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Challenges for Chinese to Study English


Hi, Introduce myself again, Tong, comes from China, wanting to apply PhD, autumn 2010.

We Chinese students are facing some particular problems,such as grammar,syntax, when we study English, especially when we are writing about an issue or argument. These problems may be unique for our peoples because of our unique culture. So, here, let us talk about it and find possible solutions which will benefit all of us in the future.

You can talk about whatever you want to say so long as it is related to this topic. problems, sotutions, experience are all available.

If you are native-English-speaker, please give some suggestions according to your own experience. Thank you!

Indeed, a thread dedicated to grammar might be useful for people of all cultural backgrounds trying to master English. There is a distinct difference between learning to write well in general, and learning to write at all in a second (or third or fourth) language. The former task assumes a basic mastery of grammar and spelling, whereas in the second mastering grammar and spelling is often one of the main goals.
Yes, a general grammar thread would be good. However, since speakers of specific languages tend to have similar difficulties with English (speakers of Arabic have particular difficulty with prepositions, for example), I like the idea of this specific thread too.
Well I'm a Chinese and find English kind of difficult.
First, vocabulary is always a challenge. There are over a hundred million words in a dictionary. And when I'm reading English articles, I can always find words out of my vocabulary. Though I know a word is constructed in a certain way so that I can guess the meaning. It's not always so obvious. The same thing just don't happen when it comes to Chinese language. Because we've got no more than 2000 common characters which can be totally written in one A4 paper, we never meet with new words when reading.

Second, in English language there are endless phrases for me to recite like "a piece of cake". Sometimes even if I know each word of a sentence, I can hardly find out it's meaning. Furthermore, there's no systematical way to recite them all and no dictionary to refer to. They are vivid and flexible yet hard to catch in my point.

Third, I find it most difficult to use words vividly and precisely. Like the sentence "I'll jump in with any advice I can offer", I may just say, " I'll tell you when I have an idea." in the same situation.

I've got a string of questions:
Do native speakers meet with new words when reading, with new phrases when communicating that they cannot be understood? Reading what kind of material can I have an access to more of these native usage of language to improve my writing ability? Is there an end in reciting? What does our English look like in native speaker's view? Is it full of mistakes?
Heh, it's funny: I'm a native English speaker who has been taking Chinese for the past three years and I think it's impossible :P Too hard to remember the differences between words that sound almost exactly the same.

To answer your last question... I'm afraid yes, some of these essays written by native Chinese speakers are quite error-ridden. But in my opinion, you are definitely on the right track when you bring up reading to improve writing. I think one of the best ways to familiarize yourself with English's seemingly endless list of sayings and idioms is to keep reading things that are printed for the ordinary English speaker, so you continue enriching your grasp of the vocabulary.
There are issues with English that are particular to English learners from different cultures. The Chinese students seem to have the most difficulty. English and Chinese are very different from each other.

English:
Is a phonetic language, but each of our letters--vowels especially--has many, many sounds. Spanish has five different vowel sounds while English has something like fourteen.

Our writing system is based loosely on the sounds that the words make.

Verbs are used in English to tell about the time frame as well as the person performing the action. I walk, I will walk, I walked, I have walked, she walks ...

We use a lot of articles (the, a, an), but not every noun needs an article.

There are many words in English that are said the same, but have different meanings. Reign, rain, and rein, for example. There are other words that are spelled the same and still have different meanings ... could you present the birthday girl with the present? The excuse was invalid because the person wasn't an invalid. The soldier said he'd desert in the desert. Tough stuff!

Chinese:
Chinese is a tonal language. Slight dips and rises in the tone of a sound change the meaning. English is not.

The Chinese system of writing is logographic--the symbols don't represent sounds, but words/concepts.

I don't believe that the verbs are conjugated in Chinese. Can you imagine how much easier that would be?

There are no articles in Chinese.

Of course, these are just some of the differences. I have noticed that the Chinese students here especially struggle with verbs (tense and agreement) and articles. Verbs would take a long time to master, but learning when to and when not to use an article should be a little easier.

There are over a hundred million words in a dictionary.

My huge, unabridged dictionary has 450,000 words. Many of those are obsolete or scientific/specialized in nature.

Do native speakers meet with new words when reading, with new phrases when communicating that they cannot be understood?

Yes, but not very often. There is rarely a word I don't know on television, in the movies, or in regular conversation where the language is more common. I sometimes run into a word I don't know while I am reading. This is more likely to happen if I am reading a classic text.

Reading what kind of material can I have an access to more of these native usage of language to improve my writing ability?

You need an English-speaking lover. A patient one. *grin* English is used differently in speech and writing--especially formal writing. Let the people around you, especially those who are English speakers, know that you are open and inviting of corrections.

What does our English look like in native speaker's view?

It is usually pretty easy for me to tell the native language of the writer by the types of mistakes. The Chinese students are likely to leave out articles or use the wrong verb tense. Sometimes the words will be just slightly off from the way an English speaker would normally phrase things. For example, we'd usually say, "What does our English look like to a native speaker?" Or, "How does our English look to a native speaker?"

Is it full of mistakes?

Yes. There are varying degrees of course, but the errors are usually numerous. I have read some essays here where there are only one or two errors per paragraph and others where there are four or five per sentence. Some of the differences come across as cute little quirks while other errors obscure the meaning the sentence. I am sometimes intimidated by helping the English learners here. I don't want to offend. I also don't want to make corrections without saying why I'd correct a certain thing, but I don't know how much the person will understand.

