Some common response phrases that sound absolutely fine in Chinese might have a different meaning in English. If you translate these phrases directly into English, it’s easy for your listener to get the wrong impression and think you are being rude or are uninterested in their ideas because you could be responding in an overly dismissive or abrupt way.

Mistake:

A: Can you help me? What does this mean?

B: Sure, it means…

A: But somebody told me it actually means…

Explanation:  

When responding to someone and disagreeing with what they’ve just said, avoid immediately saying ‘but’, because it sounds like you have chosen not to acknowledge what they have said, even if it’s not correct.

Correction:

A: Can you help me? What does this mean?

B: Sure, it means…

A: OK, I see, thanks. Somebody told me it actually means…is that right?

Here are some mistakes common to Chinese speakers, with explanations and suggestions for alternative ways to express the same idea.

1. 

Mistake:

A: What time do you want to meet?

B: Because I have to work today, so let’s meet at 19:00.

Explanation:  

‘Because’ and ‘so’ don't occur in a pair like this in English; you can only use one or the other.

English speakers might also begin explaining why something is happening with a different word, like ‘well’ or even ‘hmm’. These words show the listener that you’ve heard what they have said and are thinking about it while you answer.

You might also want to ask the speaker what they think to keep the conversation friendly and show that you are open to meeting at different times.

Suggestions:

A: What time do you want to meet?

B: Well, I have to work today, so let’s meet at 19:00. Does that work for you?

or

B: Hmm…I have to work today. Could we meet at seven?

2. 

Mistake:

A: OK, I see, is that what you mean?

B: No no no no!

Explanation:  

Unless you are trying to be very assertive or insistent, responding with ‘no!’ or repeating ‘no’ a few times could sound a bit direct and rude, depending on who you are talking to and your pronunciation. It may be better to use a softer, longer response.

Suggestions:

A: OK, I see, is that what you mean?

B: Errr, no, not really – what I meant was…

or

B: Well, not exactly, no. I meant…