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6 Major Differences Between English and Chinese

There are many differences in how words are interpreted between Chinese and English

In this article from Dig Mandarin, they do such an incredible job of explaining some key differences between the English and Chinese languages.

The Chinese language emphasizes short and clear expressions so that the listener or reader will understand the accurate meaning of the idea expressed. Chinese “gives up” long and complicated sentences, which are based on language grammar, and uses simple and short sentences instead. English sentences tend to be longer in order to relay specificity. In addition, the Chinese also don’t omit repeated words in order to make sure that the listener or reader will not misunderstand the meaning of the sentence.

This is an example of how culture and philosophy may influence the language, since the Chinese philosophy and thinking is very pragmatic. English, on the other hand, is comprised of a variety of cultures and philosophies, therefore, the way things are expressed is elongated.

The other method the Chinese language uses to make the expressions the most accurate is idioms. Idioms are an integral part of the Chinese culture and wisdom since almost all of them are a conclusion of a traditional Chinese legend and expresses a sort of insight.

Here are 6 differences you’ll find interesting:

1. Chinese focuses on the meaning, and English focuses on the structure of the sentence.

a. In English, it is very common to see one long sentence with a long modifier and use of pronouns like “we,” “she,” or “they,” in addition to “that” and “which” in order to avoid recurrences. The sentence may be long and complicated, but are still clear enough to understand. In Chinese, the situation is very different-- a long sentence in Chinese would be very complicated and could not be understood properly. Therefore, in Chinese, we only find short sentences or long sentences divided into short phrases which are separated by commas.

b. English sentences are usually long and Chinese sentences are usually short. One should “get the meaning, forget the words” in Chinese learning.

2. Chinese usually uses the “active” voice and English uses a more “passive” voice.

3. In Chinese, idioms and short four-character expressions are very widely used to make the expression more vivid, live, and compact. In English, idioms are used scarcely because they tend to be more specific and direct.

4. English widely uses abstract nouns, while Chinese usually uses concrete nouns.

a. This comes from the Chinese philosophy which interprets the human being and his life as a microcosm within the natural macrocosm. Therefore, many abstract terms are expressed in Chinese by concrete objects from the natural world. Here are numerous examples of how this looks and what Chinese literally means in English:

1. Disintegration -

Lit. Landslides and tiles disintegrate

2. Total exhaustion -

Lit. The muscles are weary, and the strength has been used up

3. Careful consideration -

Lit. Deep thinking and careful thought

5. In English, words often are omitted to avoid recurrences and to make the sentence shorter and simpler. In Chinese, in contrast, words are generally not being omitted and instead may be repeated.

a. Words are repeated in order to give the listener or reader clarity of what is being stated. Chinese has a lot of similar sounding words and, therefore, the need to distinguish the words by repeating the words in a specific sentence frame.

6. English puts more emphasis on the first part of the sentence while Chinese put the emphasis on the last part of the sentence.

a. This characteristic is especially apparent in sentences which include logic with drawing conclusions or expression of results. In English, the conclusion is described first, and the facts are described at the end of the sentence. In Chinese, it is the opposite. First, the facts will be described then the results, conclusions, etc.

Here is a LINK to the full article, which is fascinating and provides more examples. My point with sharing these differences is to emphasize, once again, how words and phrases can be misinterpreted on your orders while using or switching between English and Chinese and then back. Don’t “assume” anything. Find a sourcing partner who is looking out for your best interests and can 100% guarantee quality and on-time delivery through accurate interpretation of purchase orders.


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