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Teachers of spanish language

Common mistakes made by Chinese students while studying Spanish

One of the most common mistakes made by Chinese students is to overuse the infinitive form by not conjugating the verbs according to different persons and tenses.

That is because the conjugation of the verb tenses in Mandarin Chinese is simpler. For example, in Chinese it is not required to conjugate verbs according to different persons (I, you, she, they).

For that reason, it is important to insist on that with the beginners, in order to avoid keeping on this bad habit in futures stages of the learning process, as it will become more and more difficult to correct.

Specifically, we have to make them distinguish between “present simple” and “infinitive¨, not only about how to conjugate them, but also how to use them. This way, they will be able to generalize this issue to other verb tenses as “future” or “past”.


Yo comer a las doce/Yo como a las doce

María viajar a España el año pasado/María viajó a España el año pasado

Another common mistake made by the Chinese students who are learning Spanish is to use the verb “jugar” as literally(wan). Example: “Mañana voy con mi amigo a jugar”, “明天我和我的朋友去出玩.”

This way is not correct. In this kind of situations, should be translated as “divertirse” or “salir”: “Mañana voy con mi amigo a divertirme/salir”. The verb “jugar” in Spanish, as a rule, can be used in two different situations:

  • “Jugar”: in general terms, related to the children. Examples: “Los niños están jugando” o “Juan juega con su hija”.

  • “Jugar”: to play some kind of games or to practice/to play certain sports. Examples: “Voy a jugar al fútbol con mis compañeros” “Ayer jugamos a las cartas”.

Furthermore it should be noted that, while in Mandarin language noun and adjectives do not change in number (singular/plural), in Spanish they must change (-s/-es), unless they are uncountable. This fact makes students find difficulties to distinguish between countable and uncountable nouns and therefore to decide when a noun cannot be used in the plural form.

Gente: This noun refers to an undetermined group of people but we never use it in plural form, always in singular. However, “persona/s” may refer to one person or more, and it can be used in both singular and plural form.


Hay mucha gente en el supermercado”

En la fiesta había poca gente”

¿Solo hay una persona?”

Si vienen veinte personas a la reunión, necesitaremos más sillas”

Mistakes: “Había muchas gentes en el cine” or “Una gente me llamó por teléfono”.

We find the same situation with some words such as “dinero” or “ropa”.

Regarding to phonetics, it is not easy for Chinese students to pronounce and distinguish some phonemes: b/p, t/d, c/g or the correct pronunciation of “r”. Since much has been said about the difficulty of Chinese students to pronounce “r”, today we are going to focus on another problem that has been given less attention, phonemes “b” and “p”.

In Mandarin Chinese “b” it is pronounced harder than in Spanish, but softer than the Spanish “p”. We can affirm that the Chinese “b” sound is between the Spanish “b” and the Spanish “p”, so students have difficulties to get those sounds accurately. Concerning to the oral expression, it is not a big deal, but concerning to listening comprehension, this cause them a lot of problems. We have to make clear that difference in intensity could be minimal sometimes depending on the specific speaker.

Over time they will be aware of those differences. We consider important not to frustrate the students by making them repeat these phonemes over and over again, because that way it can affect their motivation for the language in a negative way.

Finally and continuing with phonetics, we have to comment the anecdotic incapability of the Chinese student to pronounce a syllable that starts and finishes in consonant.

Example: ¨reloj¨.

When saying ¨reloj¨ they tend to add an extra syllable and pronounce it as “relojo”. In Mandarin Chinese it is not possible to finish a syllable with a consonant. This fact makes the Chinese tend to finish every syllable with a vocal. They do it even when having to pronounce a foreign proper name.

Example: “Madrid” is commonly pronounced as “Madride”.

Alberto Belmonte, Escuela Picasso, colaboración especial para Practica Español.

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