (or necessary). For example:

Awkward: 我有一个哥哥在北京还有一个姐姐在上海但是我们经常见面。
Pinyin: Wǒ yǒu yīgè gēgē zài běijīng hái yǒu yīgè jiějiě zài shànghǎi dànshì wǒmen jīngcháng jiànmiàn.

Correct: 我有一个哥哥在北京, 还有一个姐姐在上海, 但是我们经常见面。
Pinyin: Wŏ yŏu yī gè gē ge zài bĕi jīng, hái yŏu yī gè jiĕ jie zài shàng hăi, dàn shì wŏ men jīng cháng jiàn miàn。
Translation: I have a brother in Beijing and a sister in Shanghai, but we often meet.

“AND” & “和” DO NOT HAVE THE SAME MEANING

 We use “and” a lot in English. Some beginners believe “and” means , so they always use  when they want to talk about “and.” However, the usage of  is far more limited than “and.” We only say 和 when linking nouns or pronouns. Such as:

Correct: 你和我一起去。
Pinyin: Nĭ hé wŏ yī qĭ qù。
Translation: You and I will go together.

Correct: 我买了书, 铅笔和纸
Pinyin: Wŏ măi le shū, qiān bĭ hé zhĭ。
Translation: I bought books, pencils, and paper.

In other cases, we just drop the “and” when translating an English sentence into Chinese because it is the default relationship between two clauses. For instance:

Correct: 我站起来走了出去。
Pinyin: Wŏ zhàn qĭ lai zŏu le chū qù。
Translation: I stood up and walked out.

Correct: 她很高很瘦。
Pinyin: Tā hĕn gāo hĕn shòu。
Translation: She is tall and thin.

Even if you want to emphasize the word “and” (like you would in English), this has nothing to do with the Chinese word “和.” Instead, you can use these words:

Correct: 我站起来并走了出去
Pinyin: Wǒ zhàn qǐlái bìng zǒule chūqù.
Translation: I stood up and walked out.

Correct: 她很高也很瘦。
Pinyin: Tā hěn gāo yě hěn shòu.
Translation: She was tall and thin.

So now you understand that the English word “and” has quite a few counterparts in Chinese.

SOME WORDS CAN BE DROPPED

The most common redundant words I encountered are subject words.

Awkward: 我叫Adam, 我是英国人, 我学中文一年了。
Pinyin: Wǒ jiào Adam, wǒ shì yīngguó rén, wǒ xué zhōngwén yī niánle.

Correct: 我叫Adam, 是英国人, 学中文一年了。
Pinyin: Wŏ jiào Adam, shì yīng guó rén , xué zhōng wén yī nián le.
Translation: My name is Adam, I’m British, I studied Chinese for a year.

People say that the Chinese language doesn’t put much of an emphasis on structure. I believe the main reason is we tend to omit conjunctions in our sentences quite a lot.

Awkward: 如果你去, 那么我也去。
Pinyin: Rúguǒ nǐ qù, nàme wǒ yě qù.

Correct: 你去我也去
Pinyin: Nĭ qù wŏ yĕ qù.
Translation: If you go, I go.

WORD ORDER ISSUES

If I could only share one rule about Chinese grammar with you, this is it: Say the modifier first. In Chinese, we like to put keywords at the end of sentences. For instance:

Awkward: 我旅游在北京去年
Pinyin: Wǒ lǚyóu zài běijīng qùnián.

Correct: 我去年在北京旅游。
Pinyin: Wŏ qù nián zài bĕi jīng lǚ yóu。
Translation: I traveled to Beijing last year.

Awkward: 他说了很多话关于昨天的新闻。
Pinyin: Tā shuōle hěnduō huà guānyú zuótiān de xīnwén.

Correct: 关于昨天的新闻他说了很多话。
Pinyin: Guān yú zuó tiān de xīn wén tā shuō le hĕn duō huà。
Translation: He talked a lot about yesterday’s news.

Language is like our lives; it is not meant to be designed but to evolve. There are exceptions to the rules of grammar. So we need to focus on the systematic mistakes that we make. 

I hope you all can enjoy learning all the time.

Chinese man

Stone Yan

Stone Yan is a Professional Chinese Teacher, who lives in Dalian, China. He has taught well over 2.5k lessons on italki. Book a class with him today, just click on the banner* below and search for his name.

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*This article first appeared on italki.  It is reposted here with Stone Yan’s permission.

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