15 Chinglish Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

The purpose of this post is to explain some of the most common errors made by Chinese students writing English, as well as students translating into English from Chinese, who perhaps have trouble creating natural English expressions when at the mercy of Chinglish words and structures. I hope translation students and Chinese ESL students find this equally helpful. Please note that this list is not meant to be exhaustive and I expect many more good examples will come up in the comments.

1. 带来

In Chinese texts, abstract emotions like happiness, pressure and benefits may be “brought”, but in English this is usually considered, at the very least, a bit awkward or, at the very worst, bizarre. In any case I would advise forgetting the word “bring” altogether and substituting it for a specific verb or a different structure. Some examples as follows:

带来快乐 – “Bring happiness” is a little weird to my ears; depending on context, “brighten up”, “make someone happy”, “please” (as a verb) and other structures would be much preferred. Thus:


Might be rendered as: “His classes make us so happy” or perhaps “His classes really brighten us up.”  You could even say, “His classes put us in a good mood.” A literal translation of “His classes bring us a lot of happiness” sounds strange in English.

带来压力 – “Bring pressure” is possible, though a bit awkward. In English the common collocations are “put pressure on someone/something” or “feel pressure from something/someone”. But there are other ways to express the same thing, economically, in English, as can be demonstrated in this example:


You might say: “This work is really stressful” and avoid a literal translation altogether. Again, avoiding the word “bring” works wonders. Another good example:


My suggested translation is: “This situation puts a lot of pressure on a number of enterprises.” Of course, the main idea is that you avoid using the word “bring”.

带来利益 – You may have come across the Chinglish expression “bring benefits” which, whilst is not unheard of in English, could be improved greatly by simply using the verb “benefits”. “Something has benefits” or “something is beneficial” may also be possible. Consider:


Literally: “The official opening of the amusement park has brought benefits to many of the surrounding industries.”

More naturally: “The official opening of the amusement park has benefited many of the surrounding industries.”

It’s not a case of right or wrong – and, indeed, there’s nothing grammatically wrong with the first translation. However in good, formal English redundant words tend to be exchanged for more succinct expressions.

2. 正确

Put simply, in Chinese logic, opinions can be labelled as “right” or “wrong”, “correct” or “incorrect” with relative ease. Whilst this kind of extreme reasoning may be used from time to time in English, you will sound a lot more intelligent if you use higher-quality adjectives such as:

  • convincing or persuasive (有说服力的)
  • appropriate or suitable (合适的)
  • logical or rational (逻辑的;有道理的)
  • credible, believable or plausible (可信的)
  • equitable or fair (公平的)
  • rational or reasonable (合理的)

Now you might say, “But we do say things are right and wrong, correct and incorrect in English!” and this is true. In conversation, for example, you may render 我觉得你说得对 as “I think you’re right” and that’s totally fine. However in formal writing the vocabulary should be suitably high-level. Take a look at:


As you can imagine, there are many possible translations, but I would advise avoiding “right” or “correct” in any case for stylistic reasons. (If you really must know, I think “This point is convincing” is a good translation, but even “point” may be omitted depending on the situation, since English prefers brevity wherever possible.)

3. 培养

To be brief, whilst 培养 is often translated as “cultivate”, my opinion is this word has largely been replaced by “foster” in recent times.

性格培养 – To “build one’s character” or “character-building” (as a noun and attributive) are decent, albeit formal, translations.

4. 外国的 / 外来的

For whatever reason, the word “foreign” has developed slightly negative connotations in the past few decades and, as a result, you should avoid using it when translating 外国的 or 外来的. Take, for instance, the fact that you’ll probably never hear a native speaker refer to students from other countries as “foreign students” unless it was a negative context – “international students” or “overseas students” are the standard expressions. More examples are as follows:

外国人 – “Foreigner[s]” is a totally acceptable translation but my feeling is native speakers of English would avoid this term. What would they substitute it with? I would think in most cases they would try to use a more specific term like “Chinese”, “Korean”, etc, or even say something like “international guests” or “visitors from overseas”.

