Chinese learns English

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by Saint, Apr 13, 2011.

  1. Saint Valued Senior Member

    I am a chinese from Malaysia.
    we study English as second language from primary school till University.
    But my English writing is still not very good.
    I am a degree holder in Mechanical Engineering.
    I want to be able to write English as good as the authors of Times Magazine,
    I mean, use that as benchmarking.

    So, can you tell me how to achieve this target?
    Can you introduce me What books can help me?
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  3. Me-Ki-Gal Banned Banned

    Good luck with that one. Authors of the times wish they could write as good as the authors of the times. Go talk to Lauren Tursellino . She is a published Author who can help guide you if she is willing . She use to help people on her myspace page understand literature and her and her friends had some pretty good bull shit parties to boot. Her myspace page is "Gerty McDowell " She don't frequent her page much anymore , but you might find some other writers on her page that can direct you in a very good direction. Call her publisher and demand her book while you are at it if you could my friend . I need that book .
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  5. Saint Valued Senior Member

    anyone can suggest a very good book(s) to teach us writing good English, and speaking good English too.
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  7. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    A language student should look into two areas:

    1. the language they are studying
    2. basic principles of good writing and communication as such

    For 1:
    Go to a good bookstore and to a library and inquire about English study materials for people whose native language is Chinese (Chinese is your native language, right?).
    There are textbooks and other study materials for English specifically designed for the student's native language.
    Check out the materials available and see if any of it suits you.

    If the option is available and you can afford it, take a course for adult or advanced learners of English. English is widely taught, so this shouldn't be a problem; but it can get a bit expensive.
    It should also be possible to get an evaluation interview at such a facility. So someone who is fluent in English will evaluate your current proficiency in English and make some specific suggestions what you can do to improve.

    For 2:
    A book like this is helpful:
    This one isn't available on Amazon anymore, but a library might have it. Check out the table of contents in the Amazon preview to get an idea of what this is about.

    Again, the libraries and bookstores are your friends. Ask them about books on writing that are like the one I mention above.
  8. leopold Valued Senior Member

  9. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    You're getting good advice from the other members so I don't have much to add. However, I am a professional writer and editor so I have to warn you that most people, even native speakers, even well-educated speakers, will never be able to write as well as the writers (not "authors"--an author writes books, not articles) of Time magazine (not "the Times," that is a newspaper).

    But I do have a couple of recommendations.

    Do more reading. You won't learn how to write well by transcribing the spoken language. Written language is more formal, so that's what you want to learn from. I'm sure you know that written Chinese is much more formal than the spoken language.

    I have considerable experience teaching English to speakers of Chinese and I can speak a little Mandarin, so I can identify some of the difficulties you will have.
    • Chinese does not have adverbs, so you tend to use adjectives as adverbs and vice-versa. For example, you do not "write English as good as the writers..." You "write English as well" as they do. Of course this is confusing because sometimes we use "well" as an adjective meaning "not sick," but you have lots of words like that in Chinese.
    • Study our language's inflections. Chinese does not use inflections so this is truly a foreign concept to you. You do not use the quality of Time magazine "as benchmarking," you use it "as a benchmark."
    • Master our definite and indefinite articles: the, a, an. These are almost completely meaningless words, sort of like de in spoken Mandarin; they are just markers to help you parse a sentence. But if you use them incorrectly it's a sure sign that you're a foreign speaker. For example, not "we study English as second language," but "we study English as a second language. This is one of the most difficult features to learn in any language. Even for us when learning Spanish, which also has articles, because they do not use them in exactly the same way we do.
    • Our syntax must be mastered: putting the words in the right order and using the right connectors. For example, "Can you introduce me What books can help me?" sounds exactly like a Chinese sentence; I can almost put it together in my head, except that I don't know the word for "introduce." You have to say it differently: "Can you introduce me to the books that can help me?" "Can you tell me what books can help me?" There are no general rules for syntax, there are many micro-rules for specific situations, and no one has ever written them down. You have the same thing in Chinese: why does wo ai ren mean "I love people" but wo de ai ren means "my girlfriend/boyfriend"?
    • Learn the rules for using capital letters. The word "Chinese" is always capitalized, even in the middle of a sentence. All words for nationalities and ethnic groups are: French, Russian, Cantonese, Eskimo, Polynesian. The first word of every sentence must be captalized also. "We study English..." not "we study English..."
    As I said, I have considerable experience working with Chinese people, so ask more questions and I will probably have more answers.
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2011
  10. Saint Valued Senior Member

