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Chinese and English are More Similar than You Thought.


Is Chinese a very different language? Yes, and No.

The characters, the pronunciation, the tones, the grammar of Chinese, all seem very, um…, unique. The prevalent methods of teaching Chinese seems to strengthen this impression, too.


It’s time to clarify how accurate this impression is. We would like to argue while it is true that characters and pronunciations are peculiar characteristics of Chinese language, the syntactical rules of Chinese is very similar to English. Therefore for English speakers, to start learning Chinese with these governing principles is a much more friendly approach.


Different Pronunciations

The pronunciation of English is much more different from Chinese than European languages. The best way for learners of Chinese to cross the barrier is to speak and listen in daily life. The other thing that bothers many students is “the tones.” Chinese characters have fixed sounds. In the future I will write more on this.


Ideogrammatic v.s. Phonetic

Oftentimes we describe English as a “phonetic “ language, which means, having a direct correspondence between symbols and sounds, and Chinese as a “ideogrammatic language,” which means Chinese characters do not directly indicate the sounds used to say them. Chinese words are composed by characters. Since Chinese words are composed of characters, the prevalent methodologies of teaching Chinese maintains students should learn characters at the very beginning.


Supporters of this methodology may have their good reasons. Unfortunately, this might not be very friendly for the speakers of English. For English speakers, Chinese characters is a totally different system. To put other words, they are required to learn two languages at the same time: one written, and one auditory. But don’t forget, though Chinese words are formed of the combination of characters, it is to be spoken in the first place. We don’t need to recognize the characters in order to speak.


S.V.O. : The Elemental Structure of Both Chinese and English

While the sounds and the writing system of Chinese and English are very different, the syntactical rule is not.


As mentioned, Chinese characters do not carry prefixes or suffixes to indicate changes of function or tense. Therefore positions of the words in the sentence are very important because the positions oftentimes would decide the function of the word or phrase. Fortunately, the elemental structure of both Chinese and English are the same: the S. V. O.

Why is this understanding important? As long as you are an English speaker, it is very easy for you to translate your English sentence into Chinese. Let’s take a look of an example:

  • S. V. O.

  • The kid eat  breakfast.

  • nà ge háizi chī zǎofàn.

As you can see, the translation is very direct. As soon as we know this elemental structure, the rest of other elements of sentences are built upon this foundation.


In the future we will go in depth of the governing principles of Chinese sentence. But, for now, we hope you know:

  1. Chinese and English are different in the sense of pronunciation and writing system, but You don’t have to recognize the characters in order to speak.

  2. The elemental structure of both Chinese and English is S. V. O.

Welcome to comment or ask us anything about Chinese language. We’d really like to hear from you!

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