外国旅客 – “Foreign tourist[s]” sounds so Chinese to me; “international tourist[s]” is much better, and more common according to Google.

外国投资者 – “Foreign investor[s]” is fine; “international investor[s]” is more natural.

外语 – This may be one of the exceptions; “foreign language[s]” appears to be the accepted term. “A as a second language” is a very common structure as well.

To sum up, I’m not saying that English native speakers never use the word “foreign” in a positive or neutral sense, but rather that the word seems to be falling out of fashion and thus should be avoided whenever possible. This could be seen as part of the Political Correctness (PC) phenomenon, a broad concept which goes beyond the idea behind this post.

5. 高技术

When translating 高技术 “high technology” is perfectly acceptable but “advanced technology” is much more common in English according to Google. Note that there are no problems with the adjective “high-tech”.

6. 导致 / 造成

导致 and 造成 have three main renderings in English, the small differences of which I will try to explain here:

  • Result in / cause – implies a relatively quick result, e.g., “The government’s proposal will cause / result in higher unemployment rates.” (政府的提议会导致更高的失业率。)
  • Produce / create/ engender (formal) – implies a relatively quick result, usually in the form of a product, e.g., “His behaviour created a bad impression.” (他的行为造成了不好的印象。)
  • Breed – implies a negative result that is gradually formed, e.g., “Disaster breeds famine” (灾难造成饥荒) or “Hatred breeds ignorance” (仇恨导致无知).

Notably, the differences here are very subtle and consequently the three senses may be interchangeable at times. One good strategy you can use to avoid getting confused with the structures these words produce is to introduce a phenomenon in one sentence and then start a new sentence with “As a result…” or “Consequently…”. I would imagine this structure is more common in modern, formal English anyway.

7. 引发

In contrast to 导致, one should remember that 引发 suggests a gradual process and thus is better expressed as “lead to”, “trigger”, “give rise to” or “bring about”. I’ve also seen “initiate” as a translation but my feeling is that this is less common in English. Consider this example sentence:


My suggested translation is: “Scientists believe pollution emissions will trigger serious environmental issues.” The good thing about “trigger” is it is much more economical compared to the other possible translations mentioned before; it also carries imagery (think of the “trigger” of a gun).

8. 不管 / 无论

To put it bluntly, in formal English writing, I try to avoid translating these words at all. This is because if you can get away with avoiding translating 不管 or 无论 altogether you’ll end up with something a bit more natural. This can be demonstrated in the following translation of an old cliche by the famous PRC politician Deng Xiaoping:


And here are some possible translations:

  • Black cats and white cats are both good cats so long as they can catch mice.
  • It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white as long as it can catch a mouse.
  • A good cat catches mice – whether it is black or white is besides the point.
  • There’s more than one way to skin a cat. (using the English proverb which is more or less the same)

Another example of avoiding the translation of these error-prone conjunctions:


Suggested translation: “He is always walking alone on campus, rain or shine.”

Now, if you really want to use the conjunctions “no matter” or “regardless of”, you need to remember that they must be followed by either a) a conjunction such as who, what, when where, how, etc OR b) an article such as a, an or the. Consider the following example sentences:

  • No matter what you do. (无论你做什么。)
  • No matter where you go. (无论你走到哪里。)
  • No matter how long it takes. (无论花多长时间。)
  • Regardless of what you think about him personally, his policies have been shown to be effective. (不管你个人是如何看待他,他的政策确实很有效。)
  • Regardless of whether you are rich or poor, we should all care about this issue. (不管是富人还是穷人,我们都应该去关注这个问题。)

9. 关注

In English “pay attention” is more commonly used in every day situations – you should pay attention to the road when you’re driving to school, one pays attention to the teacher in class, etc. However when expressing 关注 in a formal context “pay [close] attention to” is just not good enough and you’d be better off substituting it for “prioritise”, “emphasise” or “focus on”. I’ve also seen it translated as “follow with interest” in dictionaries but I find that phrase incredibly boring.



