The weekly column
Article 77, October 2001
On How to Avoid Writing Chinglish
Wenzhou College of Profession and Technology
The linguistic interference of one's mother tongue always
poses an obstacle to his or her successful learning of foreign languages
and teachers of English should try their best to help those who are inclined
to make mistakes in writing English compositions. After a contrastive
study of some linguistic features between Chinese and English, the author
lists some common forms of Chinglish (the "created" language by Chinese
students who misunderstand English through their Chinese interference)
made by Chinese students of English and points out their causes and some
possible solutions to them.
It is well known that Chinese and English are poles apart.
However, when Chinese students who are lacking a "real" English environment
learn English, they easily tend to ignore the differences between the
two languages. This is particularly the case with writing. The Chinese
students are so familiar with their study habit of writing in Chinese
practice that they often put it into practice in English writing. The
result is the so-called Chinglish, an awkward mixture in which ideas conceived
in Chinese are ungrammatically or unidiomatically expressed in English
writing. The main cause of Chinglish is, apparently, linguistic interference,
but to get rid of the negative influence of the mother tongue, on the
other hand, remains of paramount importance for teachers of English Writing
My years of experience in teaching English makes me aware
of the differences between the two languages in word choice, syntactic
structures, and thought patterns by analyzing typical examples of Chinglish
in the students' compositions. Here I'd like to present some typical mistakes
made by our Chinese students.
2. Lexical Deficiency
It seems easy to find out that Chinglish often appears
in the form of redundancy, which arises when students fail to understand
the exact meaning of an English word. Take the example of "a desk":
Chinese students would say redundantly "a book desk" or "a writing desk"
instead. They can't tell "a dance" and "a study" in English mean exactly
"a dance party" and " a study room" in Chinese. Similarly, the following
redundant sentences are often made by our students.
(1) Wrong: The old man made a living by catching fish.
Correct: The old man made a living by fishing.
(2) Wrong: Please hurry to walk or we'll be late.
Correct: Please hurry up or we'll be late.
(3) Wrong: Sue went to the shops to buy things for
Correct: Sue went shopping for me yesterday.
It is understandable to Chinese English teachers that
Chinglish is caused by inaccurate understanding of English words as shown
in the above examples. Nevertheless, misunderstanding the word brings
about a kind of unbearable Chinglish. Take a look at the following sentences.
(1) Wrong: When I reached my wallet to find my money,
I found it invisible.
Correct: When I reached my wallet to find my money, I found it missing/gone.
(2) Wrong: As the price for the jacket was too expensive,
I decided not to buy it .
Correct: As the price for the jacket was unreasonable/too high, I decided
not to buy it .
(3) Wrong: I feel very painful in my right hand.
Correct: I feel great pain in my right hand.
These sentences may sound funny to native speakers of
English due to the misuse of words. Keeping a good dictionary at hand
while writing seems to be a good remedy for the above-mentioned Chinglish.
However, it is the teachers' responsibility to let their students know
that an English word and its correspondent Chinese term don't always share
the same semantic register. Another kind of Chinglish in the form of redundancy
occurs when students are not aware that Chinese is a verb-abundant language
while English is a preposition-and noun-oriented one.
(1) Wrong: He ran out when it was raining hard.
Correct: He ran out into a heavy rain.
(2) Wrong: He looked at her and felt surprised.
Correct: He looked at her in surprise.
(3) Wrong: We were shown in by those who wore uniforms.
Correct: We were shown in by those in uniforms.
Chinese students of English must be helped to learn that
English prepositional phrases in many cases have the same semantic function
as Chinese predicate verbs plus their objects. Knowing it will provide
Chinese students with a very useful means of becoming effective and idiomatic
in their English writing. Similar to redundancy, unnecessary repetition
also causes Chinglish. The repetitious sentences are clearly reflecting
the negative influence of the native language.
(1) Wrong: Our country is a great country with a long
Correct: Ours is a great country with a long history.
(2) Wrong: Fish must stay in water. If they don't,
they will die.
Correct: Fish must stay in water or they will die.
(3) Wrong: He gave a lot of reasons for being late
to class, but the reasons he gave didn't convince us.
Correct: He gave a lot of reasons for being late to class, but none
of them was convincing.