    Thanks Fraggle, you are professional!
  11. Saint Valued Senior Member

    I will try to get some English essay writing guidance kind of books from my library to start learning how to write a better English.
  12. Walter L. Wagner Cosmic Truth Seeker Valued Senior Member

    One of the things that people often don't learn when learning a new language is the simple speaking of a child. I've found, for example, that common language usage is extensively used in comic books and fairy tales, which are written for children. Get a hold of some of Grimm's Fairy Tales (in English, unless you want to learn German, then get the original version) and a few comic books, and read through those. It is written with common slang and other usages people learn early on, but don't usually use for university writing.
  13. Saint Valued Senior Member

    I agree, can I read it on internet?
  14. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    "I will try to get some books from my library with guidance on English essay writing, in order to start learning how to write English better."

    Don't leave out all the prepositions. You don't have prepositions in Chinese but you can't speak or write English without them.
  15. spidergoat pubic diorama Valued Senior Member

    Try reading English novels, then you will start to get a feeling for what sounds proper. How about the Hobbit?
  16. skaught The field its covered in blood Valued Senior Member

  17. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    I think that's too advanced for his level. He needs to work on some of the basic elements of the language, not the "small intricacies." There's certainly nothing wrong with having a copy around, but it's probably not what he needs most right now.

    Reading is always good, but students need more interactive training. Saint needs to write sentences in his own words, and have the errors pointed out, explained and corrected--which is what I've been doing. Reading an entire book with no errors probably won't be as helpful.

    Children can learn languages by example, but it's much harder for an adult to do it that way. As I've noted before, language-learning ability decreases drastically with age, so it takes more work.

    However, I'll make the same comment about The Hobbit that I made about Elements of Style. (By the way, as long as this is a writing lesson for Saint's benefit, the title of a book should always be in italics, not "quotation marks." Back in my day it was acceptable to use underlining because our old typewriters didn't have italics. But now that we all have word processors, that's not done any more.) It's a great book, one of the most beloved of the 1960s and later years. I absolutely recommend it to Saint or anyone else, regardless of their reason for reading it. It's certainly worthwhile to immerse yourself in English, so you will be more able to compose your thoughts in English.

    Saint, are you able to think in English words, or do you think in Chinese and translate in real time?
  18. skaught The field its covered in blood Valued Senior Member

    I was just about to ask the same question.

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    I was wondering too if Rosetta Stone English would be of any help...
  19. Saint Valued Senior Member

    It is hard for me to answer this question.
    Subconsciously, I think most of the time I thought in Chinese before English was spoken out, there was a mechanism in my mind did the translation between brain and mouth.
  20. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    I don't know very much about Rosetta Stone. But considering that Saint has a very large vocabulary, knows all the basic rules of grammar, and understands everything we say, I think it would probably be too elementary for him. Rosetta Stone is for beginners and Strunk & White is for people who are almost experts. He's somewhere between those two extremes.
    This sentence is perfect!
    "Subconsciously, most of the time I think in Chinese." It's awkward to use the verb "think/thought" twice--not exactly wrong, but difficult to make it not seem redundant. Also note that this sentence is better in the present tense. You're talking about something that still happens all the time, not something that used to happen in the past. "A mechanism in my mind translates the Chinese in my brain into the English that comes out of my mouth." Sometimes it's clearer to divide a long sentence into two pieces. Then you can rearrange the words and add a few more words. I have this same problem, so I always review my writing and divide three sentences into six. And again, you're talking about something that is currently happening, so the sentence should be recast in the present tense.

    Now to answer, first I need to ask more questions. How much of your everyday speech is in English? I think you once implied that English is widely spoken in Malaysia so it's easy to get lots of practice; is this correct? I have only known one person who has been there, but he went once a year to give lectures in English and everyone he worked with spoke it fluently.

    The reason I'm asking this is that the key to learning to think in a foreign language is simply to speak it and hear it as often as possible. If you have friends and colleagues who speak English, ask them to speak English with you instead of Chinese, at least as often as they're willing to do it. Perhaps they can benefit from the practice too! Maybe you could organize a group that gets together for 30 minutes every day and must speak only English during that time--or even just 15 minutes. Immersing your brain in an English-only environment will help it develop new synapses that process English as a primary language rather than secondary.