One possible translation is “Governments should prioritise this issue” but “Governments should make this issue a priority” would work too.

10. 引起注意

The obvious translation is “attract attention” but it’s too boring and anyway that phrase is more commonly used in colloquial contexts, for instance, if you do something crazy to attract someone’s attention. The formal equivalent would be “captivate”, as in:


My translation: This movie has captivated audiences.

10. 很少

Attention Chinese students: the word “seldom” is seldom used nowadays. Use “rarely” (or “hardly ever” is less formal situations). Some translation examples:

  • 这个问题很少在主流媒体中被讨论。 — This issue is rarely talked about in the mainstream media.
  • 总统很少去和恐怖分子们交涉。— The president rarely negotiates with terrorists.
  • 他很少出门。— He rarely goes out. (He’s a homebody.)

11. 社会稳定

This is not so much a note about translation but about cultural/institutional difference. Whilst “social stability” and “stability and harmony” are totally acceptable translations of 稳定社会 and 安定和谐 respectively, in some contexts you might want to re-express this as “law and order”, the Western equivalent. Whilst the processes are different, the outcomes are arguably much the same – the maintenance of a stable society – and the extremely pervasive and historical notion of “law and order” holds much more relevance to Western audiences than “social stability” as a sociological mechanism.

12. 马马虎虎 / 一般

Again I must draw the attention of Chinese students: “so-so” is so old-fashioned. Use “OK”, “not bad” or “average”.

13. 生动

Regarding 生动, my feeling is that “vivid” is a bit of a Chinese cliche and is going out of fashion in modern English; it seems to be more common in novels and poetry. As for “lively”, this is usually limited to people and events and is not a particularly interesting adjective. I would recommend using a more interesting word such as:

  • explicit (明确的)
  • detailed (详细的)
  • engaging (有吸引力的)
  • realistic (逼真的)
  • colourful (丰富多采的)
  • dynamic (动态的)
  • interactive (互动的)

14. 随着

Whilst “with” and “following” are possible translations of 随着, I prefer using “as” since it is easier to create a smooth sentence. It also gives a better sense of a continuous action, as in:

  • 随着科学的发展,人们对宇宙的认识将更加深入。— As science develops so our knowledge of the universe deepens.
  • 随着居民生活水平的提高,人们对物质的需求也不断提升。— As the standard of living rises, material needs continue to elevate.

Note that if it’s a negative development you might say “in the wake of” or “in the deluge of”, e.g. in:

仇恨不会随着某人的死而消亡。— Hatred cannot just die out in the wake of someone’s death.

15. 机关

I’ve often seen 机关 translated as “organ” in some official literature which, to me, sounds bizarre. I would imagine it’s translated thus due to its communist background. Regardless, “office”, “body” or “government organisation” are a thousand times more common in English and read much more naturally. I would only use “organ” if I deliberately wanted to “foreignise” the translation.

Discussion points: What Chinglish words and stuctures have you come across before and how would you express them to make them sound more natural?

56 Comments to "15 Chinglish Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them"

  1. 04/05/2011 - 12:36 am | Permalink

    I’ve seen ‘for’ for 因为 quite often. I assume they’ve been reading a lot of classical literature to pick that one up, for it is rather quaint and seldom seen nowadays.

  2. eric's Gravatar eric
    04/05/2011 - 11:27 am | Permalink


    I think “convincing” is too loose. “This is a good point” seems a little more faithful, but I’m interested if anyone would argue the other side and say that it needs to be translated as something like “correct”.

    Speaking of good points, there are a lot of them in this post. I think it’s the most interesting post on this blog yet.
    I especially like the points about 生動 and 關注.

    • 04/05/2011 - 11:32 am | Permalink

      Again, it always comes down to context, doesn’t it? In a formal text “this is a good point” may not suffice. If a point is good (or correct, as the case may be), one assumes it would be “convincing” as well. At any rate the list of adjectives I provided are just starting points – in real-life translation there are a number of factors you’d have to take into account before making a decision.

