Top 12 Errors in Chinese English Dictionaries

Top 12 Errors in Chinese English Dictionaries

One of the challenges that Chinese learners of English face is being misled by Chinese English dictionaries, especially online ones. The following is a list of the 12 most common errors I have come across in my translating and teaching work. 学习英文的中国人面临的挑战之一是中英字典的误导,特别是在线的字典。以下是我在翻译和教学过程中遇到的12个最常见的错误。
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400 Unique Sounds in Mandarin Chinese

How to use this resource

1. Find a native speaker of Chinese, preferably one who speaks standard Mandarin, and of the same gender.

2. Ask the speaker to pronounce each of these characters one by one.

3. Shadow the speaker with your own attempts at pronunciation, trying to sound as similar to them as possible.

4. Circle any pronunciations you have difficulty imitating and practice these daily until you sound closer to your native speaker friend.

5. For better results, record your session and play it back later to ‘hear’ the difference between your utterances and that of your friend.

6. When in doubt, listen to the mp3 recording.

I have chosen these 400 characters because they make up virtually all sounds in Mandarin – excluding, of course, variations in tone. This resource is best used as a quick diagnostic tool for learners of Chinese who wish to figure out which sounds they need to work on. Enjoy!


Links to PDFs

400 Unique Sounds in Mandarin Chinese (Simplified Chinese Version)

400 Unique Sounds in Mandarin Chinese (Traditional Chinese Version)


Audio Recordings

400 Unique Sounds in Mandarin Chinese (Male Voice)

400 Unique Sounds in Mandarin Chinese (Female Voice)

Top 20 Most Common Pronunciation Errors by Chinese Learners

Top 20 Most Common Pronunciation Errors by Chinese Learners

  1. 日 rì & 热 rè
  2. 脏 zāng & 张 zhāng
  3. 撤 chè & 策 cè
  4. 努 nǔ & 女 nǚ
  5. 七 qī & 吃 chī
  6. 饿 è & 二 èr
  7. 谈 tán & 糖 táng
  8. 金 jīn & 京 jīng
  9. 摸 mō & 哞 mōu
  10. 乱 luàn & 论 lùn
  11. 全 quán & 群 qún
  12. 染 rǎn & 软 ruǎn
  13. 汪 wāng (wuang)
  14. 弯 wān (wuan)
  15. 温 wēn (wun)
  16. 翁 wēng (wong)
  17. 窝 wō (wuo)
  18. 烟 yān (yian)
  19. 优 yōu (yiou)
  20. 庸 yōng (yiong)

Listen to the podcast to understand how they are commonly mispronounced.

After that, have a listen to how all the words are pronounced by a native speaker.

For shadowing exercises, male students should imitate the male version, female students the female version.

Podcast: Top 20 Most Common Pronunciation Errors by Chinese Learners
Shadowing Practice: Male Native Speaker Pronunciation
Shadowing Practice: Female Native Speaker Pronunciation

800 Most Common Chinese Character Components

I have just finished creating a new resource entitled 800 Most Common Chinese Character Components.

This time I have created both Traditional and Simplified Chinese versions.

I have also converted the hanzi from both resources into pinyin which students can then use for silent dictation practice.

This has been a huge project that has taken up a considerable amount of my time. I hope some student out there finds it useful.

At any rate, I’ll be using the resource myself as a way of improving my writing and recall of Chinese characters in a systematic way.


Download links:

800 Most Common Chinese Character Components (Traditional Chinese version)

800 Most Common Chinese Character Components: Dictation Practice (Traditional Chinese)

800 Most Common Chinese Character Components (Simplified Chinese)

800 Most Common Chinese Character Components: Dictation Practice (Simplified Chinese)



Random Word Trivia #11

Test your English and Chinese vocabulary level! See how many of these words you can guess.

  1. You take photos with a long stick.
  2. You make a promise with your shortest finger.
  3. You demand money for the person you just kidnapped.
  4. You look cute wearing a loose piece of clothing that covers your entire body.
  5. You have fallen into a pit that is slowly eating you.
  6. You take pleasure seeing other people fall into bad luck.
  7. You were born after your father died, you are a what child.
  8. Your university gives degrees to students who don’t deserve them.
  9. Your child carries keys to your home because no one is home when school finishes.
  10. You wrote some notes on a piece of paper to take into the exam with you to help you cheat.
  11. You need to wear big glasses to read the text in front of you.
  12. You follow what others do, you are a kind of animal (English).
  13. You are dating someone far, far away.
  14. Your government keeps its people ignorant.
  15. You keep putting things off, you must have a disorder of some kind.
  16. You take on a second job without telling your employer.

