Open Journal of Modern Linguistics
2012. Vol.2, No.2, 71-78
Published Online June 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 71
Causes of and Remedies for Chinglish in Chinese College
Students’ Writings
Ping Wang1, Weiping Wang2
1School of Foreign Languages and Literature, Wuhan University, Wuhan, China
2Foreign Language Department, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, China
Received March 19th, 2012; revised Ma y 2 nd, 2012; ac cept ed May 9th, 2012
Based on Interlanguage Theory and other theories, this study examines data from samples of Chinese col-
lege students’ writings and interviews with the students to explore the causes of and remedies for
Chinglish (a term used to refer English with Chinese characteristics). It claims that Chinglish is mainly
caused by syntactic transfer from Chinese, the influence of Chinese thought patterns, inadequate exposure
to authentic English and insufficient practice in English writing. The interviews with the students showed
that the proportion of L1 thinking decreased with the writer’s L2 development. The recommended reme-
dies for Chinglish include raising students’ awareness of distinctions between English and Chinese, in-
creasing their exposure to authentic English and practice in English writing, and adjusting their thought
Keywords: Chinglish; ESL Writing; Causes; Remedies
Much research concerning the nature and sources of Ching-
lish has been done in the writings of Chinese ESL learners in
light of interlingual theory, contrastive analysis, error analysis,
and language transfer theory. Some scholars regard negative
transfer from Chinese as the main cause of Chinglish (e.g. Ellis,
1985; Odlin, 2001; Li, 2007; Yu, 2004); others attribute pro-
duction of Chinglish to allegedly different thought patterns of
Chinese and westerners (e.g. Cook, 1991; Jia, 1997; Lian, 2002;
Wang & Wen, 2002). One hypothesis is that contrastive analy-
sis can help L2 learners reduce interference from the first lan-
guage and produce more target language-like English by be-
coming aware of the differences between the two languages.
From a perspective of contrastive analysis, this paper analyzes
some differences between English and Chinese languages and
the influences of Chinese language, culture, and thought pat-
terns in an attempt to reveal some causes of and remedies for
Chinglish. This is done by analyzing examples from Chinese
college students’ writings and data from interviews with the
students. To that end, I will focus on dissimilarities rather than
similarities between the English and Chinese languages and
cultures, and on the negative impact of L1 rather than its posi-
tive one. Also, this paper is written both with the hope of pro-
viding EFL and ESL teachers with suggestions to help Chinese
students avoid Chinglish and produce authentic English, and
contributing to the theory and practice of second language
pedagogy in writing instruction.
What is Chinglish? Pinkham (1998) defines Chinglish as
“English with Chinese characteristics” (p. 1). Deng (2001) de-
fines it as “speech or writing in English that shows the inter-
ference or influence of Chinese” (p. 106). Chinglish is non-
idiomatic English which is produced by Chinese learners who
draw upon Chinese structure and culture as a result of mother
tongue interference or influence; it is a term commonly used to
describe the mixture of Chinese and English. Chinglish as dis-
cussed in this paper is mainly an issue of appropriateness of
language use rather than correctness because all the so-called
Chinglish examples are actually grammatically correct, as in
the example “He was very excited and he couldn’t speak a
word.” However, it is not as idiomatic as “He was too excited
to speak a word.” or “He was so excited that he couldn’t speak
a word.”
Theoretical Perspective
Chinglish is closely related to interlanguage. “Interlanguage”
is defined as “language learner language” by Ellis (1985) and
“learner variety” by Klein (1986). Ellis (2000) recognizes the
fact that a learner constructs a linguistic system that draws, in
part, on his/her L1 but is also different from it and also from the
target language. A learner’s interlanguage is, therefore, a uniqu e
linguistic system (p. 33).
Ellis (2000) further puts forward the following computational
model of L2 acquisition:
inputintakeL2 knowledgeoutput
This model suggests that the human mind functions like a
computer. It represents the basic computational metaphor that
has grown out of “interlanguage” and that informs much of L2
acquisition. To Ellis (2000), the learner is exposed to input,
which is processed in two stages. First, parts of it are attended
to and taken into short-term memory. They are referred to as
intake. Second, some of the intake is stored in long-term mem-
ory as L2 knowledge. The processes responsible for creating
intake and L2 knowledge occur within the ‘black box’ of the
learner’s mind where the learner’s interlanguage is constructed.