      Thanks for your encouraging words Eric. 🙂

  3. Jorge Mohammad Johnson's Gravatar Jorge Mohammad Johnson
    04/05/2011 - 11:38 am | Permalink

    Great post as always. Very impressive!

    On a side note, I try to use the word “foreign” as much as I can when speaking to Chinese people. The West, and in particular the U.S., is too caught up in political correctness.

    Whenever I heard a “老外,” I always toss back a “哦老中。” Some people don’t get it, but most do.

  4. Tezuk's Gravatar Tezuk
    04/05/2011 - 11:55 am | Permalink

    罵 always causes a lot of problems.
    In the sense of 我媽媽罵我
    It is typically translated as “scold”, but this is rarely used in spoken English nowadays. As a Brit, my preferred translation is “shout at”, but my American friends assure me “yell at” is much more common across the pond.
    Further problems arise in the sense of 老師,X同學罵我
    I usually go with “swore at” if it is a swear word, but if not the best I can think of is “called me names.” Any ideas?

    • 04/05/2011 - 9:25 pm | Permalink

      The only problem with scold is no one uses it in English anymore. ‘Yell at’ is fine.

  5. JB's Gravatar JB
    04/05/2011 - 8:16 pm | Permalink

    One of my favorites is “fighting” for 加油. Also, students tend to have a problem with 曾经, when not used in a question. 你曾经吃面条吗 into “have you ever eaten noodles” is fine, but then they make 我曾经吃面条 into “I have ever eaten noodles.” This “I have ever” thing …. I hear it all the time.

    One thing I’m not sure how to handle is 系, when used to describe the 外语系 or other such “departments.” Students frequently translate 我在系里边 into “I’m in the department,” which just sounds weird to, but I’m not really sure how to make it better.

    But the one that kills me the most, and it’s so common on campuses, is 草场,which always gets translated “playground,” when it should be track, field, stadium, something like that.

    • Deena's Gravatar Deena
      19/06/2011 - 6:54 am | Permalink

      I have to say that “我曾经吃面条” is as atrocious as “I have ever eaten noodles”. ;-(

    • Chris's Gravatar Chris
      17/12/2013 - 1:56 pm | Permalink

      系 is a word that I might translate as “major”, if it can be confirmed that it is actually the student’s major. 我唸書學系 – “I am a math major.” Often I omit it: instead of saying “student in the Department of Economics”, I’ll say “student of economics”. It seems that university departments in China and Taiwan are more autonomous bodies than they are in the West: you have to get special permission to take a class in another department, and people seem to graduate from departments, whereas in the west we graduate from schools.

  6. Michael's Gravatar Michael
    04/05/2011 - 9:09 pm | Permalink

    “His classes bring us much happiness. ” is certainly not the way a native speaker would describe his classes but brings a charm and respect that “We like his classes.”doesn’t quite convey.

  7. Michael's Gravatar Michael
    04/05/2011 - 10:23 pm | Permalink

    For learning Chinese, I certainly like literal translations but if teaching isn’t the focus , whatever can be done to convey the exact meaning should be the point of the translation.

  8. Bo's Gravatar Bo
    05/05/2011 - 2:17 pm | Permalink

    I have to say that I have benefited greatly from this post! Thanks, Carl~!!! Just one thing: According to Collins, “If you prioritize something, you treat it as more important than other things”, like you’d put it on the top of your “to-do list”. Obviously, “关注” here doesn’t necessarily have to be that strong. Baidu says “关注,字典中解释为关心重视”. Thus, to me one possible translation could be “This issue needs more attention from the government”. Let me know what you think! Cheers~!

  9. 05/05/2011 - 6:13 pm | Permalink

    Far and away the most overused expression I hear from native Chinese learners of English is “bye-bye” (拜拜). Despite being a loanword from English, I find that in a native English speaking context, it has been mostly relegated to use by children (or their parents encouraging them to bid someone farewell).

