Teacher Kim Ooi writing for Hello Teacher!

Updated February 03, 2019
By Kim Ooi


Nihao! Welcome to China!

Today, I am going to teach you a new language which you will find most helpful in your efforts to understand what your students are saying. This language is neither Chinese nor English but a mixture of the two – Chinglish!

Hopefully, it will give you an insight into the kinds of grammar mistakes that you can expect in a Chinese classroom.

Before I launch into specific examples, I need to highlight that I have tried to classify some of the mistakes typically made by Chinese students in a lighthearted way.

It’s by no means exhaustive but should give you an understanding of the scale of the challenges that you will encounter as an oral ESL teacher in China.

Exams are a very important aspect of any student’s life but there is also an unofficial no-fail policy in place.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the work of a foreign English teacher in China is the fact that you will be constantly bombarded with Chinglish and yet you may be unable to give the grade that truly reflects a student’s ability.

Students in China only care about two things as far as foreign teachers are concerned – getting ‘entertaining’ lessons and passing their exams. The acquisition of knowledge often takes a backseat and many foreign teachers are forced to award arbitrarily high grades.

Please be mindful of this before you decide to come and teach in China!

1. Mistakes with tenses

Chinese students have a major problem with tenses. Some of the mistakes that you will find them making are as follows:

a) When will it be held? (when asking about a past event)
b) It will be held... (when talking about a past event)
c) It is the day before New Year Day that one of us took it.

The reason why they make this mistake is that tenses in Chinese are not denoted in the same way as English ones. In Chinese, the verb form does not change with the tense.

For example, in the sentences below, the verb 'kan' (see) remains the same in the past and future tense.

Wo zuotian kan dianying. (I went to see a movie yesterday.)
Wo mingtian kan dianying. (I will see a movie tomorrow.)

This is one of the most common uses of Chinglish.

2. Incorrect use of vocabulary

This is also a very common problem for Chinese students. As a foreign teacher in China, you will often come across sentences like these:

a) We played a game and the failure should be punished.
b) She walks behind because her poor body.


3. Using the 'because + so' sentence structure

In Chinese grammar, it is correct to say:

Yinwei wo hen e, suoyi wo hen zao chi fan (Because I was hungry, so I ate earlier.)

In English however, we would say “I ate earlier because I was so hungry” or “Because I was hungry, I ate earlier”.

4. Incorrect use of prepositions

In Chinese grammar, the preposition 'to' does not exist. In Chinese, it would be correct to say:

Wo qu gongyuan. (“I went park” instead of “I went to the park”.)

So in China, you will find students using sentences like “The family to go for a walk” instead of “The family will go for a walk”, and “The event was held at last Saturday” instead of “The event was held last Saturday”.

Many of your students in China will speak Chinglish.

Speaking Chinglish is common across China's ESL classrooms.

5. Omitting 'is', 'are', 'was', 'were' and 'will' or using these incorrectly

Chinese students often make mistakes with this aspect of English grammar and revert to Chinglish.

I once asked my students to describe a photo that they liked very much. One of them said, “The dandelion grows by the river” instead of “There are dandelions growing by the river”.

Another example is “This photo taken in our school plum blossom park”.


6. Incorrect use of the '–ing' form of verbs

Chinese students have some difficulty with using –ing correctly and knowing when to use –ing. As an ESL teacher in China, you will often come across sentences like these:

a) After doing their exercises, many students playing on the playground.
b) Have you ever taking part in this activity?
c) I take photo in order to recalling it in later days.

7. Using suffixes incorrectly

Chinese students also make mistakes with suffixes. For example, they might say “We were delightful” instead of “We were delighted”.

The reason for this is possibly that Chinese students see words like 'delight' as nouns and not verbs so they do not feel that it would be appropriate to use '-ed' after such words.

8. Incorrect use of articles

There are no articles in Chinese so this is another area in which Chinese students experience difficulties, and Chinglish prevails.

Many students often use 'the' incorrectly. For example, “In this picture, there is the sun and the cloud”.

9. Treating words denoting feelings as verbs

While teaching in China, you will often find students saying things like “I will hungry” and “I will happy”. 

They make this mistake because the word 'be' does not exist in Chinese.

10. Incorrect use of the passive voice

In China, students have significant problems composing sentences using the passive voice. For example, “A lovely cat is saw by a lovely girl whose name is X”.

In closing, you’ll witness Chinglish everywhere in China, particularly in your ESL classroom. While it is a big hurdle, you’ll now be able to easily identify the common mistakes and help your students overcome them.

Wish you the good luck!

How do you manage Chinglish in the classroom? Share your ideas below.


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