Finally, L2 knowledge is used by the learner to produce spoken
and written output (p. 35). Ellis’ (2000) model provides an
understanding about how language learning takes place.
Under the general rubric of interlanguage studies, several
theories that address some critical features of L2 acquisition are
considered to be underlying the causes of and remedies for
Chinglish in this paper. They are: Language Transfer Theory,
Krashen’s (1985) Comprehensible Input Hypothesis, Swain’s
(1985) Output Hypothesis, Schmidt’s (1990) Noticing Hy-
pothesis, and Long’s (1996) Interaction Hypothesis. One of the
factors influencing the production of Chinglish is L1 language
transfer, in which learners’ previously acquired knowledge
influence the outcome of their later learning or training behav-
iors. Ellis (2000) recognizes that learners have perceptions
regarding the linguistic features of their own language. They
treat some features as potentially transferable and others as
potentially non-transferable and they are more prepared to risk
transferring the features than they are those they perceive to be
unique to their own language (p. 53). Negative transfer usually
occurs where there are substantial or subtle differences between
learners’ L1 and L2.
Krashen’s (1985) Comprehensible Input Hypothesis claims
that adequate exposure to the target language is necessary for
language development, whereas Swain’s (1985) Output Hy-
pothesis argues that in addition to input, output production of
the targeted form is needed for learners to properly internalize
grammatical structures. Schmidt’s (1990) Noticing Hypothesis
contends that it is only when learners have noticed their errors
that the correct form can be retained in their memory. Long’s
(1996) Interaction Hypothesis states that negotiation between
the teacher and the learner is essential for successful learning.
Language transfer is one of the main causes of Chinglish.
The Input and Output Hypotheses help to recognize other
causes of Chinglish in Chinese college students’ writings: their
inadequate exposure to authentic English and insufficient prac-
tice in writing English. The Noticing and Interaction Hypothe-
ses help to find remedies for Chinglish by calling students’
attention to crosslinguistic differences and enhancing teacher-
student and peer in te raction.
In order to determine the causes of and remedies for
Chinglish, this study gives a detailed analysis of examples of
Chinglish from samples of Chinese college students’ writings,
and data from interviews with these students. Written data were
collected as follows: After each session of a writing class where
process writing was used in writing instruction, students were
assigned to write bi-weekly composition on such topics as
“How to avoid misunderstanding” and “My Understanding of
Winning”. The examples were collected in 2011 from the writ-
ing assignments of the 58 first-year college students (28 males
and 30 females) from Wuhan University, China, all being non-
English majors with an average age of 19. Their English place-
ment test scores ranged from 67 - 93 (on a scale of 100), show-
ing variations in their English proficiency. Before college, the
students had learned English in a systematic way for more than
four hours a week for six or more years including basic knowl-
edge in grammar and basic skills in listening, speaking, reading,
writing and translation. However, a considerable amount of
exposure and practice is required for Chinese college students
to improve English proficiency and produce more target lan-
guage-like English. Apart from their writing assignments, the
58 first-year college students were interviewed one week after
the data collection on their writing processes and their ways of
thinking when they wrote in English, including their interpreta-
tion of the writing topic, pre-writing thinking, outline writing,
actual writing and writing process regulation (e.g. timing, meet-
ing the length of the writing, etc.). The interviews were held
during the 10-minutes break with approximately 5 minutes for
each interviewee over the course of about 3 months (see appen-
dix for the interview questions).
Causes and Remedies for Chinglish
Syntactic Transfer from Chinese
Contrastive analysis theory assumes a kind of competence
model in which one set of knowledge (the learner’s first lan-
guage) comes into contact through the learning process with a
second set of knowledge (the target language). Where the two
structures match, learning is easy; where they differ (in form or
use), a difficulty arises that needs to be overcome (Spolsky,
2000: p. 117). Chinglish is caused partly by student’s unaware-
ness of the syntactic distinctions between English and Chinese.
