Are you speaking Englinese? When Chinese language is influenced by English language

There is a word “Chinglish”, a slang for spoken or written English language that is influenced by the Chinese language. It happens when Chinese people use the Chinese word order or use a word-to-word translation to speak English. 

The same thing also happens from the other direction, when English-speakers use English word order or use a word-to-word translation to speak Chinese. It becomes “Englinese”. 

Englinese often points to the source of mistakes, which are really part of the learning process. Students often make huge progress When they realise that they are speaking Englinese. That is when they are able to correct themselves instantly.  

Let’s take a look at some common Englinese expressions and the sources of these mistakes. 

Word order and sentence structure

Chinese language often uses different word order from English. When students speak Chinese but follow English word order, mistakes occur. 

For example, when students want to say “I have breakfast at eight o’clock”, they tend to say “我吃早饭八点”. 

This is the wrong word order in Chinese. The correct word order is “我八点吃早饭”.

The good news is, after some practice, many students can catch this mistake by themselves, and change to the right word order quickly.

Wrong word order hinders communications, but it still conveys meanings. Because all the necessary words are there, which help Chinese people figure out the intended meaning. 

However, word order is only a small part of a big problem, wrong structures, which are not easy to understand at all.

For example, students want to express “I don’t know if he is Chinese”. If they translate every word in this sentence, “I”, “don’t”, “know”, “if”, “he”, “is”, “Chinese” into Chinese, it’ll become “我不知道如果他是中国人”. Although every word is translated correctly, the entire sentence is wrong. 

No matter how we juggle these words, it is still a wrong sentence, because this is no longer a problem of word order. It is about using the correct sentence structure. A better way to say it would be “我不知道他是不是中国人”. 

Chinese language uses different sentence structures to construct sentences. Mistakes happen when students do not know what the right sentence structure is. Meanings can be lost in the translation when the structure is not right. 

Similar problems happen when students try to say “The person who came to my office is my old boss” or “I like the book which I was reading yesterday”. Using the English structure to speak these Chinese sentences would definitely cause huge misunderstanding.

Redundant English word in Chinese language

There are so many small words in English, such as “for”, “to”, “the”, and so on. When speaking Chinese as if speaking English, these small words become huge problems.

For example, in a simple English expression “I am happy for you”, how to translate the word “for” becomes a problem. I have seen suggested translations, such as “我为你高兴”, which is one hundred percent Englinese. A better and more authentic expression in Chinese would be “我真替你高兴”. 

Failed to find how to say these small words in Chinese is frustrating. The best way to avoid such frustrations is to avoid learning Chinese through translations. 

Person vs. Words

Another source of Englinese is because students didn’t understand that Chinese people perceive matters differently. 

For example, students want to say “ I agree with you”. In English, it is the person “you” that I agree with. Following this logic, students will say something like “我跟你同意” or “我同意你”. This is wrong because, in Chinese, we don’t agree with “a person”, we agree with “what that person says”. A better way to say it in Chinese would be “我同意你的话”, or simply “我同意”. 

Another example is “Listen to her”. In English, this is a “person” oriented request. But in Chinese, “听她” makes no sense. The request should be made around “words”. A better way to say it would be “听她的话”.


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April Zhang
Chinese Teacher
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