Chinese Language Learning – Most common mistakes you’ve seen learners make (or have made if you’re a learner)

I want to see if we can compile a list of the most common mistakes you’ve see learners make. Let’s get a few of most obvious ones out of the way…

1) Tones
2) Mispronouncing the more challenging sounds (varies depending on languages they already speak)
3) Writing characters in the incorrect stroke order and/or treating them as drawings instead of text

A few others I’ve seen…

1) Adding a linking verb when an adjective follows a noun or pronoun

Example: 你的孩子是很可爱 instead of 你的孩子很可爱

This comes from English and other Western languages including linking verbs in such situations (e.g. “your child is very cute”). In Chinese, the linking verb is not used in such situations except for emphasis. Thus, we would never say 你的孩子是很可爱 unless we really want to drive the point home.

2) Putting the wh- question word first.

Example: 什么是那 instead of 那是什么

I just saw this today among my students. I asked them to write “what is that” and “whose is that” (after teaching them the correct word order), and a ton still wrote 什么是那 and 谁的是那. In Chinese, the word order for a wh-question matches the word order for a complete sentence answer, so the question word is placed where the answer would go.

3) Answering every “yes or no” question with 是 or 不是

This is a hard mindset to adapt, because the question is literally called a “yes or no” question. Of course, in Chinese, we don’t typically answer with “yes or no,” but the verb itself. It’s even funnier when my high school students use 有 and 没有 to answer questions such as 你会说英语吗?(In case you’re wondering why, they easily remember 没有 because it sounds like “mayo,” so it becomes their “go to” negative answer.)

EDIT: Adding one more very common one I just thought of – Placing the time period anywhere except at the beginning of a clause or immediately after the subject.

Example: 我要去买菜明天 instead of 我明天要去买菜

Chinese requires the time period to either lead off a clause (e.g. 昨天他没有上班) or immediately follow the subject (e.g. 杨小姐下午才吃饭). Time cannot go anywhere else.

Along those lines, Chinese is also strict about the placement of adverbs such as 也. In English, this is flexible (e.g. “I am also” and “I also am” are both acceptable), but in Chinese, 也 must follow the subject and can never come after a verb. Learners often make this mistake, as they’ll say 我是也学生 instead of 我也是学生.

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