What We Can Learn from Yang Wen’s “Lost in Translation”

I rarely do book reviews on this blog (in fact I think this is the first one!), but after coming across Yang Wen’s Lost in Translation: Common Errors in Chinese-English Translation (LifeRich Publishing, 2016) I felt compelled to share some of the more interesting parts of the book that might be useful for students.

Yang Wen (温洋) is obviously an experienced Chinese-English translator with an excellent command of English, but what impressed me most were the depth of his observations and his highly accessible writing style. Native speakers of both Chinese and English can glean a lot of practical advice from this book.

In this post I’d like to share a small portion of the many innovative translation methods he outlines in his book. Read more »

Carl’s Recommended English Vocabulary – Part 2

Here’s the next batch of vocabulary I recommend my students learn. They represent the most common words used in everyday spoken and written English according to various corpora. 这是下一批我建议学生学习的词汇。按照各种语料库,它们代表日常生活中的英语口语和书面的最常用词语。

In preparing these lists I discovered that some of the most common words native speakers of English use every day are often completely unknown to Chinese learners of English. Evidently, English textbooks published in China sometimes fail to include some of the most frequently used vocabulary. 在准备这些词汇表的时候,我发现以英语为母语的人日常使用得最频繁的词语经常对学习英语的中国人而言是完全未知的。显然,中国出版的英语课本有时候会遗漏一些最常用的词汇。

Let me reiterate that vocabulary should only be one part of your learning; it is not a magic bullet that will suddenly transform you into a fluent user of English. Your focus should still be on using the language as often as you can. That being said, boosting your vocabulary level will help you gain confidence and allow you to communicate more flexibly in a variety of situations. 让我重申一遍,词汇只是你学习的一个组成部分而已;词汇不是一种妙招,它不可能瞬间让你的英文突飞猛进。你的焦点还是应该放在应用英语上,尽可能多地应用。尽管如此,提高词汇量有助于提高自信,也会让你在各种场合中沟通地更灵活一些。


I hope everyone can enjoy using English to communicate with people from all over the world. 我希望大家能够享受用英文与来自全世界不同地区的人交流而带来的快乐!

Download Carl’s Recommended English Vocabulary – Part 2


Download Carl’s Recommended English Vocabulary – Part 2 here

Carl’s Recommended English Vocabulary – Part 1

My students are always very interested in boosting their English vocabulary. However, I noticed that many of the vocabulary books published in China are of a poor quality – they are either full of Chinglish or don’t select the most practical words for students to learn. So I decided to create a few of my own vocabulary lists for my blog readers. 我的学生总想提高他们的英文词汇量。可是我发现,中国出版的词汇书,大部分质量不好,要么是充满着中式英语,要么是选的词汇不够实用。所以,我决定自己写些词汇表给我的博客读者使用。

One important thing to remember: vocabulary are like vitamins. Absorbing a few each day is good for your health, but there’s no point in taking in too much, as there is a limit to how much information your brain can handle. Also, regular exercise (i.e. practice!) is just as important in learning a new language. So when you learn new words, don’t just memorise them – try to put them into use as well! This way you won’t end up forgetting them. 有一点要注意的是,词汇就像维生素一样。每天摄取一些,对健康有益,但摄取太多则没有必要,因为你的大脑能接受的信息是有限的。而且,学外语时,常规锻炼(即练习!)一样重要。所以,你学新词的时候,不要死记硬背——尽量把它们用出来!这样你就不会忘记它们。

I have chosen these words based on their frequency of use and degree of usefulness. When reviewing them, pay special attention to their pronunciation and example sentences. You may find some of the usages strange – they are not. Actually, this is what we call “idiomatic English”. One of my students, upon reading these sentences, remarked, “My God! Could it be I have been learning ‘fake’ English for all these years?!” 我选这些词,是按照它们的使用频率和有用程度来选择的。复习这些单词的时候要特别注意发音和例句。你可能会觉得有些用法读起来怪怪的——并非如此。其实,这些都是我们所说的“地道英语”。我的一个学生读到这些句子,说:“天啊,那么多年我原来学了个假英语!”

Jokes aside, teachers see the trend of students from China memorising large volumes of ‘fancy words’ as disturbing. It is not only a waste of time, but does little to raise their proficiency in English. The reality is the only way students from China can make any breakthrough in their English is to ‘unlearn’ the deep-rooted mistakes they have learnt and start again from the basics. They should focus on learning the correct spelling and pronunciation of simple and practical words, as well as their common usages and collocations. 说真的,许多英语老师们发现,中国学生背诵大量“装逼词汇”已经成为了令人极度困扰的现象。这样的做法不仅浪费时间,而且在提高英语水平上没什么作用。现实的情况是,中国学生要在英文学业上有突破的话,必须unlearn(忘记)他们学过的根深蒂固的错误,然后重新从基础开始。他们应该集中于学习简单而实用的单词,包括其正确拼写和发音,以及常见用法和固定搭配。

