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Ten Things that Chinese People Say All the Time, But Native Speakers Never Say

Popularity 23Viewed 19114 times 2014-3-22 21:47 |System category:Life| Chinese, English, Learning, Education, Phrases

Although the number of foreign teachers in China is increasing, most students are educated by Chinese teachers for many years before they enter university where they finally have a chance at speaking with a native speaker. Of course there are many wonderful Chinese teachers that work very hard and do their best to educate students to be as close to native as possible, but due to the age of some of the teaching materials and sometimes old-fashioned teaching practices certain errors have developed in a large number of Chinese students.

 

Luckily, you’ve stumbled across this article. That means, as soon as you finish reading you can begin breaking the bad habit of using these words or phrases in speech and in writing.

 

Before we begin this list, let’s of course point out the one everyone knows:

“How are you?”

“Fine, thank you, and you?”

 

1.       “A friend in need is a friend indeed.”

This really is like listening to nails on a chalkboard for native speakers in China. It’s so overused that when we hear it we have already begun to dislike what you’ve said even more. I tell my students that if I was hanging out with my friends and decided to say this to them they’d likely give me a very strange look.

 

2.       “Every coin has two sides.”

Okay. So this one is very common, but it is so widely understood that it doesn’t need to be said again. Besides, it isn’t very inspirational. Why focus on the good and the bad? Instead, just “look on the bright side”.

 

3.       “A double-edged sword” sometimes said “two-edged sword”

Most Chinese students I’ve met get the phrase wrong and say “two-edged sword”, and even though the correct one is the first one it is still strange to say in everyday life. It may be used for writing, but it does change the tone of your piece. We can say that using a double-edged sword is a double-edged sword… I’ll move on…

 

4.       “Play”

“Do you want to play with me?” is a question that should only be asked if you really know the person. When I say really, I mean really ;) The rule is sports and games ONLY. You have a couple more options which are “hang out”, “go out”, and “spend time” followed by “with”.

 

5.       “Pardon?”

This is a hard one, because my best friend says “pardon” all of the time and I think it’s weird when he says it. Despite the fact that I know a native speaker that uses it a lot, I strongly believe that “sorry, I didn’t hear you” or “can you say that again?” are both better choices.

 

6.       “Clever”

You’re not clever. You’re smart, funny, talented, interesting, or wonderful. Only if you are tricking someone to do something that you want them to do are you clever, or if you think of something very quickly that is unique. Other than those two situations, use a different word.

 

7.       “Fine”

If I ask you to do something or I ask for permission, don’t use the word “fine”. The meaning of this word as a response to a request means that you don’t really want to do it but you will do it anyway. For example, “Have you done your homework?” “Fine.” You see, this is okay because it means I don’t really want to do my homework.

 

8.       “Quarreled”

It may be strange for you to say, but instead of this word use the word “fight”. Like, “My wife and I had a huge fight yesterday!” doesn’t mean that we hit each other!

 

9.       “Lover”

This is a little awkward to explain, but just don’t use it. I know you probably hear it in songs and sometimes in TV shows, but don’t use it. Seriously. Nobody wants to know that the person you’re dating is your lover. Be a normal person and use boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife.

 

10.   “TV dramas”

So I meet you for the first time and I tell you that I am American, so you tell me “I love watching American TV dramas!” It’s become so common now that I don’t often correct it anymore. I just say, “Wow that’s great! What do you like to watch?” then they will say, “Two broke girls.” The problem is, that show is a comedy, not a drama. Just say, “TV shows” from now on and you will always be correct!

 

Honorable Mentions:

-“In a word”

-“As we all know”

-“What a pity”

 

My suggestion is that you shouldn’t rely so much on phrases. In English sometimes the long way to describe a situation is best and more specific. Put together your own sentence and don’t rely so much on memory. English is flexible. This is my list of what I see the most. How about the other foreigners in China? Leave a comment below!

 

Matthew Manning

mattwritenow.com

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)


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Comment Comment (31 comments)

Reply Report ColinSpeakman 2014-3-23 01:32
In a manner of speaking, give or take, as luck would have it....this was a very good post!  
Reply Report voice_cd 2014-3-23 16:59
Great job, we have highlighted it and hope you could conclude more. Personally, fine, TV dramas, pardon are often used in my words. I don't use play anymore, since one of my friends told me that may implay sex.
Reply Report youxiudeyou 2014-3-23 18:45
It would be wonderful, if you could do one post each week about the bad language habits in non-native English. That way you could contribute making at least some people's English better. At least I would happily study with you each week.
Reply Report mattwritenow 2014-3-23 20:30
voice_cd: Great job, we have highlighted it and hope you could conclude more. Personally, fine, TV dramas, pardon are often used in my words. I don't use play a ...
I have a ton of grading to do which means I'll have plenty of inspiration. Probably you will see another post like this one again!
Reply Report Judy_Zhu 2014-3-24 02:30
Thanks for sharing with us the useful tips.
Reply Report objchina 2014-3-24 05:14
youxiudeyou: It would be wonderful, if you could do one post each week about the bad language habits in non-native English. That way you could contribute making at ...
I am planning to do that too
Reply Report objchina 2014-3-24 05:15
财神: another is '' na ge! na ge!!, zhe ge! zhe ge!! xie xie!! niu..!!
hahah!
Reply Report 小米1972 2014-3-24 06:10
very useful and interesting essay.well  done.
Reply Report Maierwei 2014-3-24 06:33
Another surprising post from you! The above are not mistakes actually ("Let's play" is gramatically correct!) so they are commonly used but the usage is problematic. You're adressing a usually ignored aspect of the issue, great! I'm not a native speaker, so number 5 and 6 surprised me, but interestingly I don't use them anyways.