My family has hosted a lot of exchange students from around the globe. We had two girls from Taiwan live with us for a while. They were very young--twelve and thirteen--and had been studying English with a native speaker for quite sometime. Their English was very good. They had the grammar down pat and were working on improving their vocabulary. I think that their early start and instruction from a native speaker helped them tremendously.

We have had several students from Japan. We used to host students from a particular high school for a month every summer. These students spoke very little English and even their teacher wasn't what I would call proficient. I know that Japanese and Chinese are different, but some of the same hurdles exist.

Learning another language is daunting! I wish you the best.
I'm Chinese and I think Chinese is actually one of the most difficult language in the world:) There are countless accents! When I was a freshman in college I couldn't understand most of what my roommate was saying. She came from Guangxi and I live in the north of China.I took us weeks to get used to each other's accents.

We spend too much time in school reciting out-of-date English textbooks. And some of the teachers don't even speak fluent English. We need native speakers' help but most of the time we are too shy to talk...

I find reading helps a lot. I started with the simple ones. Like the books for kids Harry Potter :)and novels like the twilight series. And now I find English really interesting.

I also like to watch American TV, especially sit-coms. This even changes my way of thinking. We have very different ways to be humorous:)
Any native material helps a lot.
I have an asian background but I live in Australia and I think Chinese is so much harder than English.

I think someone asked how to expand your vocabulary. The answer is read, and just keep reading. In fact, that is the main reason I'm on this forum; to pick up new words and writing styles. The more you expose yourself to text, the more better you will become.
Sep 10, 2009   #10
Many thanks to every one, especially to Notoman for your detailed reply! Your suggestions are really helpful!
I think many people in China has studied English since they were born. You have to pass the English exam for Bachelor Degree in order to get a good job.

My friend in China has just pass THE BEC TEST, and that is why English is not difficult for Chinese citizens to learn.
I think many people in China has studied English since they were born.

Not until very recently do Chinese people start a Englishmania. We do not study English since we were born:)

You have to pass the English exam for Bachelor Degree in order to get a good job.

And it is because of this many people in China study English for the exams, not out of interest. They can do well in certain exams but they have problems speaking English and communicating with native speakers. Like I said before, the textbooks are out of date as well. If you have some of these books you'll see what I mean... People in China are learning, speaking and writing Chinglish.

I think the biggest gap is that the way we think. Western people have their own philosophy so do the Chinese and these two philosophies are highly different. We can handle the vocabulary by memorizing it but it's difficult for us to comprehend native speakers' logic.
I think the biggest gap is that the way we think. Western people have their own philosophy so do the Chinese and these two philosophies are highly different. We can handle the vocabulary by memorizing it but it's difficult for us to comprehend native speakers' logic.

^Now I'm interested. What, in your opinion, is the biggest difference in our philosophies?
Do native speakers meet with new words when reading

Yes. On this site alone, I have encountered words such as "macedoine" and "desuetude" that I had not heard before. What's more, I had look up "desuetude" again just now, because I had forgotten its meaning again. And my vocabulary is really, really good, even for a native speaker. Something to do with earning degrees in English Literature, I believe.

Also, it isn't always that obvious to a native speaker that he doesn't know a word. Most native speakers will have seen the word before, and can glean its meaning through context. So, they may think they know the word, yet be unable to tell you the definition, or else find it has a slightly different meaning than they think when they look it up.

Part of the problem is that English is really two languages mashed together. The original language, Old English, was very similar in many respects to modern German, and English is still considered a Germanic language. However, it has also been strongly influenced by French, which is a Romance language. Many "big" English words are really just ordinary French words that have been absorbed into English. "Ameliorate," for example, "voluntarily," "tardy," etc. This also means that English has far more words than most other languages (almost as if it were a composite of two languages, fancy that.) So, estimates put the number of English words at anywhere from 200,000 to a million, depending upon what you count as a word. If we go with around 200,000-300,000, which cuts out most of the prefixes, technical terms, obsolete words, etc., that puts it at around twice the number of words available in Spanish, which has around 100,000-150,000. Of course, native speakers of most languages rarely know most of the lexicon available to them. A vocabulary of 5000* or so is enough to be functional in many languages, and over 20,000 you're normally as proficient with words as any native speaker (though of course grammar is a different matter).

*Disclaimer: All of the numbers used here are very rough estimates. There seems to be no widespread agreement on these matters, probably because of the difficulty in deciding what constitutes a word. These counts generally assume words in the same family only count as one. So, "find", "found", "finding", etc. don't each count separately.
Jin
I agree with Jin vocabulary has been really difficult for me because I can cram definitions in my head but when it comes to using these "big words" correctly and fluently in papers, I find it to be very difficult. I cannot practice this new vocabulary because I don't speak English at home and so I find this to be my greatest disadvantage. While in elementary school, the teacher would ask a question like "how did early humans make fire?" and I would answer "by rubbing sticks together" while the other American children would say something like "the heat generated by the friction of two sticks being rubbed together causes so much heat that eventually the sticks catch on fire." This had a great impact to my self esteem and to be honest I still feel inferior even though I can speech English fluently now.
Honestly, I suggest you read novels, magazines, anything with articles or passages.
Although I learned English first, I can still relate to your problem since I'm taking mandarin at school. Both languages are different, so I would just recommend reading, you'll pick up words and ways to write sentences.

I hope I helped.
Alexbig  
Oct 6, 2009   #18
I totally agree with JLee92. reading is very helpful.
I am a Chinese student. My English is not very well. I am still learning.

Now I am preparing my IELTS, and I have written some IELTS essays here.
Many English people help me correct my essays.
From their advices, I realize that, as a Chinese, we are likely to look at the problem moderately, which is "unclear position" in English.


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