5 Problems for Chinese Speakers of English
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A slim chance and a fat chance are the same thing, but a wise man and a wise guy are opposites.
There is no pine in pineapple, ham in hamburger, or egg in eggplant.
We are all taught i before e except after c only to be told that that actually isn’t true.
Ghoti can be pronounced fish.
And then there is this sentence (which actually does make sense, but don’t ask us to explain it!):
James while John had had had had had had had had had had had a better effect on the teacher.
There’s no doubt about it, English is a tricky language.
So it should be no surprise that learning English can be a bit difficult, and teaching English can seem like an impossible mountain to climb.
However, with a little bit of experience teaching English as a Foreign Language you will realise that your learners’ first languages will affect their learning of English. This can be in terms of vocabulary, pronunciation or word order, among a number of other things. Understanding these issues can help us help our learners overcome these problems.
Previously, we had a look at typical problems Spanish speakers may have when learning English. Here, let’s look at five of the most common problems for Chinese speakers learning English.
Probably the most obvious difference between English and Chinese is that they use different alphabets. English uses the Latin or Roman alphabet, consisting of 26 letters. Chinese uses a non-alphabetic script of pictograms. In other words, characters represent words or phrases (so it’s not, strictly speaking, an alphabet).
Each symbol is one syllable and can represent a word, or words can be made up of two or three symbols. For example, 时 is the symbol for Shí, or time; 区 is the symbol for Qū, or area; 时区 is the symbol for Shí Qū, or time zone.
There are literally thousands of characters to learn to be able to read and write in Chinese – you need to know about 3 000 symbols just to be able to read a newspaper! Then, when Chinese speakers want to learn English they have to learn an entirely new alphabet!
In the classroom, you can help your students by being patient with them. Especially with lower-level students – but even more advanced students – bear this is mind when assessing their writing. Understand it may take a bit longer for them to do reading and writing exercises.
Unfortunately for our Chinese learners (and English learners of Chinese), there are quite a few differences between English and Mandarin and Cantonese when it comes to pronunciation.
First of all, Chinese is a tone language. This means that the tone of a word will change its meaning. There are five tones in Mandarin Chinese, so the same symbol can have five different meanings depending on tone.
English, on the other hand, uses tone when it comes to expressing emotion and attitude rather than meaning, and it is used over a whole sentence rather than individual words. Consider the difference in intonation between
You’re still here. and You’re still here?
The difficulty here for our learners is understanding the general tone of what a person is saying – like reading between the lines.
Then, there are differences in rhythm. English is a stress-timed language, which means that the rhythm of the language depends on the stress of the sentence. Basically, syllables can last different lengths of time but there is a relatively constant amount of time between stressed syllables.
Cantonese and Mandarin, on the other hand, are syllable-timed languages. In Cantonese and Mandarin every syllable takes up roughly the same amount of time so the rhythm of language depends on the syllables, rather than the stress. What’s more, all Chinese symbols are monosyllabic. This means that when Chinese learners pronounce English words they will often give them equal stress, which can sound odd and unnatural.
In the classroom, you can help your learners with word and sentence stress by playing Bingo or drilling. Pay attention to stress patterns when teaching words and draw your students’ attention to different stress patterns within the same word family – for example, PHOtograph, phoTOGraphy.
When it comes to individual sounds there are differences too.
More specifically, there are no consonant clusters in Chinese like we have in English, such as /tr/ and /dr/. As a result, when speaking English, Chinese speakers often add syllables when pronouncing consonant clusters, or omit them altogether. For example, drum becomes dilum, or words becomes wors.
Chinese learners have particular difficulty when it comes to the English sounds /l/ and /r/. This is because in Chinese languages there are no sounds which directly correspond to these sounds. Chinese learners cannot hear the difference between the two sounds, with the result that they have trouble differentiating between the two in pronunciation.
Similarly, Chinese learners will have problems differentiating /v/ and /w/, and pronouncing /ɵ/ as in bath and /ð/ as in that.
In the classroom, you can help your students with this by showing them physically how the different sounds are made and listening to minimal pairs to help train their ears. Playing games which make use of both sounds would also be useful.
In terms of grammar, there are many differences between the two languages. The following two are the most prominent.
