Why Learning to Speak Chinese by Memorizing Individual Chinese Words is Difficult?

By Sujanti Djuanda – LingoLearn Chinese Teacher

One of students said, “I have learned Chinese before. I have memorized many individual words but when I wanted to speak, I didn’t know how to make a sentence using those individual words. Why?”

The following is the reasons why learning to speak Chinese by memorizing individual Chinese words is difficult (Here assuming the beginner students are English speakers):

1. Chinese language is totally different with English. Chinese does not use an alphabet like English but uses individual words therefore there is no vocabulary connection between Chinese and English.


a. 我(wǒ): I

b. 吃(chī): to eat

c. 面包(miànbāo): bread

2. Chinese grammar is more complex than English, such as, Chinese has several words for “can” such as 能(néng),可以(kěyǐ) and 会(huì)。Beginner students will often be confused because they don’t know which one should be used. For example, there are three ways to say “Can you sing?” in Chinese but each of them has different usage.

a. 你(nǐ)能(néng)唱歌(chànggē)吗(ma)?

b. 你(nǐ)会(huì)唱歌(chànggē)吗(ma)?

c. 你(nǐ)可以(kěyǐ)唱歌(chànggē)吗(ma)?

3. There are Chinese words that cannot be translated to English, such as 把(bǎ). When beginner students try to translate from English to Chinese by using their memorized Chinese individual words, they don’t know where they should put ‘把(bǎ)’ in a sentence. For example, “Please return the money to me.”

请(qǐng=please (do something))你(nǐ=you)把(bǎ)钱(qián=money)还给(huángěi=to give back)我(wǒ=I)。

4. Though in simple present tenses sentences (like Subject –Verb–Object (SVO) sentences), English sentences can be literary translated to Chinese but they cannot be done in more complex sentences.

Example 1:

I eat bread. (SVO sentence)

我(wǒ=I)吃(chī=to eat)面包(miànbāo=bread)。

Example 2: (more complex sentence)

Register today and book your first 15 one hour classes at a special price.

今天(jīntiān=today)注册(zhùcè=to register),你(nǐ=you)就(jiù=then)可以(kěyǐ=can, may)订(dìng =to book)第一(dìyī=first)个(gè=measure word for object)的(de)15个(gè=measure word for object)一小时(yī xiǎoshí=an hour)特价(tèjià=special price)课(kè= class)了(le)。

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