Common Mistakes Beginner Chinese Students Make – part 1


Groucho Marx said it best: 'Learn from the mistakes of others. You can never live long enough to make them all yourself.'

Especially when it comes to language learning, you want to avoid making simple mistakes in the beginning that have long term affects on your ability to speak, read, and write Mandarin well. Avoiding bad habits from the get-go can make or break your Chinese skills (yeah, here’s looking at you, tones!)Get ready for a challenging, sometimes frustrating but consistently rewarding experience. If you want to lessen the odd-stares from native speakers and really up-the-ante on your ability to huishuohanyu (rock Chinese), avoid these common slip-ups beginner Chinese learners often make.

1. Using a single method

Like anything in life, you’ll want to have a full 360-degree understanding of a subject before you can consider yourself an expert. Chinese is no different. If you want to fully grasp the language, you must expose yourself to a variety of learning methods. Don’t just stick to writing the same characters over and over a thousand times, or spending 30 minutes listening to your schoolbook’s included conversations. Diversify the methods you use so as to cultivate the habit of approaching language learning from a variety of angles. Each method employed will contribute to an overall greater grip on the subject! 

2. Not speaking regularly

This is a toughie to avoid, especially if you don’t have a handful of Chinese people (or fellow Chinese class peers) that you can have regular spoken interactions with in the target language. Speaking is undoubtedly the most difficult hurdle for language learners to overcome, due in large part to the mind’s inability (especially in the beginning!) to connect vocab, grammar, and tone in a fluid, single sentence. We often get nervous when tripping over these little pieces mentally, and then they come out of our mouth like a big ol’ mess.

The only advice I can offer is that practice makes perfect. Practice sounding like an idiot over and over again. Eventually you’ll get the hang of it and the rhythm, and you’ll gain dragon-boat-loads of confidence along the way. Which leads me to my next point… 

3. Translating inflexibly

Avoid the common mistake of being too rigid when utilizing the target language. You will inevitably make small mistakes. You will continue to make small mistakes throughout your entire language learning process. The key is to not let yourself focus too much on the small stuff. Getting the idea out, even if it is only 80% correct, will benefit your cognitive connections to the pace of the language. You’ll also force yourself to rely more on context clues and the entire sentence structure than simply understanding a string of nouns/verbs/adjectives etc.

This word-by-word translation system may seem like a good starting point, but is far too rigid to benefit your language skills as a whole. Just as your mind reads words versus individual letters in English, so too will you want to read concepts versus characters in Chinese.

4. Being too embarrassed to use the language

Spoiler alert: you will sound DUMB when you try to speak Chinese. Wait wait wait, hear me out. We all sound dumb when we try to speak Chinese (especially at the beginning, ideally this tapers off as you go along…). Don’t be ashamed of your inability to speak at a comfortable pace or your struggles with remembering grammar structures or which tone goes where. The important point is to Spit. It. Out. Smile along the way. Laugh at yourself and don’t take it all so seriously. Learning a foreign language is a quick one-way ticket straight outside of your comfort zone. Relish in the early-stage difficulties, and celebrate when they slowly start to fade away.

5. Only using target language a little bit each day

Hate to break it to you kid, but if you think that 1-2 hours of Chinese lectures per day are gonna cut it, you’re in for a huuuuuuge disappointment. Develop good habits now. Commit to actively studying Chinese for a solid 1-2 hours each day on top of your classroom hours. Map out a plan to study Chinese increasingly more as time goes by. You may eventually decide to kick your studies up a notch by studying abroad in China. This is a great option for beginner, intermediate, or advanced students, as many Chinese cities have a lot to offer each level (besides delicious dumplings and incredible architecture, that is!). 

Stay tuned for part 2 of common mistakes to avoid when beginning to learn the Chinese language, where we’ll be diving into more errors that are Mandarin-centric.




 In-Depth-China      CSA-blog



  • Beijing

    China Study Abroad Ltd
    3610 Capital Mansions,
    6 Xinyuan Nan Road, Chaoyang
    Beijing, 100027
    Phone: (+86) 10 8468 3799 
  • London

    China Study Abroad Ltd
    154 Bishopsgate
    London EC2M 4LN
    United Kingdom
    Phone: (+44) 0207 377 84 
  • Hong Kong

    China Study Abroad Ltd
    Rm 604-7 Dominion Centre
    43-59 Queen’s Road East
    Hong Kong
    Phone: (+852) 800 968 924 


f-grey t-grey

Our Newsletter