3. Word order
Both English and Chinese languages are SVO languages, meaning the accepted sentence structure is Subject-Verb-Object. However, while in English this is pretty strict, in Chinese languages it is not. Chinese sometimes allows sentences which exhibit the SOV structure and, more commonly, the subject of a sentence can be omitted altogether or the object of the sentence may come first, depending on the topic of the sentence.
In English, when we need to change a noun to make it plural, we change the ending of the word. So one apple becomes two apples. In Chinese there are no plural words. Instead, a number word is placed in front of the noun, which stays in its singular form. What this means is that learners may struggle to form plurals in English, or they may produce sentences like I have two cat.
In the classroom, you can help your learners by doing activities which focus on error correction. This could be on-the-spot or delayed but be sure to draw their attention to this issue.
Read more: Effective Error Correction
In English we use a, an or the as articles. Chinese does not have articles as such. Instead, it uses words that combine with the nouns to show the number of the noun, or it uses the noun alone. As a result, Chinese learners may omit the definite and indefinite articles when speaking English.
Other grammatical issues are confusing personal pronouns, and verb inflection (for example, the third person –s).
On a general note, exposing your learners to authentic language in authentic materials is a great way to help their English. Encourage your learners to watch English TV series or movies, listen to English songs, read English books and newspapers, and browse the internet in English. This will help them get a feel for natural language.
Problems for Chinese speakers of English
All of our learners are going to encounter problems when learning English, regardless of their first language. However, being aware of the particular difficulties speakers of different languages have helps you not only if you are teaching a monolingual class but also to prepare your lessons better by helping you anticipate problems your learners may have.
*These are not the only problems for Chinese speakers of English, but they are very common problems which you will experience in the classroom.
Please note: This blog post was originally published on 13 January 2017 but has since been updated.
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We’ll only market other organisations’ products and services if you have said it is OK for us to do so.
You can ask us to stop sending you marketing information or withdraw your permission at any time.
ELEARNING FUTURES LTD retains personal information in line with our corporate retention requirements. Your data will be stored within the European Economic Area (“the EEA”) (The EEA consists of all EU member states, plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein). However, in some circumstances, part or all of your data may be stored or transferred outside of the European Economic Area (“the EEA”). You are deemed to accept and agree to this by using our site and submitting information to us. If we do store or transfer data outside the EEA, we will take all reasonable steps to ensure that your data is treated as safely and securely as it would be within the EEA and under the GDPR. Such steps may include, but not be limited to, the use of legally binding contractual terms between us and any third parties we engage with, and the use of the EU-approved Model Contractual Arrangements. If we intend at any time to transfer any of your data outside the EEA, we will always obtain your consent beforehand.
Right to access personal information
- Under the law, any individual has a right to ask for a copy of the personal information held about them. This means that you can ask for the information that ELEARNING FUTURES LTD holds about you. This is known as the right of ‘subject access’.
- When making a request you will need to give us:
- a request in writing (by post or by email)
- We may need to ask you to provide:
- proof of your identity
- proof of your home address
- any information that we reasonably need to locate the information you have requested (for example details of the ELEARNING FUTURES LTD offices or staff that you have had contact with and when)
We will not start looking for your information until we receive all of the above. In order to submit your request, or for help making a request, please contact us.
Rights concerning the processing of your personal information
- Right to restrict processing of personal information
- In some situations, you have the right to require us to restrict the processing of your personal information. We may restrict your personal information by temporarily moving the information to another processing system, making the information unavailable to users, or temporarily removing published information from a website. We may also use technical methods to ensure the personal information is not subject to further processing and cannot be changed. When we have restricted processing of personal information, this will be clearly indicated on our systems.
- You can require us to restrict processing in the following circumstances:
- You are concerned that the information we hold about you is inaccurate. You can ask us to restrict the information until we can determine whether the information is accurate or inaccurate.
- We are processing your personal data unlawfully and you do not want us to delete the information but restrict it instead.
- We no longer need the information for the purposes for which we collected it, but they are needed by you for the establishment, exercise or defence of legal claims.
- You have objected to the processing (see below), and we need to decide whether the legitimate grounds we have to process the information override your legitimate interests.
Processing you think is unlawful
- If you tell us that you think we are processing your personal information unlawfully, but you do not want the information to be erased, you have the right to require us to restrict the processing of that information.