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500 Most Common Chinese Character Components (Traditional Chinese Version)

If you’re wondering why I haven’t updated in months… this is why. This is the biggest project I have ever completed for this blog.

I’ve long neglected my Chinese writing skills, in particular character recall, or lack thereof (aka 提筆忘字). I created this resource for myself – as a way to practise writing all the common characters used in Traditional Chinese in a systematic way.

There is nothing like this at all out there at the moment. It is a completely new approach.

I used Wenlin (文林) to find all the components and related characters, and asked my Chinese friends to record the 20 mp3s for the dictation exercises. I know it will be overwhelming for beginners and some intermediate learners. If you are a more advanced learner and want to work on your writing, you will find this incredibly useful. If not, it’s still worth taking a look. And yes, even if you are learning Simplified.

Why did I create this? Because I’ve never been happy with the haphazard way writing is practised by Chinese learners. Most people just pick a bunch of random characters and practise writing each one over and over. But very little emphasis is put on character components, including 部首 and 偏旁. The very few who do look at these merely consult a few basic radical lists from dictionaries – but these only skim the surface. A huge proportion of the total number of common characters are made up by components not in these radical lists. So memorising a radical list only gives you half the picture.

It’s always been very obvious to me that associative learning – for example, learning new things by connecting them with things you already know – is one of the most effective approaches to learning a language, or anything else. Yet the connections between characters are often very vague. This resource hopes to make those connections clearer by allowing the learner to practise writing similar-looking characters together.

My plan? To practise writing every day using this method. I hope after a year or so I’ll be able to have much better recall of characters. I cannot bear any longer to be fluent in Chinese and be able to type essays, online messages, etc. and yet unable to write simple words like ‘sneeze’. It’s getting beyond ridiculous. I’m going to practise a little bit each day and see how I go.

Anyway, enjoy! And have a try yourself…

Download: 500 Most Common Chinese Character Components (Traditional Chinese Version) – PDF, includes all the 500 most common Chinese character components in Traditional Chinese, plus their stroke counts, radical, pinyin, instructions for dictation and common characters formed by the components. I have only included words that are commonly used in modern Chinese.

Download: 500 Most Common Chinese Character Components (Traditional Chinese Version) – Dictation Exercises – ZIP file, 317MB, includes 20 mp3 recordings of all the words from the list. After reading parts of the PDF, you can practise writing the characters by listening to these dictation exercises. This is a huge resource, and will take you about six months to go through all the exercises thoroughly.

Chinese Dictation Practice #1

Inspired after my recent post Top 500 Chinese Characters (and How to Write Them), I thought I’d create a dictation practice mp3 for those out there who want more practice writing and recalling Chinese characters.

Chinese Dictation Practice #1
Chinese Dictation Practice #1 (Answers)

Exercise: Listen to the recording, and write out the Chinese words as you hear them. Don’t worry – the words I’ve chosen are all very common ones. In the second recording, I give a run down of how each character is written in both Simplified and Traditional Chinese.

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Top 500 Chinese Characters (and How to Write Them)

I created this because a) I’m sick of memorising Chinese characters the old-fashioned way; and b) I’m obsessed with collecting Chinese radicals and components.

If you’re looking for a systematic way to learn how to memorise all of the common Chinese characters, you’re in the right place.

Nothing like this collection exists anywhere else – trust me, I’ve looked. It’s been one of the biggest projects I’ve worked on for a very long time.

It’s 4am now, and I’m exhausted. Good night.

Top 500 Chinese Characters (Please note: the examples listed on the right include both characters which can be found listed under the respective radical in the dictionary and characters which just happen to look like the radical. For example, 木 includes 校 and 來, the latter of which can be found under 人R9 in the dictionary, while the former can be found under the 木R75 radical. This is the technical difference between a 部首 and a 偏旁, but for memorisation purposes this is not very important.)