I hope these vocabulary lists provide a good starting point for students to do this. 我希望这些词汇表可以给学生一个良好的出发点来实现这个目标。

Download Carl’s Recommended English Vocabulary – Part 1


Download Carl’s Recommended English Vocabulary – Part 1 here

Another 12 Common Errors in Chinese English Dictionaries

Here’s another 12 mistakes you might find in Chinese English dictionaries. The first blog I wrote on this topic can found here. 这篇文章是我另外收集的12个中英字典中常见错误。我写的第一篇相同题目的博客,可以在这里读到


Please note that I have not included in these posts “standard” or “fixed” English translations of Chinese words that are frowned upon by native speakers of English. Take, for example, the translations of 豆腐 dòufu as “bean curd” and 师范大学 shīfàn dàxué as “normal university”. These kinds of foreign-sounding translations are often ridiculed by native speakers of English. 注:在这些文章里,我没有把那些被以英语为母语的人不太赞成的“规范的”,“约定俗成的”汉译英单词包含在内。举例子来说,“豆腐”翻译成bean curd和“师范大学”翻译成normal university。这种具有外国声调的翻译经常会被以英语为母语的人取笑。


Yet whether these terms can be truly considered “dictionary errors” or “Chinglish” is highly debatable as they, like “brainwash” and “spring roll”, entered the English lexicon long ago. This is not the case, however, with the 12 errors I have included in this post. They are, quite simply, mistranslations, and should be handled with caution by learners of English and Chinese alike. 反而,这些词是否称得上“字典错误”或“中式英语”存在很大争议,因为它们像brainwash(洗脑)、spring roll(春卷)等词一样,早就变为英语词汇。可是,这篇文章里12个错误并非如此,它们应该是简单的误译,英文和中文学生都该谨慎使用它们。



Another 12 Common Errors in Chinese English Dictionaries


Read more »

35 Common False Friends in Chinese and Japanese

Here’s some good examples I’ve collected of false friends in Chinese and Japanese – that is, words that are used by the two languages but have different meanings.

There are of course many more than the ones I managed to come up with – if you know of any, please leave them in the comments.

Note that I haven’t included terms like 怪我 (Chinese: “blame me”; Japanese: “injury; wound”), 我慢 (Chinese: “I’m slow” or “(Buddhism) egoism”; Japanese: “patience”) and 切手 (Chinese: “cut the hands”; Japanese: “postage stamp”) as they are not actual words in Chinese the way they are in Japanese. Still, you could argue they are false friends too, as they could be misleading to learners of Japanese who can also speak Chinese.



35 Common False Friends in Chinese and Japanese

1. 私

In Chinese 私 means “personal; private” or “selfish”. In Japanese 私 watashi means “I”. Read more »

120 Basic English Grammar Drills (120基础英语语法练习)


Translate these simple Chinese sentences into English.


Do not look at the reference answers until you’ve had a try yourself!



