The Most Common Misconceptions of Chinese by Mandarin Learners

Chinese General Misconceptions

Mandarin Chinese is definitely a foreign language for Westerners and even Easterners alike. But what are some of the most common misconceptions that Mandarin Chinese Learners have? We explore the top four below:

1. All Chinese People Speak Standard Mandarin Chinese

Not true! When I was traveling throughout China, even though I was an HSK Level 6 student, I couldn’t understand much of the conversation in the more rural provinces. Why? Because besides Mandarin Chinese, there are many different “方言 (fāngyán) dialects” spoken in China. Different Chinese dialects have different pronunciation. So don’t be surprised if you can’t understand what Chinese people are saying on the street, even if you have passed the HSK 6!
If you’re not able to understand chances are that these people are speaking a different dialect of Chinese. And yes, even Chinese people can not understand each other if each is speaking his/her own dialect. So you’re not alone.
Local dialects will affect the Mandarin used in daily conversation.
Different Mandarin dialects have different pronunciations. Due to the dialects influence, people from different provinces also have different accents even they all speak standard Chinese. It’s similar to accents in the United States–and the different vocabulary different regions have. There’s southern accents, Minnesota accents, New York accents–and many more. Many different people in America pronounce English differently.

2. Textbook Mandarin Is Daily Mandarin

Also not true! In many Mandarin textbooks it will be written that people say the following to greet one another:
“你好吗 (Nǐ hǎo ma)?= How are you?”

“很高兴认识你 (Hěn gāoxìng rènshì nǐ)! = Nice to meet you!”

In daily life people more often use the following phrase to greet one another:
你吃了吗(Nǐ chī le ma) Have you eaten yet?”

“早啊 (Zǎo ā)! Morning! (if it’s morning.)”

Few Chinese speakers say “你好吗 (nǐ hǎo ma)?” to greet friends –it’s considered to be an unpractical phrase nowadays. So you need to make sure that the Mandarin you are learning is not coming solely from a textbook. Make sure you include real-time video lessons, and hire a one-to-one Chinese tutor so you can be kept in the know of the daily Mandarin you will actually encounter on the street.

3. Just Learning Chinese Vocabulary Is Enough

Totally 100% wrong! Chinese isn’t learned just through memorization. I’ve seen many of my peers try to simply learn Chinese words–by rote memory–and then simply put the words together to make sentences. To them, that’s good enough. Yes, vocabulary is very important and a basic foundation in Chinese learning. But it is definitely not enough to become fluent, or to be able to converse naturally with a native Mandarin speaker.
Learners also need to know how to use the words properly in daily conversation. This means you also study the culture, and the correct time and place to use phrases and words for various social situations or occasions.

4. Think Chinese Grammar Is Mechanical

This is one I have had to learn the hard way. No, Chinese is not the same as other languages, especially romantic languages when it comes to grammar. It has its own rules, and its own exceptions to its own rules. Are there regular grammar patterns? Yes, but there are also many inconsistencies. When it comes to putting words together correctly, it is more improvisational than you might think. Take this example:
杯 (bēi) cup + 子 (zi) = 杯子(bēizi) cup.

筷 (kuài) chopstick + 子 (zi) = 筷子 (kuàizi) chopsticks.

“子 (zi)” used as the noun suffix here.
When some students learned the phrase structure above, they usually want to apply the same pattern to another phrase, such as:
碗 (wǎn) bowl + 子 (zi)  


However, “Noun + 子 (zi)” is not a universal rule in Chinese. “碗子 (wǎnzi)” is not a correct phrase. They do not have this expression, and so you have to go back to the drawing board and learn the correct grammar rule for that specific makeup of words.

HSK 3 quiz

1. Which of the following is NOT the correct way to greet someone in China?
A. 你好吗? (Nǐ hǎo ma?)

B. 很高兴认识你! (Hěn gāoxìng rènshi nǐ!)

C. 你在哪儿?(Nǐ zài nǎr?)

—Written by Monica Hilton—

Monica Hilton lives in the USA and has studied Mandarin for 5 years. She has been a student at eChineseLearning for 3 years and has passed HSK Level 6. She intends to study Chinese for the rest of her life.
General Chinese (Beginner Level) 
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