I was the top student in English classes in my country but still used to speak a very "textbook" English, but figured out it sounded weird and stilted when I socialized with foreigners and native speakers. So the solution seems to be using what you learn in natural settings. Native speakers don't usually "correct" such mistakes though, probably because English speaking countries have mixed populations, and they would feel condescending or politically wrong if they correct someone of a different ethnicity. Education system and materials "guilty" as well. For examplel in my country textbooks still say "Fine, thanks, and you?" as a response to "How are you". Whereas you're fine means "just fine...", and noone really says that.
Reply Report tedbrent 2014-3-24 07:56
How about  have you eaten?
Reply Report nnish 2014-3-24 18:27
Nice Article . i am not a English teacher nor a Good Student . But some times i really get mad at few words . One example Conversation between me and a Chinese supplier

Me  : "Are you guys nuts , I had a loss of 2000 USD due to your silly mistake "  
Supplier answer to me : "Wow"

Other supplier
Me  : "I received the shipment , 5 pieces are broken"  
Supplier answer to me : "What a pity"

I try to educated most of my friends whom i talk to , some listen and improve, others have a listening problem.
Reply Report annietime 2014-3-24 21:50
nnish: Nice Article . i am not a English teacher nor a Good Student . But some times i really get mad at few words . One example Conversation between me and  ...
   haha so funny!
Reply Report joan-jana 2014-3-25 04:20
its very useful for the english learner. before i  read an article from chinadaily , i often like to say "im coming", then i know it has other meaning. could u give us more phrash like this. thank u very very much
Reply Report mattwritenow 2014-3-25 05:10
joan-jana: its very useful for the english learner. before i  read an article from chinadaily , i often like to say "im coming", then i know it has oth ...
Haha. Well, that one does have another meaning! We'll see, I don't want to focus on the sexual misinterpretations. It reminds me when I first came to China and thought using the word "xiaojie" was a good idea...
Reply Report mattwritenow 2014-3-25 05:11
nnish: Nice Article . i am not a English teacher nor a Good Student . But some times i really get mad at few words . One example Conversation between me and  ...
Hahaha. Sorry to hear about your troubles, but if you wrote a book I'd buy it. You're very entertaining.
Reply Report mattwritenow 2014-3-25 05:12
Maierwei: Another surprising post from you! The above are not mistakes actually ("Let's play" is gramatically correct!) so they are commonly used but  ...
Thanks for the comment! Language is changing must faster than your textbooks are.
Reply Report mattwritenow 2014-3-25 05:12
小米1972: very useful and interesting essay.well  done.
Thank you!
Reply Report tedbrent 2014-3-25 22:55
Maierwei: Another surprising post from you! The above are not mistakes actually ("Let's play" is gramatically correct!) so they are commonly used but  ...
Don't throw him a curve by telling him that it's okay to use let's play . No Chinese grown-up would use such expressionss; kids might use it once in a while  before they set out to play a game together. That would be 我们一起玩吧 in Chinese.

  Do you want to play with me is another erroneous or even lewd  Chinese expression. A man is simply trying to play footsie with a girl when he says do you want to play with me.  The   Chinese translation of do you want to play with me -你想和我玩玩吗 -  is totally sexually suggestive and reeks of chauvinism.

  Indeed, you could say that to your girlfriend as a joke; nevertheless, never tell that to strangers or your female Chinese friends.

  You would be  seen as a 咸湿佬 if you did.
Reply Report tedbrent 2014-3-25 22:58
mattwritenow: Thank you!
Take it from me. Never say do you want to play with me to your female Chinese  friends.

  You could say that to your Chinese girlfriend as a joke or teaser.
Reply Report Maierwei 2014-3-26 04:19
tedbrent: Don't throw him a curve by telling him that it's okay to use let's play . No Chinese grown-up would use such expressionss; kids might use it once in a ...
I didn't say it is ok to use. I just said many Chinese grown ups do, without knowing what it suggests. And they do, otherwise neirher me nor mattwritenow would have heard it.

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