English and Chinese belong to different language systems.
English is subject-prominent (Xiao & Li, 2007: p. 79), S-V
complex (main subject + main verb + sub-structures) are pri-
mary in English; Chinese is topic-prominent (Xiao & Li, 2007:
p. 79), and Chinese sentences do not necessarily match the S-V
structure. English sentences are mostly hypotactic (emphasizing
the S-V structure) and compact, whereas Chinese sentences are
mostly paratactic (emphasizing meaning and function rather
than the S-V structure) and diffusive (Lian, 1993: p. 48). Eng-
lish sentences demonstrate an “architecture style” in which
various sub-structures cluster around the basic S-V structure
just like a building with a basic structure; in contrast, Chinese
sentences e xhibit a “chronicle style” in which word order tends
to represent temporal sequences or logic relationships. English
and Chinese also differ in inflection and in the frequency of the
use of cohesive ties. English relies on a large number of prepo-
sitions and conjunctives to express grammatical meaning. S-V
complex and abundant cohesive ties in English makes it possi-
ble for English sentences to extend in length and yet remain
precise and compact in both form and meaning. The linguistic
distinctions between English and Chinese at the formal level
can be classified in the Table 1.
English sentences are characterized by S-V structure, com-
pactness, and more complex sentences; in contrast, Chinese
sentences are characterized by diffusiveness and more simple
clauses. A comparison between an English sentence and its
Chinese counterpart will illustrate the syntactic distinctions
between English and Chinese: “It is deeply rooted prejudice to
think that innovation constitutes a great threat to social har-
mony and unity because technological progress has been indeed
destroying many employment opportunities and therefore
bringing misery to thousands of people for hundreds of years.”
Table 1.
Linguistic distinctions between English and Chinese.
English Chinese
more S-V complex sentences
architecture style
less S-V structure
chronicle style
abundant c o hesive ties
fewer cohe sive ties
more complex sentences more simple clauses
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
The Chinese counterpart is “这是一个根深蒂固的偏见:即认
来了苦难。” The main structure of the English sentence is “It is
a prejudice to think that … because…” in which “it” is the sub-
ject and “is” is the main verb of the sentence, and the preposi-
tion “to” and modifier “because” help to link clauses and make
the sentence compact. The Chinese sentence is more diffusive
as it contains five clauses.
Chinese students who are not in an authentic English envi-
ronment usually ignore the syntactic distinctions between Eng-
lish and Chinese. They think in Chinese and then translate what
they think into English without consideration of English syntax.
In the Chinese-English transference process, the thinking proc-
ess is from meaning and function to form, and the result is
Chinglish: English with Chinese characteristics. It suggests
negative transfer of Chinese syntax to English. The following
pairs of sentences show Chinese college students’ transference
of Chinese syntax due to lack of knowledge of English syntax.
(The examples of Chinglish in the “a” versions are taken from
samples of students’ writings, and the examples in the “b” ver-
sions are revised sentences after discussions between the
teacher and the students.)
(1) a) My hometown is Xianghuan City. It has ancient walls.
The walls are built all around the city. My hometown is not a
big city, but it has a long history and its unusual beautiful scen-
b) My hometown, Xianghuan, is a city with ancient walls all
around it. Although, not big, it has a long history and unusual
scenic beauty.
Thirty-five words and 4full sentences in (1a) convey the
meaning of the sentence; it is more diffusive in structure than
(1b), which consists of 24 words and 2 full sentences. The noun
phrases “my hometown” and “the wall” are repeated in (1a),
whereas there is no repetition of nouns in (1b), resulting in the
sentence’s compactness. Sentences (1a) is a word-for-word
translation of the Chinese sentence, which is due to the stu-
dent’s thinking-in-Chinese-and-translating-into-English” strat-
egy. The interviews showed that some students adopted this
strategy in their Engl ish wri ti ngs.
(2) a) We get all the norms in the process of our growing up,
and just like the languages we speak and the beliefs we accept,
they have become a part of our culture.
b) All the norms are acquired by all of us in the course of our
growing up and are as much a part of our culture as the lan-
guages we speak or the beliefs we accept.
