by Ben Lo | 11:57 pm

Hi, in this post, I would like to summarize five most common mistakes made by beginners when learning Mandarin Chinese. Hope this post can help you avoid these mistakes and have a great start or correct your mistake if they are your blind spots. Below are five most common mistakes made by Chinese learners based on my own observation.


#1 Neglecting the Importance of Tones

I know that for westerners whose mother tongue is not a tonal language, learning tonal language such as Mandarin Chinese can be a disaster. However, you need to manage to get it accurately. Why? That is because different tones change the meanings. For example, you would like to say 我問你 (Wǒ wèn nǐ), meaning I ask you. However, if you do not get the tone right and say 我吻你 (wǒ wěn nǐ), meaning I kiss you, it will be so embarassing. Or if you do not get the tone right and say 我聞你 (Wǒ wén nǐ), then the meaning becomes I smell you. As you can tell, as the tone changes, the meaning changes as well. And that is why it is very important when speaking Chinese. You must pronounce the tones accurately to express yourself clearly. So please make sure that people know you want to ask them something, not kiss or smell them.

#2 Forgetting the Sentence Structure “S+ time + 在 Place + V”

In Chinese, our sentence structure is S + time + 在 + place + V, which is different from English S + V + place + time. For example, if you want to say “I watched TV at home last night”, you have to say 我昨天晚上在家裡看電視 (literally: I last night at home watched TV). Many of my very beginning students will say or write 我看電視在家昨天晚上 (litearlly: I watched TV at home last night). This is due to the difference sentence structure between Chinese and English. It should not be too difficult for you when you are used to the Chinese sentence structure.

#3 Using 是 + Adjectives in Chinese Sentence

Almost every single one of my students makes this mistake as it is so true to simply translate English sentence structure of S + be verb + adj into Chinese. Well, adjectives in Chinese can be used/ seen as a verb, so we do not use “be verb” before adjectives. For example, if you want to say “I am beautiful or I am handsome”, you say 我很漂亮 or 我很帥 in Chinese. The literal translation is “I very beautiful” and “I very handsome”. Another example is “It is cold today” or “today is cold”. You say 今天很冷 (literal: today very cold). I hope by explaining here, you will not make the same mistakes as other learners do.

#4 Forgetting Measure Words/ Classifiers

This can be a pain for Chinese learners as English rarely have to add measure words/classifier between numbers and nouns. However, English does have the same concept, such as “a piece of paper” or “a glass of water” but it is only limited to some uncountable nouns. In other cases, for example, you simply have to say “one brother”, “two books”, “three dogs”, “four laptops” and “five trees” in English. However, you have to follow the structure of number + measure words/ classifiers + noun in Chinese. So the examples above will be 一哥哥、兩書、三狗、四筆記型電腦 and 五樹。The underlined words 個、本、隻、台、棵 are measure words / classifiers and need to be adjusted with different nouns.

#5 Adding 了 After All Verbs to Indicate Past Tense

One of the function of the word 了 is to indicate the action has completed. For example, you can say 我昨天看了一部電影 (I watched a movie yesterday) or 我昨天買了一些麵包 (I bought some bread yesterday). You are probably familiar with this usage. However, there are several other usages of the word 了. For example, you can also say 我昨天跟我朋友講電話 (I talked to my friends on the phone yesterday) or 我昨天在家寫作業 (I wrote my homework at home yesterday). As you can see, in both example, you do not really have to add 了 to indicate the past action and the sentences are still clear and grammatically correct. This one is a bit confusing but I just want to show you that do not generalize the use of the word 了 and do not add 了 after every verbs in past tense.

Before We Go

So voila, These are five most common mistakes that Chinese learners make based on my observation. I hope this post can point out some blind spots that you might encounter when you are learning Chinese. If you do not have these problems, good job. If you do make these mistakes, correct them and learn the correct way to use them. Then you will improve and speak more like a native speaker. Do you have any suggestions or comments? Feel free to leave it below and I will get back to you as soon as possible. Good luck and have fun learning Chinese.

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