    Remember, I said that 40 years ago I asked my Chinese girlfriend to speak only Mandarin with me at home every day. Now understand that this did not increase my vocabulary, at least not by a large amount. What it did was transform Mandarin from a little project into an tool for communication. The words that I know now pop into my head automatically, instead of an English-Chinese dictionary that I try to use very quickly. I've been told that I speak Chinese like a four year-old child. I don't know a lot of words but I use them correctly with the right cadence and good speed, and my grammar is always correct. If you think in one language and translate into another, no matter how fast, what you say will always come out sounding like a translation--because it is! Translation is a distinct skill, and it is very difficult to do well. It's better to speak correctly, even at the simplified level of a child, because that gives you something to build on. Make your sentences short; don't try to pack too many thoughts into one sentence. Speak as though you're speaking to a child; make it as easy for him to understand as possible. Children get lost in long sentences.

    Another good way to train yourself to think in a foreign language is to speak it to yourself. Now I know you don't want to walk around the office talking to yourself because people will think you're crazy.

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    But when no one is listening, that's the time for it. You should be able to do it at home because your wife and family will support your effort to improve your command of English--maybe they would like to practice with you! When an idea comes into your head, just say it out loud, in English.

    You'll start to discover the many, many ways in which an English thought is not exactly the same as a Chinese thought. The two languages emphasize different things, ignore different things, and take different things for granted. For example, in English it's very important to make clear whether you're talking about one dog or many dogs. In Chinese it doesn't matter most of the time, and when it does, you just say yi tiao gou, san tiao gou or hen duo gou (one dog, three dog, many dog). In English you have to make clear whether you ate breakfast in the past, eat breakfast in the present, or will eat breakfast in the future. In Chinese you don't, and on the rare occasions when you need it you just say, zuo tian wo chi fan, jin tian wo chi fan, or ming tian wo chi fan (yesterday I eat, today I eat, tomorrow I eat). On the other hand, some things that we never think about in English are important in Chinese. "He is my brother." In Chinese you have to say ta shi wo de ge ge or wo de di di (my older brother or my younger brother--in a Confucian culture age difference is extremely important).

    This illustrates a point that I always stress: Learning to think in a second language gives you a new way of thinking. This is very useful and will automatically make you smarter!

    My wife and I always tell people that one of the best things about having dogs is that you can now get away with talking to yourself. Just pretend you're talking to the dogs. They will love it and you will improve your English. Our dogs understand my Spanish and Mandarin, and her Italian and Hebrew.

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    Finally, a test: If you hear people speaking English in your dreams, that means that you are thinking in English. Your conscious mind is asleep and your unconscious mind can't translate.
  21. Saint Valued Senior Member

    We use English everyday and everywhere, it is the second official language in Malaysia.
    However, we do not use it perfectly correctly because our own mother tounge languages always influence the way we write and speak English. English had been localised with our own styles that you can call it as "broken English". Anyway, we ourselves what do we mean. To you, the American or British, you may misunderstood what we say. We do not care about grammer, for example, "he go, she like, yesterday I come here etc", and we always do direct translation, word by word from our mother tounges.
  22. Saint Valued Senior Member

    haha, talking to dog can improve my English?
    hard to believe that.

    BTW, in this forum, most of the time I want to type fast and write bad English.

    One thing weird about English is why I can not use Though and But in the same sentence, we can do it in Mandarin.

    Though he is fat but he can run very fast.

    My teacher said this sentence is wrong.
    You should write:
    1)Though he is fat, he can run very fast. OR
    2)He is fat but he can run very fast.

    In Chinese, Though must be followed by But.

    I think it not wrong at all to say:
    Though he is fat but he can run very fast.
  23. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    You could say that in German, too, for example:

    "Er ist zwar [though] dick, aber [but] er kann schnell laufen."

    Conjunctions can be very specific to the individual language, and you just have to learn them as they are.

    Note that what in one language is one conjunction, can have two different meanings and two different words in another language.

    I speak several languages and I know that "though" is one of those words that can be difficult to translate.

    Many people when they learn a foreign language tend to play "expert grammarians", presuming they know the foreign language better than the native speakers ... Really, this is a tendency one needs to overcome if one wishes to actually learn the foreign language.

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