(2b) is a typical English sentence characterized by a S-V
structure or a stem-branches-leaves sequence. The stem in (2b)
is “all the norms”; the two branches are “are acquired by all of
us” and “are as much a part of our c ulture ”; and the le aves are
“in the course of our growing up”, “as the languages we
speak”, and “the beliefs we accept”. (2a) is formed by three
clauses, arranged according to the Chinese way of thinking.
The three clauses are like three parallel lines. Thus, English
sentences can be compared to giant trees with complicated
branches and leaves, whereas Chinese sentences are compared
to a square of waves pushing forward layer upon layer (see
Diagram 1).
Chinese college students should be aware of the distinctions
between English and Chinese syntax, and make the English
sentences they write compact by arranging then in a S-V structure
or stem-branches-leaves sequence. Zhang (2004) recommends
Diagram 1.
Distinction between the English and Chinese sentence structure.
an efficient way to avoid Chinglish when one lacks knowledge
of English syntax: try to distil the semantic emphasis of the
sentence, and then put it in English sentence structure (p. 58).
Bao’s (2001) ways of adjusting English sentences in translation
is applicable to sentence adjustment in English writing: adjust
the length of the sentence, the sentence structure, the semantic
emphasis, and the ways of expression (pp. 35-50). Take (2) for
example: The semantic emphasis of the sentence is “all the
norms are acquired … and are as much a part of our culture…”
Once the semantic emphasis has been determined, it is easy to
adjust the sentence according to English S-V structure.
The fundamental syntactic distinctions between English and
Chinese should be introduced to Chinese students and they
should be aware of them when they write an English composi-
tion. For example, Chinese students are likely to write the fol-
lowing sentence: “Humorous individuals are liked by people,
they often become the focus of attention in any gathering. We
have reasons to say these.” Teachers can ask students to make
the sentence more target language-like by putting it in the typi-
cal English sentence structure “It is … to… (that)…”. A more
target language-like sentence is: “It is reasonable to say that
humorous individuals are not only well liked by people, but are
often the focus of any gathering.” Apart from knowledge of the
distinctions between English and Chinese syntax, it is helpful to
practice using appropriate sentence structures sufficiently so as
to “anchor it solidly in students’ consciousness” (Spada &
Lightbown, 2008: p. 58). Izumi and Bigelow (2000) claim that
more accurate use of linguistic forms can be produced when
learners’ attention is deliberately drawn to the targeted form via
task manipulation. Teachers can ask students to make more
English sentences by using typical English sentence structures
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 73
such as “It is … to… (that)…”. For example, “It is a good ap-
proach to involve children in decision making because…”.
When the new linguistic pattern has been perceived, frequent
production of the pattern will make it more and more retriev-
The linguistic distinctions between English and Chinese
hinder Chinese college students’ production of target language-
like English. Raising students’ awareness of the linguistic dis-
tinctions and practice of English sentence structure will help to
reduce Chinglish caused by syntactic transfer from Chinese.
Apart from syntactic transfer from Chinese, other factors also
contribute to Chinglish including differences in culture, thought
pa tterns, comprehensi on processes, and students’ learning strate-
gies. Influence of the Chinese thought patterns is a typical
cause of Chinglish for the Chinese college students.
Influence of the Chinese Thought Patterns
Researchers in contrastive rhetoric argue that certain cultur-
ally determined ways of thinking and communicating transfer
themselves to second language texts (Nunan, 2001: pp. 296-
297). Jia (1997) found that the Chinese prefer circular thinking,
whereas westerners prefer linear thinking. The following dia-
gram (Figure 1) illustrate the different thought pattern between
Chinese and westerners:
Circular thinking is characterized by a preference for indi-
rectness or circumlocution, and is called inductive thinking or
particular-general thinking, whereas linear thinking is charac-
terized by directness or straightforwardness, and is called de-
ductive thinking or general-particular thinking. English writing
is very direct and formulaic. Writers should first clearly identify
the topic or goal of an article and then support their argument
with specific examples (Nunan, 2001: p. 297). Westerners ex-
press their opinions directly, whereas the Chinese do so in a
round-about way. The following pairs of sentences illustrate
this point:
(a) Our country is still in the stage of development, so we
need to work hard to make our country more developed, and we
should be thrifty at the same time.