  10. James's Gravatar James
    07/05/2011 - 1:35 am | Permalink

    a common one for lower level speakers. “why didn’t you tell me?” becomes “why you didn’t tell me?”
    Surely in Chinese it would be 你为什么不告诉我? but I hven’t hear or seen any one say “you why didn’t tell me?”

    • James's Gravatar James
      07/05/2011 - 1:39 am | Permalink

      I guess they are just taking the statement and adding the word “why” in front of it. Unfortunately, unlike Chinese, English is not that simple.

  11. 07/05/2011 - 6:39 pm | Permalink

    Can you write a post like this the other way around? — for common mistakes that native English speakers learning Chinese tend to make? I don’t mean beginner students’ mistakes, but the things that slip by most intermediate or advanced students; typical laowai Chinglish, etc.

    • Max's Gravatar Max
      12/05/2011 - 11:18 am | Permalink

      I would also be interested in the slippery 老外-ism that make it into the intermediate levels.

  12. Brad's Gravatar Brad
    28/05/2011 - 4:34 pm | Permalink

    That’s great!So helpful!

  13. Chelsea's Gravatar Chelsea
    29/06/2011 - 3:26 am | Permalink

    This is super helpful, thank you! I passed around the link to some ESL friends of mine and they thought it was great. :) Suddenly a lot of very typically native Chinese ESL sentences make sense to me…. Also cleared up some lingering confusion on my part re: 带来, which before I often hesitated to use.

  14. Bathrobe's Gravatar Bathrobe
    09/07/2011 - 10:23 am | Permalink

    “Foreign tourists” and “foreign students” are fine for me in the abstract, less so if you’re talking about actual people. “Foreign investment” and “foreign aid” are quite normal terms. FDI = “foreign direct investment”.

    Simul’s Masumi Muramatsu once told me his theory why Australians prefer “overseas” to “foreign”. The theory is that Australians don’t want to characterise Britain as “foreign”, so they use the term “overseas” instead. Not sure how accurate it is, but interesting.

  15. kidpoker's Gravatar kidpoker
    11/12/2011 - 11:24 pm | Permalink

    nice!!! this article “makes me happy”!

  16. Landon's Gravatar Landon
    17/12/2011 - 4:56 am | Permalink

    I studied Mandarin for years in the early 90’s and early 00’s. Made several trips t0 mainland China, and got up to solid intermediate level, maybe even a little more advanced than that. Then I changed jobs and lost most of my fluency.

    I have been back in China for 10 months now, and have picked so much up that I though I’d lost. Been doing some part-time teaching and consulting, but I really want to focus on my language skills.

    This site has been a tremendous find! So happy to be a part of it. I’m not a translator, so I spend a fair amount of time trying to learn the history of sayings and individual characters purely from the Chinese mindset. Hope that makes sense.

    Carl you seem like a very accomplished and impressive young man. I’m glad to be here.

  17. 17/12/2011 - 7:55 am | Permalink

    On the use of the term “foreigner”: I think it’s OK to use the word if you really need to use it, for example, if you work in the department of immigration for the government.

    However, if you go to another country, you can’t call anybody 外国人, because you are the newcomer to that country, and not the local people of that country, so you can’t use any name with 外 in it to describe them.

    Another thing is, it’s discriminatory to call one racial group 外国人, but not other foreigners. For example, if you call Japanese people”Japanese”, Indian people “Indians”, and Korean people “Koreans”, but just call all white people “外国人”, then that’s discriminatory. It’s discriminatory because white people in China are no more “foreigners” or “外国人” than any other newcomers to China.

    It also doesn’t make sense to refer to anybody online as a “foreigner”. If you are in your country and I am in my country, but we are both online, I am more of a foreigner than you? Or are you more a foreigner than me? Of course not! Some might say that everyone has their own perspective and they need to look at the world from their own perspective, but there’s also such a thing as having a narrow view of the world.