- We will ask you for an explanation about why you think the processing is unlawful, and may also ask that you provide evidence to support this view.
Processing of personal information you think is inaccurate
- You can tell us if you think the personal information we are processing about you is factually inaccurate. You can require us to restrict how we use your personal information until we can verify the accuracy of the information. We will ask you for an explanation about why you think the information is inaccurate, and may also ask that you provide some supporting evidence of the alleged inaccuracy.
- If we find that the personal information we are processing about you is inaccurate, we will take appropriate steps to correct the information.
Personal information is no longer needed by ELEARNING FUTURES LTD but needed by you in connection with a legal claim
- In most circumstances, we will securely delete or dispose of personal information when we no longer need it for our legitimate business purposes. Our approach to retention is outlined in our corporate retention schedules.
- However, if the personal information we no longer need would assist you in establishing, exercising or defending a legal claim, you can require us to keep the information for as long as necessary. We may ask you to provide an explanation and any available supporting evidence that a legal claim is ongoing or contemplated.
Right to erasure of personal data (“the right to be forgotten”)
In the following circumstances, you have the right to require that ELEARNING FUTURES LTD securely deletes or destroys your personal information:
- If the personal information we hold about you is no longer necessary for the purposes for which we originally collected it.
- The processing is based on consent – if you have previously given your consent to ELEARNING FUTURES LTD collecting and processing your personal information, and you notify us that you withdraw your consent. Please note: withdrawing your consent does not mean the processing of your personal data which occurred before the withdrawal was unlawful.
- We are processing your personal information for direct marketing purposes, and you want us to stop.
- If you think ELEARNING FUTURES LTD has processed your personal information unlawfully.
If you think any of the above situations apply, we may ask you for an explanation and further information to verify this.
Right to object to processing
You have the right to object to the ELEARNING FUTURES LTD processing your personal data in the following circumstances:
Personal information used for direct marketing
If we are using your personal information to send you direct marketing, you have the right to object at any time. If you exercise this right, we will stop processing your personal information for direct marketing purposes. However, we may keep your information on a “suppression list” to ensure your information is not added to any marketing lists at some point in the future.
Automated decision making and profiling
- ‘Profiling’ is the automated use of personal data held on a computer to analyse or predict things that have a legal effect, or other similarly significant effects, on the individual. Examples would include economic situation, health, personal preferences or interests and location. You have the right not to be subject to a solely automated decision (that is, a decision made electronically, with no human intervention), and this may include profiling (although there is no general right to object to profiling). If you are concerned the ELEARNING FUTURES LTD has made a solely automated decision about you, you can object.
- Please note, ELEARNING FUTURES LTD is allowed to carry out automated decisions with no human intervention where you have given your explicit consent to this processing (although you have the right to withdraw your consent).
- We are also permitted to make automated decisions with no human intervention in the following circumstances:
- The automated decision is necessary to enter into, or perform a contract, or complete a contract involving you and the ELEARNING FUTURES LTD.
- The automated decision is allowed under a law passed at the European Union level, or at the level of the European Union or EEA member state level (i.e., is allowed under national law). The law will provide safeguards to protect your rights and freedoms.
However, you still have a general right to object in both of the above circumstances, providing reasons why you think the processing is having a negative effect on you. If you do object, we will carefully consider your reasons, and decide whether to review the decision-making process in your specific case.
Right to data portability
- If you have provided your information to ELEARNING FUTURES LTD, you have the right to request and receive a copy of that information in a structured, commonly used and machine-readable format.
- You also have the right to ask us to send the information we hold about you to another organisation.
- There are some situations in which the right to data portability does not apply. For further information, please contact us.
Exercising your rights concerning the processing of your personal information
If you wish to exercise any of the above rights concerning the way in which we process your personal information, please contact:
Risk Management Team
ELEARNING FUTURES LTD,
21-22 Old Steine,
Email: [email protected]
Your right to complain to a national data protection regulator (data protection supervisory authority)
- If you think we have processed your personal information unfairly or unlawfully, or we have not complied with your rights under GDPR, you have the right to complain to a national data protection regulator.
- Complaints about how we process your personal information can be considered by the data protection regulator.