120 Basic English Grammar Drills

  1. 医院旁边有一家餐厅。
  2. 今天学校里面有很多人。
  3. 上海有2400万人口。
  4. 三分之二的学生是女孩。
  5. 我们去不去取决于天气情况。
  6. 有人在厕所里。
  7. 有人认为读书无用。
  8. 有时候青年人对老人不尊重。
  9. 他被一帮年轻人攻击了。
  10. 我有一个好消息要告诉你。
  11. 他有一个建议要告诉你。
  12. 还有三个证据没提交给法庭。
  13. 有三个任务还没完成。
  14. 他的很多作品我都没读过。
  15. 他跟一些韩国公司做生意。
  16. 他经营了三家企业。
  17. 这些家具不是我的,但有三件是我老板的。
  18. 这些衣服不是我的,但有一件是我姐姐的。
  19. 那些行李在哪里?我好像把一件行李落在酒店里。
  20. 你喜欢吃面包吗?我今天烤了一个面包,你把它切成片吧。
  21. 三只羊和五头牛突然不见了。
  22. 警方宣称三位警员已经辞职了。
  23. 你说世界那么大,其实宇宙更大。
  24. 别的学生在哪里?他们不在教室里。
  25. 英国女王当然去过泰晤士河。
  26. 保险柜的钥匙丢了。
  27. 大熊猫是中国特有的动物。
  28. 他们偶尔会一起去商店。
  29. 这完全是浪费钱。
  30. 贫富差距越来越大。
  31. 锻炼身体对年轻人和老年人都有好处。
  32. 他去过英国、荷兰和美国。
  33. 他正在读大学。
  34. 他不是哈弗大学毕业的,而是伦敦大学毕业的。
  35. 他住了两天院。
  36. 我不喜欢打篮球,我喜欢弹钢琴。
  37. 他因流感卧病在床十天了。
  38. 你吃过晚饭吗?我连午饭都没吃过。
  39. 冬天的时候这里天气特别冷。
  40. 你不能坐飞机去那,你只能坐火车或汽车。
  41. 开车到市区要开两个小时。
  42. 他说他18岁,但我发现他是一个30岁的男人。
  43. 这是昨天的报纸。
  44. 这个笔记本是我的,她的在那边。
  45. 你洗你的衣服,他们会洗他们的衣服。
  46. 他们从小就认识。
  47. 我们经常互相借衣服。
  48. 中国人口比世界上任何国家都多。
  49. 每个人都有秘密。
  50. 一切都是暂时的。
  51. 我有一件事情要告诉你。
  52. 我在某个地方见过你。
  53. 有人在敲门。——没有啊,没有人。
  54. 这两本书我都看过,但都不好看。
  55. 我们从朋友那里获得一些帮助。
  56. 我们从朋友那里获得很少帮助。
  57. 这支笔没墨水了,你给我一支新的吧。
  58. 这些笔,你挑出来你喜欢的那支。
  59. 这是谁的外套?——你是说这件外套吗?我不知道是谁的。
  60. 我弟弟个子跟我一样高。
  61. 我母亲比我父亲更爱说话。
  62. 天气变得越来越热了。
  63. 我等的越久,越生气。
  64. 你花的钱越多,质量越好。
  65. 太阳总是在东方升起。
  66. 我经常一个人走走路。
  67. 他通常晚上六点左右下班。
  68. 我很少要加班。
  69. 我们有时候在公园里野餐。
  70. 他们偶尔会一起去健身房。
  71. 这件事容易办。
  72. 这容易引起误会。
  73. 虽然雨很大,但是我还是会去上学。
  74. 妹妹不但长得可爱,而且心地善良。
  75. 他既不会读又不会写。
  76. 老板不在的时候,商店很忙。
  77. 商店很忙,然而其他店都很安静。
  78. 你要么洗碗,要么打扫你的房间。
  79. 你不同意他的意见,对吗?我也不同意。
  80. 他辞职了,因为他不能承受压力。
  81. 他因为压力而辞职了。
  82. 他死于癌症。
  83. 这本书讲的是古代中国。
  84. 我住在厦门,在中山路22号。
  85. 他很擅长物理学。
  86. 他的职业是医生。
  87. 他不能用筷子吃饭。
  88. 这把椅子是木制的,也是我父亲做的。
  89. 去年经济增长了一个百分点。
  90. 我写论文有些困难。
  91. 我为他做了很多。
  92. 我为我对他做过的事情,感到很抱歉。
  93. 过去几年来,我们取得了不少成就。
  94. 这件皮夹克花了他200美元。
  95. 完成这项任务我们要用一周时间。
  96. 我们假期从明天开始。
  97. 我在收拾行李呢,明天要到北京去了。
  98. 他告诉我他不来了。
  99. 我认识他10年了。
  100. 我们等了快一个小时了,但老师一直没来。
  101. 他们找杀手找了一个星期多。
  102. 他们说他们不久就来。
  103. 那本书不是他写的。
  104. 目前还没有作出决定。
  105. 我如果有时间,肯定会陪你去博物馆。
  106. 我要是可以在两个星期之内学会弹钢琴,我就是天才了。
  107. 要是妈妈在这儿就好了。
  108. 我没有想到会那么容易。
  109. 地球是圆的是事实。
  110. 法国的首都是巴黎是常识。
  111. 很明显他怀孕。
  112. 他今天没来上班很奇怪。
  113. 他有可能在说谎。
  114. 他好像生病了。
  115. 据报道很多雇员会装病。
  116. 我在找一所我家附近的学校。
  117. 这是我看过的最好的一本书。
  118. 我上课迟到了,这让老师很生气。
  119. 我们在找一位新的老师,这可能让你感到很吃惊。
  120. 我们在找一位英文中文都会说的教师。

Read more »

Cultural Differences Between Chinese and Westerners: Part 1

Cultural Differences Between Chinese and Westerners: Part 1



During the last century, contact between Chinese and Westerners was relatively limited, and both people knew little about the other. Now we have more opportunities than ever for exchange. With that, however, comes a need for greater understanding of cultural differences. Today I’d like to talk about some of these with you.

在上个世纪里, 中国人与西方人之间的联系相对来说很有限,他们互相也不怎么了解对方。现在我们有了比以前更多的机会进行互动交流。然而,这也意味着我们需要更深入地了解文化差异。今天我想跟大家聊一下这个方面。

Greetings are an important part of every language in the world. However, people in China and the West greet people in very different ways. Because of this, care needs to be taken to avoid causing offence or misunderstandings.


I had no idea about this when I first arrived in Hong Kong. I remember going to a bank, and the employee there asking me if I had had my lunch. You can imagine my surprise; in Britain, we would take such a question as an indirect invitation to eat together. Later at school I was even more surprised when my teacher asked me the same question.

当我第一次到香港的时候,我并不了解这个。还记得有一次我去银行,那里的工作人员问我吃过午餐了没。你应该能想象到我有多惊讶;在英国,我们会把这种提问理解成是在间接地邀请一个人吃饭。后来在学校,当我的老师也问了同样的问题时,我就更醉了。 Read more »