(b) We should work hard to make our country more devel-
oped, and we should be thrifty at the same time because our
country is still in the stage of development.
(a) gives an explanation first and then states an opinion, (b)
states the opinion first and then gives the explanation. The dif-
ference in order has to do with the different thought patterns of
Chinese and westerners. English speakers are explicit in their
way of thinking and speaking, first making their positions clear
or expressing their opinions, and then giving descriptions or
coming up with arguments or facts, whereas speakers of Chi-
nese do it the other way around. Although there is nothing
Chinese Circular Thinking English Linear Thinking
Figure l.
Chinese and western thought patterns.
ungrammatical in (a), the indirect way of expressing their
viewpoints preferred by the Chinese students suggests the
transfer of their L1 rhetorical structure as influenced by their
thought patterns.
Another difference between the thought patterns of Chinese
and westerners is that Chinese prefer subjective thinking,
whereas westerners prefer objective thinking (Bao, 2001: pp.
30-32; Lian, 2002: pp. 40-48). This is reflected in language by
animate subjects, especially human nouns, being used much
more frequently in Chinese, whereas inanimate subjects, such
as material objects and abstract concepts, are frequently used as
subjects in English sentences. The following example illustrates
this point:
(a) I suddenly got a good idea.
(b) A good idea suddenly occurred to (struck) me.
The abstract concept “a good idea” in (b) is used to replace
the animate subject “I” for the sake of emphasizing the object
because an “impersonal subject is often used as subject in Eng-
lish whereas personal subject is often used as subject in Chi-
nese” (Liu, 2006: p. 498).
The main cause for producing the “a” sentences is that stu-
dents write in English but still think in Chinese, which is diffi-
cult for them to identify because this way of thinking is deeply
rooted in their patterns of thinking. The interviews with the
students in this study showed that the students’ L2 writing
process is a bilingual event (i.e., L2 writers have both L1 and
L2 at their disposal when they write in L2). The proportion of
L1 thinking decreased with the writer’s L2 development, which
is consistent with the findings of others (Uzawa & Cumming,
1989; Kobayashi & Rinnert, 1992; Whalen & Menard, 1995;
Wang & Wen, 2002). It also showed that it is more difficult for
students to think in English with respect to the interpretation of
the writing topic, the pre-writing thinking and writing process
regulation, and it is comparatively less difficult for them to
think in English in actual writing and outline writing.
It is understandable that Chinese college students rely on
Chinese when their English is insufficient, and that they have
not formed the habit of thinking in English. Krashen & Terrell
(1983) claim that reliance on the mother language is a produc-
tive strategy of learners because they are inadequately equipped
with knowledge of the target language (p. 148). To avoid
Chinglish caused by influence of the Chinese thought patterns,
students should improve their English and at the same time
adjust their ways of thinking from Chinese to English. The
adjustment is a step-by-step process and it can-not be achieved
overnight. Perseverance in both improving one’s English and
adjusting one’s mode of thinking is the key to producing au-
thentic English.
A good way for Chinese students to adjust their ways of
thinking is for them to try to practice thinking and talking in
English as much as they can. Teachers can set aside some time
in class to involve students in activities such as “brain storm-
ing” to stimulate students’ thinking in English (to be discussed
later). Students should be encouraged to think and talk in Eng-
lish whenever they feel like saying something. Making friends
with native English speakers and going to English corners are
also good ways for students to adjust their ways of thinking
from Chinese to English. English corners in China are
on-campus sites for people to practice their English by commu-
nicating in English. Students can practice thinking in English in
such an immersive environment. According to Long’s (1996)
Interaction Hypothesis, the interaction between native and
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
non-native speakers makes the greatest contributions to L2
acquisition because it provides a plethora of opportunities for
negotiation of meaning and form. Although Long’s Interaction
Hypothesis applies mostly to spoken English, it seems that once
students’ ways of thinking become more English-oriented by
interacting with native English speakers, this orientation will
naturally transfer to writing. Writing journals or diaries in Eng-
lish is also beneficial. When students practice thinking in Eng-
lish for a considerably long period of time, they may uncon-
sciously and gradually form the habit of thinking in English
when they need to write.
