Learning Chinese as a second language is increasing in demand.
Being the first language in popularity (with over 1 billion speakers), Chinese has also become essential in business, as the global influence of China keeps rising.
There are plenty of other reasons to motivate yourself to learn Chinese. For instance, currently, there is a shortage of people around the world who speak Chinese as a second language, as more and more companies see the need to have such a professional as a member of their staff.
Learning a new language is always an exciting thing to do. But there are quite a few common mistakes connected to the process of learning any foreign language.
What are the most popular mistakes made by the learners of Chinese?
Let’s take a look.
Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay
1. Not Setting a Goal and a Study Plan
So, there is an entire year ahead of you. How are you going to fit learning Chinese into your plan for this year?
When it comes to learning a new language, the biggest mistake would be to try and get as much information as possible. You get excited about learning a new language, so you take 4-5 lessons right away, and then it gets hard to remember the new information because you didn’t take enough time to digest it and practice it.
Let’s say you’ve set the goal to get your Chinese to the A2 level by the end of this year, and you are still a beginner. Instead of digging in all the piles of textbooks or taking all the lessons of your online course, break your goal into several bite-sized, achievable steps.
How much practice is enough?
Up to 1 hour a day would be enough to reach your goal. The time you spend on your lessons doesn’t matter as much as consistency. So, set a goal and create a detailed plan to achieve it, but don’t try to learn everything at once. It just won’t work.
2. Only Focusing on Pinyin
When learning Chinese, you can be tempted to choose an easy path and use Pinyin, which is the official Romanization system used for Standard Chinese. Some regions, like Taiwan, have completely switched to using Pinyin when teaching Chinese to foreign students, as it is easier to create educational materials for them in Pinyin.
Indeed, this way, you will be able to start reading in Chinese faster, as all the letters you use will already be familiar to you.
However, if you are interested in learning Standard Chinese, focusing only on Pinyin would be a mistake. Here are some cons of only using Pinyin, when it comes to learning Chinese:
- Pinyin is basically a pronunciation guide. Without it, you won’t be able to learn how to pronounce Chinese words, but it won’t help you speak or write in Chinese.
- The same pronunciation in Pinyin, different meaning in Standard Chinese. In Pinyin, some words have the same pronunciation, which will make it hard for you to understand what somebody has written if you’ve only learned Pinyin. For instance, the word 代 (dài jià) means price, and the word with the same pronunciation 待嫁 (dài jià) means a bride.
- Pinyin isn’t practical in daily use. Although in the big cities all the places have signs in Pinyin, you won’t be able to get away with it for long. Once you step into an authentic Chinese café, all menus will be in Standard Chinese.
Think of it this way.
Learning Chinese is like learning to drive a car. Only learning Pinyin is like driving a car with auto transmission – it’s easier, but you won’t be able to drive a car with manual transmission.
Besides, when learning Chinese, you’re getting a package deal. You will have to learn Pinyin to be able to pronounce words, but it’s only a supplementary tool, and learning Standard Chinese characters is a must.
Image by 李 阳 from Pixabay
What many learners forget, when they start with Chinese, is that this language largely depends on pronunciation.
All varieties and dialects of Chinese depend on tones to distinguish words. Some of the dialects have only three tones, while others (mainly in the southern parts of China) can have up to 12 tones.
Standard Chinese uses four tones – high level, high rising, low falling-rising, high falling, and neutral tone in addition to the main four.
How serious is the impact of tones in Chinese?
There is a widespread belief among the learners that they only have to memorize the word, and others will understand what they want to say.
We will debunk this belief with this simple and well-known example.
Let’s use the base ‘ma’. If you pronounce it in a high-level tone, it will mean mother (mā). Pronouncing it in a low falling-rising tone will change the meaning of the word to horse (mǎ).
As you can see, not paying attention to tones can alter the meaning of what you’re trying to say. Remember that learning tones is one of the basics in the Chinese language, as using them will impact your interactions.
4. Overusing 和
As an English speaker, you will be tempted to project all your linguistic habits to foreign languages, which is quite normal, but as you progress, you should get rid of these habits.
One of these habits is overusing the Chinese equivalent of ‘and’, which is 和. This word in Chinese, however, has other meanings, completely different from the one you intend to use. For instance, it can also translate as sum, peace, together, mix, blend, draw, harmonious, and kind, depending on the context and the pronunciation.
And, in some cases, where you would need connecting conjunction in English, in Chinese, you won’t need it at all. For instance, if you’re trying to connect two verbs in a sentence, 和 shouldn’t be your first choice.
5. 是 + adj.
是, which denotes the verb ‘to be’ in Chinese, is often mistakenly used with other adjectives in a construct ‘to be + adj.’ which is very common in European languages.
In Chinese, however, another word is responsible for the function of the linking verb between a noun and an adjective. This word is 很 and basically translates as ‘very’, but when you put it between a noun and an adjective that defines it, this word is not usually translated.
6. Word Order of Adverbials
Obviously, the word order in English and Chinese is very different, and there are many mistakes connected to it. Attributing the linguistic system of your own language to the foreign language is incorrect.
When it comes to learning Chinese and its word order, the most widespread mistake is misplacing the adverbials.
In English, adverbials (words that denote time, place, and manner) go to the end of the sentence after the verb.
In Chinese, however, adverbials are commonly placed before the verb. This is a common mistake Chinese learners don’t pay enough attention to, but the place of adverbials in a sentence can mess up its meaning.
Don’t Get Bullied by These Mistakes
Chinese is quite a difficult language to learn, and there are a few intricate details that could ruin your motivation to learn this language. Many students, for instance, get demotivated by learning a lot of characters, others cannot manage to correctly use tones.
All you have to remember is that you need to practice to make these mistakes go away.
Remember about consistency? With a consistent approach to learning Chinese, these mistakes will vanish quickly, and you’ll start using the language more confidently.