Why is English so hard for a Chinese person?

I teach English as a Second Language in Taiwan, so I see native Mandarin speakers struggle with English every day. Literally, every day. As a native English speaker who studies Mandarin; I know the struggle is real lol. Below are some of the things my students do that make learning English more difficult:


Not having a clear idea of why they are learning English, or how to make a study plan to help them reach a realistic goal.
A common question I ask students is why they want to learn English. There are a variety of answers; from business-related needs, studying abroad, to travel, to talking to English speaking relatives, etc. When I ask them their goal, however; every single reply is the same: I want to be fluent in English. It’s a lofty goal, to say the least; along the lines of “I want to be the President of the world!” Or, “I want a pet unicorn!” It sounds awesome, but it probably won’t happen. Instead, when you go to bed tonight, imagine yourself speaking English easily and comfortably. What are you doing? Where are you? Who are you talking to? If you imagined yourself killing it in a meeting with foreign colleagues; expressing your thoughts well, taking part in the conversation, impressing others with your ideas; then, that’s where you start. Start reading industry websites and blogs, watch videos or listen to podcasts to see and hear how people communicate. Learn and know the vocabulary about your job, then join discussion groups, forums, meetups (www.meetup.com), language exchanges, run it by your teacher for corrections and suggestions, and practice expressing yourself. If you picture yourself traveling the world, making new friends, then do with same with travel shows, videos, blogs, etc. You probably won’t, or don’t need to be fluent, so relax and focus on your specific goal. Figure out why you want or need to study English and go from there.






Learning a language is a journey- not a destination.
If you are like my students, you have probably studied English for years, but still don’t feel comfortable or confident using English. How can this be? The more we do something, the better we will be, right? Not necessarily.
If you study by memorizing words and grammar patterns; English will be hard and boring. Change your thinking and change your study method. Make English a fun part of your daily life and you will learn and enjoy the process. If you don’t think learning can be fun and something you do every day, then you need to change your thinking and study method. When something becomes a habit, we no longer think about- we just do it.




Fun: you can think of fun as interesting, relaxing, whatever you want; just keep it positive. One way to do that is to not make it so hard. If you’re not very good at English, watching BBC News or CNN will be a waste of your time. They speak quickly and use a lot of vocabulary you probably don’t know. It will be too hard and you will give up and lose confidence. Instead, try the app duolingo. You can set the amount of time you want to use it for each day. It’s interactive and let’s you practice speaking, listening, translation. If you don’t like that app, try others- there are many. Want to read a novel in English? Great! Read the Mandarin version or see the movie first. Start with a subject you already know about. Try short stories, or young adult novels. Listen to the audio book, too. Like music? Translate your favorite song into English, study the English lyrics and find the meaning of the words you don’t know, learn an English song to sing at KTV. Keeping it fun also means you need to Learn for yourself: think about your interests and hobbies and learn about them in English. Do you like food? Who doesn’t?! Start by translating take out menus, follow food blogs, etc. Like to cook? Read a recipe in Chinese, then look at the English version. Google “_____ vocabulary words English.” Fill in the blank with whatever topics you like. If you don’t know what you like, then think about the things you like to read or talk about in Mandarin, or what kind of topics you click on when surfing the internet.





Daily: Start with 10 minutes a day. Making daily contact with English depends on your personality and schedule.
Schedule: Can you wake up 10 minutes earlier in the morning and read English aloud? Do you have 10 minutes on your way to/from work or school to listen to English, write in a journal, or use a learning app? If watch TV every day at 7:00pm, can you open your English book or app at 6:50pm? If you spend more than 10 mins a day on social media, can you add some English sites or forums (like Quora!). Find your 10 mins each day.



Personality: If you’re not very motivated, start with an app that will remind you to study, or a site that will send you a new vocabulary word each day. Challenge a friend or classmate to study for 10 mins a day and do it together. Competitive? Each day give yourself a category; like fruit, cities in Europe, NBA teams, and write down in English as many as you can in one minute. If you can only name three fruits in English, learn more and test yourself again the next day. Creative? Try a new method every day. Do what works the best for you. The point is: if you don’t have an English environment, you can make your own. If you make it a habit, you won’t have to think about it. If it interests you, you’ll stick with it! Also, if you ever have problem; Quora can help ????
Good luck!



In my experience, the biggest obstacle to Chinese learners of English is logic. English and Chinese are built on inherently very different logics. We say things in English that you just wouldn’t say in Chinese, and vice versa. We *think* differently. This transcends beyond the mire of grammar or the (extremely real) difficulty of accurately mapping vocabulary across the two languages.


As a simplistic example that happened to come up in one of my classes a few days ago, let’s take the sentence 我怕冷。Directly translated to English this would be “I’m afraid of cold,” and that is exactly what my student said to me. I told him, “You don’t like the cold.” He considered briefly and reiterated, “I’m afraid of cold.” All I could tell him is, “That’s not how we say it in English,” and trust him to abandon his (very evident) confusion in time.

举个简单的例子,恰好前几天发生在我班上,让我们说“我怕冷”的句子。英语直译是“I’m afraid of cold”,我学生正是这么说的。我告诉他是“You don’t like the cold”,他三思后又说,“I’m afraid of cold”。我只能告诉他,“英语不是这么说的。”

I could understand his feelings (and have founded confidence that he would eventually wrap his head around the whole situation), because some years ago I was in the same the same situation, but reversed. I had told a Taiwanese 我恨热 (I hate the heat), and that person had replied 你怕热 (You’re afraid of heat), and I had been deeply confused. Heat isn’t scary! But in Chinese it is. As are any foods you just can’t stand.

我能理解他的感受(并相信他最终会理解这种情况),几年前,我也是这样的,但扭转过来。我告诉一个台湾人“我恨热”(I hate the heat),那个人回到说“你怕热”((You’re afraid of heat),我深深疑惑了。热并不吓人!但中文表达是这样的。

This kind of logical discord is common between any two languages, but between English and Chinese it’s practically the name of the game. And this, I think, is why it’s so difficult for Chinese to really get English, and vice versa. The only way to get past it is deliberate immersion, and at least a small dollop of talent.


From Quora

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