Transition to American Academic English
The Asian Student in an American College
Every student who tries to take college courses in a second language will face enormous challenges. Here are a few suggestions which might help.
Translation shortcuts that do not work
- Google Translate might give you a rough idea of an English translation, but it is often very wrong. If you write your papers in your first language, then run them through Google Translate, you are not learning English, and you will be submitting some very poor quality papers.
- Pocket Translation Devices have two problems:
- They are slow, so if you are looking up a single word from a lecture, the professor has said many words by the time you translate that one word.
- English has many two-word combinations that mean something different from just adding the single words together. If you translate "I am going to work out" word-by-word, you might get "I will travel to a place where I will labor outdoors." The real translation is "I intend to engage in athletic physical exercise." The pocket translator probably will not help you get this result.
Giving proper honor to authors
In the USA and Europe, we have a very strong feeling that an author owns the words he or she has written. American colleges also encourage students to critique the material they read and to put ideas together in new ways.
In the USA, if you simply quote the words of an author and put your name on the paper, we will not see it as a form of honor or respect; we would call it plagiarism. Assembling a paper with quotations from different sources is no better.
To us, simply quoting an authority without giving due credit is seen as dishonesty, laziness, and theft. We place a very high value on a student thinking his/her own thoughts and using authorities to give depth to the discussion.
An essay which is simply a string of quotations (with proper credit to the original author) is still not an academic paper. Most instructors would say, "If I wanted to see all those quotations, I could have done the work myself; I want to see how the student is thinking."
A grammar discussion from another website¹
These aspects of English grammar are significantly different from Chinese, and can cause confusion.
- Sentence structure — In English we look for a subject (S), verb (V) and often an object (O). In Chinese the subject is not necessary in every sentence.
- Word order — Chinese word order is very different from English, and so students who do a direct word-by-word translation will run into difficulties. Also, dates and addresses in Chinese are presented in the opposite order from English. The date is written year-month-day and addresses are written country, province, city, street, house.
- Adverb phrases — Those phrases of place and time are situated differently in Chinese sentences.
- Articles, inflection and agreement — English has definite and indefinite articles, but Chinese has no articles. Also, in English the verb changes to agree with the number (singular or plural) of the subject, but Chinese words do not change.
- Male and female pronouns — Chinese has (written) pronouns for each of the genders, as well as animals and spiritual beings, but they all sound the same in speech. So Chinese students often have difficulties using the correct pronoun in English.
- Plurals — There are no plurals in Chinese. A number word is placed in front of the noun, or a word that means something like "many." So, naturally, remembering to change an English noun because it is plural can be troublesome.
- Verb tenses — English verbs change according to the tense, as well as sometimes by adding auxiliary verbs. Chinese verbs do not change at all. There are a number of ways to express tense in Chinese, such as by adding a time expression or verb particle. So having to change the actual verb in English is confusing for students.
- The verb "to be" — The Subject-Verb-Complement (SVC) type of English sentence is difficult for Chinese students, as they tend to miss out the verb "to be." For example, "The boy is sick" will become "Boy sick."
- Superlatives — Chinese language does not include the wealth of superlatives and extravagant language that English does. In fact, recently the Chinese government banned the use of superlatives in advertising.
- Forms for written and oral language — When you look at English language written down, it's the same as how you speak. But in Chinese the two do not correspond in the same way. When looking at a piece of Chinese writing, a speaker of the Cantonese language will read the same meaning but with different words and sounds from a Mandarin speaker.
- Literal translation — It's not possible to translate literally (and get sensible language) from Chinese to English, or vice versa. But, of course, Chinese students would really like to be able to, and will often try—sometimes with amusing results.
¹Wickham, Ruth. "Teaching English to Chinese Speakers: 9 Major Differences to Be Aware Of." FluentU English Educator, 13 Aug. 2016, www.fluentu.com/blog/educator-english/teaching-english-to-chinese-speakers/. Accessed 17 Dec. 2018.
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Revised 1/2/19 • Page author: Curtis Allen • e-mail: email@example.com.