Other causes of Chinese college students’ production of
Chinglish include inadequate exposure to authentic English and
insufficient practice in English writing.
Inadequate Exposure and Practice
Krashen’s (1985) Comprehensible Input Hypothesis claims
that learners need to receive adequate comprehensible input in
order to move along the development continuum. The more
competent learners are in the second language, the less likely
that mother language transfer will occur (Xu, 2006: p. 32). In
other words, inadequate exposure to authentic English or insuf-
ficient English competence is another cause of Chinglish.
Inadequate exposure to authentic English results in redun-
dancy, improper word choice, collocation, and rhetoric, and
inflexibility in expression.
Improper Word Choice and Re dundancy
Improper word choice and redundancy in the students’ writ-
ings analyzed in this part mainly stem from lexical transfer
from Chinese language. The “a” sentences below show im-
proper word choice or redundancy; the “b” sentences are their
more idiomatic or succinct counterparts:
(a) Smoking is harmful to your body.
(b) Smoking is harmful to your health.
In (a), the use of “body” is a direct translation from Chinese.
According to the componential analysis used in Yang’s (2004)
book, “body” and “health” bear different meanings in English:
whereas “body” refers to “the whole physical structure of a per-
son or animal as opposed to the mind or soul”, “health” means
“the condition of the body with regard to disease.” The cross-
linguistic difference here is one of lexical-semantic domain: the
semantic domain of the Chinese term “shenti” (in pinyin) cov-
ers those of both “body” and “health”, whereas in English,
“body” and “health” have different semantic domains. As Chen
(1981) points out, “in the choice of an English equivalent for a
Chinese word, we must look beyond the word itself and con-
sider its connection with other word or words in the sentence”
(pp. 21-22). The problem with (a), then, is that the writer trans-
lated a Chinese lexeme with a broader semantic domain into
English, where the context required a related term with a nar-
rower semantic domain. Students should consider the meaning
and function of the intended me ssage and strive for an equi valent
pragmatic effect when it comes to the choice of a proper word.
(a) My tire of the wheel became broken on the way.
(b) I got a flat tire on the way.
In (a), “of the wheel” is redundant. According to the diction-
ary (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, 1998: p.
1672), “tire” is glossed as “a thick band or rubber… that fits
round the outside edge of a wheel…”. The meaning “of the
wheel” is already included in the word “tire”. “Vigorous writ-
ing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary
words…” (Pinkham, 1998: p. 1). Students should be alert to
redundancy in their writings.
Improper Collocations
Experts in the contrastive study of collocations report that
learners seem to rely on a “hypothesis of transferability,”
whereby the majority of collocation errors found in L2 stu-
dents’ writing can be traced to L1 influence. Example is given
in the following pairs of sentences.
Facing various kinds of pressure, college students shouldn’t
force themselves to do things out of their ability.
Facing various kinds of pressure, college students shouldn’t
exert themselves beyond their ability. Facing various kinds of
pressure, college students shouldn’t push themselves too hard.
(a) shows negative transfer from Chinese to English. The
phrase “force oneself to do things out of one’s ability” is a lit-
eral translation from Chinese, whereas “go/exert oneself be-
yond one’s ability” or “push oneself too hard” are idiomatic
Some students revealed that they learn English vocabulary by
citing wordlist books or referring to bilingual electronic-dic-
tionaries, a practice identified as the cause of some Chinese-
characteristic phrases at the expense of idiomatic collocations.
