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3 Common Mistakes in Learning Chinese

Chinese is a relatively small language when you are talking about phonetics. There are many words
composed by similar pronunciations but different tones and most Chinese characters even have many
homonyms. So it may be an easy language for foreign learners to make mistakes with and you have to
be carefully listening for the tone and correctly judging the homonym's meaning.

Several foreigners have been surveyed about their common mistakes while learning Chinese language,
and the top three are listed as follows:
1. The universal first mistake is confusing the homonyms or words with similar pronunciations
- e.g., 买(mǎi) and 卖(mài).

The reason why this is so easily recalled as difficult to distinguish is that they are among the first words a
learner might learn and they are both used in the same situation. They mean - sell and buy, respectively.
Walking into a store and offering to sell everything for the owner raises more than a few eyebrows. They
usually get a good laugh out of it at your expense. Sadly you will make this same mistake 50 or 60 times
before you realize how important the tones can be and then decide you will focus a little more attention
on learning them.

2. The mistake ranking the second is confusion in word orders.

The second most common mistake in Chinese is certainly worth laughing at. In a way like Chinese
spoonerisms, most foreigners often switch around the syllables of two-syllable words. Some have gone
into a store and asked for "bees" (蜜(mì) 蜂(fēng)) when they wanted "honey" (蜂(fēng) 蜜(mì)) and
have inquired about someone's "divorce" (离(lí) 婚(hūn)) when they meant "wedding" (婚(hūn) 礼(lǐ)).

2. The third most common mistake is misusing the words.

Let me tell you about a little blunder my friend made in his first couple of weeks in China. The friend and I
was out buying some little "+bǐng"+ 饼 things (cookies) that came in spicy and non-spicy varieties.
Because we didn't like the spicy ones, we'd been saying a phrase:

wǒ pà là 我怕辣 = I don't like spicy food. [Literal translation: I fear spicy.

But he got confused with those rhyming words when he decided to make his own sentence:

wǒmen bú yào pà 我们不要怕的 = We don't want the feared one.

The worker guy just kind of cocked his head at him. And I started laughing and said in English, "Ya, we
don't want any buns that are afraid to be eaten. Only the bravest ones for us!" He suddenly realized what
he'd said, started laughing, and tried again to say what he meant:

wǒ yě pà là 我也怕辣 = I don't like spicy food either. [Literal translation: I too fear the spicy!] ‐ Online One‐on‐one Chinese lesson with professional Chinese teachers, Free Trial at