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. It is true that learning Chinese is also to learn how to deal with mistakes. 

Let’s take a look at some common Englinese expressions and the sources of these mistakes when people speak Chinese as if they were speaking English. 

Word order

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

I’ll use an example which often happens to beginner students when they just start learning Chinese. When students practice talking about their daily activities, many would like to say something like this, “I have breakfast at eight o’clock”. Since they just start learning Chinese, they tend to follow the English word order, the expression becomes “我吃早饭八点”. The good thing is, after some practice, many students can catch this mistake by themselves, and change to the right word order quickly, “我八点吃早饭”.

Sentence structure

Chinese language uses very different sentence structures to construct sentences. Mistakes happen when students do not know what the right sentence structure is.  

For example, students want to express “I don’t know if he is Chinese”, but do not know what the correct structure in Chinese is, they would try “我不知道如果他是中国人”, which follows the English language structure word by word. Every word is translated correctly, but the entire sentence is wrong. This example shows us how meanings can be lost in the translation when using the wrong construction of the sentence in Chinese. It should be “我不知道他是不是中国人”.

Other such examples include how to express “The person who came to my office is my old boss”, or “I really like the book which I read yesterday”. Following the English structure to speak these Chinese sentences would definitely cause some 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 Enlgish, these small words suddenly 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 often leads to a conclusion that more vocabulary is needed in order to speak better Chinese. However, it is hardly ever about the size of Chinese vocabulary. Tons of words do not contribute directly to speaking fluent Chinese.

Contributions

Both Chinglish and Englinese can cause some serious communication problems. However, they also make contributions and enrich the source languages. 

For example, “long time no see” was a Chinglish expression as it is a direct word-to-word translation of a Chinese phrase “好久不见”. Now it has become a widespread and accepted expression in English. 

Englinese also made its contribute to Chinese language. For example, “波鞋”, coming from “ball shoes” originally, is an accepted word in Cantonese. Read more about how Chinese absorbed new words in this article. 

A latest example is “硬核”, which comes from “hardcore” in English. This word just made its appearance in some online posts which I follow. Let’s wait and see when, or if, it will become a mainstream expression in Chinese.


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