    How many academic papers have you seen which refer to groups of people as “foreigners”? Usually at that level of discussion, people need to be more specific, and indeed, sensible.

    There are some Westerners who welcome the term “foreigner” or “外国人” or other similar terms to describe themselves and other Westerners. To me, these people represent a culture which is slowly self-destructing. They need to show a minimum of pride in themselves and their culture. They should call themselves “Americans” or “British” or “Australians”, etc etc. If they do this, they will be doing exactly the same as the Chinese or Japanese when they visit other countries, who introduce themselves as “Chinese” and “Japanese” and never “foreigner”. It’s not misguided nationalism, it’s just matching what others already do.

    I have noticed that there are many Chinese people who go to great detail telling others about their culture, the Great Wall, Terracotta warriors, 红楼梦, 西游记, etc, etc, but when they talk about cultures of the West, they can all be described as “foreign”.

    Westerners who accept all this, or even encourage it, to my mind are all walking around in a state of sleep. They’re not thinking straight.

  18. sunfishor's Gravatar sunfishor
    19/06/2012 - 5:45 am | Permalink

    Such a nice blog! Thank you, Carl!

  19. Robert's Gravatar Robert
    10/07/2012 - 2:31 pm | Permalink

    I’ve taken IELTS for 24 times and just couldn’t achieve band 7 in four components.

    This post helps me a lot. Thank you Carl. I wish I can pass writing 7 in my next exam.

  20. Robert's Gravatar Robert
    27/06/2013 - 5:30 am | Permalink

    Someone brought up writing a post like this the other way around for students of Mandarin who are at an intermediate or advanced level. This is a huge task and I just wanted to follow up to see if that would ever be posted. Just a comment on 老外 as I consider it an evolving (and controversial) word. Back in the 1990s it was probably 99% derogatory. Nowadays it is by and large a neutral term with younger, native speakers, but it still can and occasionally is used in not exactly the most flattering manner.

  21. Chris's Gravatar Chris
    17/12/2013 - 1:19 pm | Permalink

    I’ve seen 外語 used specifically to describe English.

  22. tamie's Gravatar tamie
    08/02/2014 - 6:06 pm | Permalink

    After reading all the comments, I’ve got this impression that native English speakers are finding the word ‘老外’ somewhat a bit offensive. However, I can’t think of another Chinese expression that can replace ‘老外’ in the Chinese speaking context, which is more economical. What would foreigners feel if we call them ‘外国朋友’,’外国友人’, ‘外国客人’, or ‘外国人’? To most Chinese, these words are just too formal, so Chinese would not prefer to use them in daily conversations, comparing with ‘老外’.
    My second point is, while I think ‘老外’ is popular among native Chinese speakers because of its convenience, there are in fact some Chinese words that sound much worse than ‘老外’, such as ‘鬼’…..

  23. John Carpenter's Gravatar John Carpenter
    10/03/2014 - 6:47 am | Permalink

    interesting that after all the modernising that China has gone through over the past century, some things haven’t changed at all.

    Pretty much the same the World over, isn’t it?

  24. john s's Gravatar john s
    11/11/2015 - 11:24 am | Permalink

    Do people no longer speak of expats and the expat community for resident foreigners (months not weeks, probably years)? White collar probably?

  25. Chinese student's Gravatar Chinese student
    16/11/2015 - 8:55 pm | Permalink

    Dear blogger,I totally can’t agree with you on “bring”. I find “bing benefits ,bring happiness,bring pressure” are commonly used in BBC , Forbes and other authority sites.Excerpt from FORBES: How to Buy Happiness with Money follow.
    Despite the bromide to the contrary, many of us still believe that money can bring happiness.

  26. Huang Dapeng's Gravatar Huang Dapeng
    23/10/2017 - 11:54 am | Permalink

    “As science develops so our knowledge of the universe deepens.” Is this sentence grammatically correct? One of my teachers told the “so” should be left out.

Leave a Reply