To avoid Chinglish, Chinese students of English must
be aware that Chinese is, for the most part, a logically compact in its
structure. English is strictly compact in its structure. English verbs
and nouns seldom repeat themselves in the same sentence. That's why conjunctions,
pronouns and other substitutional or introductory words are more frequently
used in English than in Chinese.
3. Syntactical Incompetence
3.1 English sentences with inanimate subjects can be very vivid and expressive.
Failure to observe this linguistic phenomenon often leads to tasteless,
monotonous Chinese-stereotyped English sentences. Compare the following
pairs of sentences:
(1) Wrong: She was very miserable and her heart broke.
Correct: Misery tore her into pieces.
(2) Wrong: She was so jealous that she became desperate.
Correct: Jealousy drove her to despair.
(3)Wrong: Because the cost of the medicine was reduced,
people all over the country were able to use it in treating with many
Correct: The reduced cost made possible the nationwide use of the medicine
in treating many diseases.
Language needs variety to be expressive. Animate subjects
are often required before predicates of action both in spoken and written
Chinese. In writing English, however, inanimate subjects of abstract ideas
are frequently used before notional verbs of concrete action for the sake
of brevity and vividness.
3.2 Ignorance or negligence of the correct syntactic structure and idiomatic
collocation or usage in English:
(1) Wrong: His English knowledge is adequate for the
Correct: His knowledge of English is adequate for the job.
(2) Wrong: I'd like to have the newest news on Afghanistan.
Correct: I'd like to have the latest news on Afghanistan.
(3) Wrong: The bankruptcy of his father has made him
impossible to go on studying.
Correct: The bankruptcy of his father has made it impossible for him
to go on studying.
To eliminate Chinglish of this sort, teachers of teaching
English composition must spare no effort to adapt the Chinese mind of
students' into the English ways of expressing ideas.
3.3 A good command of the comparative degree of English adjectives and
adverbs can help reduce occurrence of Chinglish.
(1) Wrong: He had so much money that he would not be
able to spend it in his whole life.
Correct: He had more money than he would possibly spend in his life
(2) Wrong: I have read your novels but I didn't think
you could be so young.
Correct: I read your novels and expected to meet an older man.
(3) Wrong: Human bodies are the only source of blood
in hospitals so that its amount is very limited.
Correct: More blood is needed in hospitals than human bodies can supply.
It should be brought home to Chinese students of English
that comparative degree of adjectives and adverbs is more widely used
in English than in Chinese. Flexible use of the comparative undoubtedly
enhances the effectiveness of the writing.
3.4 The English causative verb "make" in its structure "make somebody
do something" is often abused by Chinese English students because there
is an identical structure in Chinese to express the same idea.
(1) Wrong: Her red face made me see through his mind.
Correct: Her red face told me what she was thinking about.
(2) Wrong: The sight of these pictures made me remember
my own childhood.
Correct: The sight of these pictures reminded me of my own childhood.
(3) Wrong: A sudden shout made him stand up.
Correct: A sudden shout brought him to feet.
The above pairs of sentences show to us clearly that
to avoid overusing the causative "make" is one way to get rid of Chinglish.
3.5 Idee Fixe
Sometimes a change of perspectives in expressing ideas
from Chinese into English will help do away with Chinglish.
(1) Wrong: Don't mind other people's business.
Correct: Mind your own business.
(2) Wrong: Do you need any help?
Correct: May I help you?
(3) Wrong: Don't pay attention to the dog.
Correct: Leave the dog alone.
As shown above, kind advice, polite requests, and euphemistic
commands tend to be more objective in English than in Chinese. And in
many cases, the Chinese usually think in the negative ways while the English
in the positive.
Some teachers and educators in China argue that Chinglish
is somehow bearable to our students considering the reality in our English
learning environment. However, to my understanding, it is unacceptable
unless writing should be taught in the "right" way. The purpose of this
article is not only to show some typical examples of Chinglish but to
kick off a controversial discussion on how to adjust the Chinese mind
to the English way of thinking and writing.
About the author
I am an English teacher at Wenzhou College of Profession
and Technology. My main research interest is English writing for Chinese
English students in Chinese Colleges. I am presently involved in the research
of E-mail and internet for Chinese English learners.
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