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why you can't learn Chinese only through translation?

· Learning Chinese,Chinese culture,Chinese lesson

For language learners especially adults, translation is as natural as a flower in a field.

When you meet a new word in Chinese, the first thing comes to your mind is‘what's the meaning in my mother tongue? '

Of course there are many translation softwares available. You may say: Give me a dictionary, and I can conquer Chinese!

But, translation has its own limits. Here are some reasons why you can’t learn Chinese only through translation.


Translation led to a 'defective' and incomplete knowledge of the second language.

Even if you can make your translation very fast, it will never be as fast as simply thinking in Chinese.

Your aim is not to be a translator, but to speak Chinese fluently. you need words that come instantly to your tongue.

How to deal with it?

Use your mother tongue as a temporary tool, and get rid of it as soon as possible.

Regularly meet with a conversation partner who can help you with the problems that may appear during the process of Chinese language learning.


Not every chinese word has its own word in your language.

If words in Chinese and your mother tongue all have a simple one-to-one correlation, as some basic ones like cars(汽车),sun (太阳),translation is a quick way to learn. But in Chinese, there are many words that are unique.

① 加油 ( jiā yóu) It's not add oil and it's something like cheer up.

② 馒头(mán tou )It's something like steamed bread but not the same.

Measure words 量词

Measure words are unique and very important in Chinese language.

一本书(yì běn shū)

 两个朋友(liǎnɡ ɡè pénɡ you)  

个(ɡè) is the most common measure word in Chinese, usually used before a noun without a specific measure word of its own.

And there are many specific measure words.


hú : nǐ jiā yǒu jǐ kǒu rén

胡 : 你 家 有 几 口 人 ?

huò : wǒ jiā yǒu sān kǒu rén 。

霍 : 我 家 有 三 口 人 。

How to deal with it?

There are so many measure word that you can’t remember them all, but you can remember once you meet them. Gradually, you will increase your vocabulary, reading speed,and overall comprehension.


For the same thing, Chinese are sometimes more complex, sometimes saying in a different way.

For example, in calling relatives, Chinese has a complex system while the West's are simple. Many relative appellations in Chinese do not have counterparts in many languages.

The Chinese menu often lost in translation.


夫妻 夫妻肺片

Sliced Beef and Ox Tongumatche in Chilli Sauce

When translated word-for-word, it's 'Husband and wife's Lung Slice'. But actually the food was named by a couple who created it.

How to deal with it?

Learn by eating!

Learn by accepting. Accepting the differences among different languages, and get immersed in the target language and the local life.


Translation can't show the cultural meaning of the words and the sense of beauty.

打招呼(dǎ zhāo hu)  

nǐ chī le ma

你 吃 了 吗 ?

Have you eaten?

chī lā

吃 啦!


When Chinese people say"你吃了吗?" , it's like 'How are you doing' in English.

Different answers show different cultural backgrounds.

Humility is considered to be a virtue in traditional Chinese culture. So when someone says 'You are so beautiful', people often say “哪里哪里” to indicate their humility.

It’s not really mean ‘where where’.

How to deal with it?

Learn by understanding the culture. There's a tie between language and culture. There are so much language can tell you about one culture's mindest. And when you understand the culture better, you'll learn Chinese language easier.

Keep following Mandarin Inn,get to know more tips of learning Mandarin.

If you have questions about Chinese study, contact with Mandarin Inn to get solution.

About Writer

裴蕾 Pei Lei

  • Majored in MBA.

  • Mandarin Teacher @ Mandarin Inn.

  • Learning with Lei encourages students to speak loudly and proudly.

  • Her lessons are fun, creative and high efficiency with out of classroon support.

  • She loves to share Chinese culture and make friends with people around the world.

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