I found an interesting Wikipedia article today about Chinese-Ordered English. While, I’m sure many Chinese learners have come across this phenomenon some way or the other, it is an interesting teaching/learning technique to keep in the back of your mind.

It is the way of ordering Chinese in English. As in literal translation. I take the example from Wikipedia:

Here is an example of a Chinese sentence, Pinyin, COE and English:
  • Hànzì  : 昨天 我 和 朋友 去 公園.
  • Pinyin : zuótiān wǒ hé péngyou qù gōngyuán.
  • COE  : Yesterday I and friend go park.
  • English: I went to the park with my friend yesterday.

While you might not have been explicitly taught in COE, I’m sure many native-English learners have done this in their head some or other time during the Chinese learning process. I have definitely done this before, and still do this. It is sometimes an easy way to explain syntax. When my girlfriend (also a Chinese learner) sometimes ask me to help her form some sentences, I often switch to this technique.

First Language Aid

In a way it takes the attention away from all the other process involved in interpreting Chinese, such as the tones, meaning and pronunciation, and focuses it just on the syntax, by using familiar words. Some would argue, that is a cumbersome way of explaining it and one should rather stay immersed in the target language, in this case Chinese, but there’s two sides the coin here. When focusing on syntax/grammar, why let other language processes get involved, when the focus can be attended to a single feature. Then, when it is understood, one can move to the Chinese pronunciation and writing, repeating the grammar again and adding new features.

One’s first language is a valuable tool in the language learning process. Many would argue otherwise. But I think we are given this foundation and we should utilize it, but don’t let it take too much control. Be conscious and aware of it’s influence.


Furthermore, the relationship between English and Chinese lends itself to being able to be ordered this way so that we can understand it. This is because of Chinese’s isolating morphology. This means that it is an analytical language that is focused more on word order and sentence structure than morphology. English on the other hand is slightly less isolating on the continuum, as these examples show. I reckon languages further apart on the continuum would have trouble trying to structure in each other’s syntax and vocabulary as there are more grammatical morphemes to take into account.

Have you in your  learning process, explicitly or inadvertently used Chinese-Ordered English to understand Chinese syntax? Are there any other native speakers here? I would like to hear from you. Leave a comment!