Top 500 Chinese Characters (Pinyin Version) (Use this one if you want to test yourself by reading the pinyin and writing out the characters as a kind of silent dictation exercise.)




Basic Spoken English 《基础英语口语》

Basic Spoken English is now ready for download. Check it out!

I wrote this textbook last week for Chinese students wishing to improve their spoken English (英语口语), but English teachers in China may also find this a useful resource in the classroom.

The first lesson includes a breakdown of all the basic sounds of the English language. I have recorded both a male and female version of the mp3 which students can practice. The rest of the lessons are made up of short dialogues for students to listen to and role-play. You can find translations into Chinese of the key vocabulary in the Basic Spoken English PDF.



Download Basic Spoken English (PDF)


Lesson 1: Female
Lesson 1: Male
Lesson 2: Striking up a conversation
Lesson 3: Making a hotel reservation
Lesson 4: Making a call to a friend
Lesson 5: Asking for directions
Lesson 6: Dining out Part 1
Lesson 7: Dining out Part 2
Lesson 8: Asking a favour
Lesson 9: Catching up with an old friend
Lesson 10: Visiting a sick friend
Lesson 11: Late for a meeting
Lesson 12: Returning an item to a shop
Lesson 13: A visit from an old friend
Lesson 14: Discussing a crush
Lesson 15: Asking someone out on a date
Lesson 16: Going out on a date
Lesson 17: Encounter with a nosy stranger
Lesson 18: Ringing to change an appointment time
Lessson 19: At a party
Lesson 20: At the emergency room Part 1
Lesson 21: At the emergency room Part 2
Lesson 22: In a bad mood
Lesson 23: Making an enquiry at the visitors centre
Lesson 24: Bumping into someone


33 Funny Words in Chinese

Let’s try something a bit lighter today. Here’s 33 words in Chinese I’ve collected over the years that I think are pretty funny when translated literally. Some of them also reveal a little bit about Chinese culture and thinking. Enjoy!

33 Funny Words in Chinese

  1. A computer is an “electric brain” (电脑).
  2. A cactus is an “immortal man’s palm” (仙人掌).
  3. A chameleon is a “colour-changing dragon” (变色龙).
  4. A pet is a “spoilt thing” (宠物).
  5. A boss is an “old board” (老板).
  6. A van is a “bread car” (面包车).
  7. A work of erotica is a “yellow book” (黄书).
  8. A porn is a “hairy film” (毛片).
  9. A breast stroke is a “frog swim” (蛙泳).
  10. A woman who has a successful career but remains single is a “leftover woman” (剩女).
  11. A woman who is easy to seduce is like “instant noodles” (方便面).
  12. A mistress is a “little 3” (小三).
  13. A hot babe is a “spicy little sister” (辣妹).
  14. A dildo is a “massage stick” (按摩棒).
  15. If you date someone, you “talk about love” (谈恋爱).
  16. If you come on to someone, you “eat tofu” (吃豆腐).
  17. If you give someone a hickey, you “plant a strawberry” (种草莓).
  18. If you cheat on your partner, you “go off the rails” (出轨).
  19. If your partner cheats on you, you “wear a green hat” (戴绿帽子).
  20. If you stand someone up, you “release a pigeon” (放鸽子).
  21. If you put on weight, you “get lucky” (发福).
  22. If you get rabies, you get the “crazy dog disease” (狂犬病).
  23. If you leave something to the last minute, you “grab the Buddha’s foot” (抱佛脚).
  24. If you’re fired from your job, you have your “squid fried” (炒鱿鱼).
  25. If you make things hard for someone by abusing your power, you make them “wear small shoes” (穿小鞋).
  26. If something has nothing to do with you, you say you’re just here “to buy soy sauce” (打酱油).
  27. When you do something immediately, you do it “on a horse” (马上)
  28. When you encourage and cheer someone on, you urge them to “add oil” (加油).
  29. You don’t wear contact lens, you wear “invisible glasses” (隐形眼镜).
  30. You don’t take ecstasy tablets, you take “shaking head tablets” (摇头丸).
  31. Your fourth finger is not your ring finger, but a “nameless finger” (无名指).
  32. You’re not a country bumpkin, but a “dirt bun” (土包子).
  33. Your way of making a living is not your bread and butter, but your “rice bowl” (饭碗).