Some Chinese students learn English vocabulary and expres-
sions by referring to bilingual lists of words in wordlist books
or bilingual electronic-dictionaries in which word translations
are offered with little or no explanation about their usage. As a
result, students transfer meanings from their native language to
English mechanically. However, their limited knowledge of the
usage of the words and expressions often causes them to liter-
ally translate their characteristically Chinese expressions into
English. Problematic collocations such as “make success” and
“do … out of one’s ability” are quite common in students’
writings. (The more appropriate expressions are “achieve/gain
success” and “go /exert oneself beyond one’s ability”.) Usually
the meaning of one word has great bearing on the words asso-
ciated with it. If the collocation associated with the word is not
learned as part of a student’s knowledge of L2 vocabulary and
collocations, the resulting problems will immediately mark
his/her writings as Chinglish. Context is important in enhancing
students’ knowledge concerning vocabulary and collocation.
Students should do extensive reading and listening so as to
acquire more useful vocabulary and collocations.
Improper Rhetoric
Language and culture are closely related with each other.
Neither can be separated from the other. Deng (1983) explains
the relationship between language and culture as follows:
“Language is a part of culture and plays a very important role in
it…. Without language, culture would not be possible. On the
other hand, language is influenced and shaped by culture, it
reflects culture. In the broadest sense, language is the symbolic
representation of a people, and it comprises their historical and
cultural backgrounds as well as their approaches to life and
their ways of living and thinking.” (p. 3)
The following pair of sentences illustrate the cultural influ-
ence of Chinese college students in their ESL writings.
(a) Li Ming was like a wet chicken when he came home.
(b) Li Ming was like a drowned cat when he got home.
In (a), the Chinese metaphor compares a soaked person to “a
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 75
wet chicken”; however the idiomatic expression in English is “a
drowned cat”. (a) is grammatically correct, but not target lan-
guage-like by not being idiomatic. The lack of cultural knowl-
edge in English-speaking countries gives rise to Chinglish in
Some expressions are specific to certain cultures. Expres-
sions convey the intended message only in terms of the cultures
in which they function. Therefore, students’ writings in English
need to show awareness of the cultures associated with the
target language in order to convey meaning successfully.
Some idioms are acquired gradually, day by day. How can
students know that “a drowned cat” refers to “a wet and
drenched person”, and that “a piece of cake” means “an easy
job” if they have never encountered them? Lack of exposure is
a big problem for students learning a language in a non-au-
thentic environment. A good way to approach this problem is to
increase students’ exposure to authentic English and to encour-
age daily learning.
Inflexibility in Ex p re ss i on
Inflexibility is meant here to indicate a rigidity of perspective
or a lack of change with respect to habitual thought patterns.
The following examples show students’ inflexibility of expres-
(a) The government has made great efforts to help laid-off
workers to get a job again.
(b) Great efforts have been made (by government) for the
reemployment of the laid-off workers.
Sentence (a) shows Chinese students’ marked preference for
the active voice, though the passive is more appropriate for the
written English example.
(a) When you don’t feel well, you can go out travelling.
(b) Travel can make you fresh and delighted.
(a) shows Chinese students’ preference for the personal sub-
ject “you” when the use of a non-personal subject “travel”
makes the English sentence neat and expressive.
A change of perspectives in expressing ideas from Chinese
into English will help reduce Chinglish.
The cause of Chinglish here is due to students’ inadequate
exposure to authentic English. Students are more likely to use
inanimate subjects and the passive voice if they encounter them
frequently in their listening and reading.
Increasing exposure to authentic English is the key to attain-
ing proficiency in English and prevent students from using
Chinglish. Extensive reading and listening is the most helpful
way for Chinese students to increase the input of English lan-
guage and culture. Through reading, students get to know ways
of writing in English and English syntax. Extensive reading and
listening leads to multiple encounters with idiomatic usage of
words and expressions in a variety of meaningful contexts.
Only after seeing or hearing words and expressions used in
different situations can students become certain of their idio-
matic use.
Cognitive psycholinguistic theory claims that “a foreign
language learner’s competence in using the language is actually
the combination of the learner’s receptive skills (listening and
reading) and productive skills (speaking and writing). As lan-
guage acquisition is in fact a process in which input and output
affect each other, different language skills are best assumed to
develop simultaneously and complement each other through the
process” (Stern, 1983: p. 399). It is far from enough for Chinese
students who want to write a good composition with less
Chinglish to simply increase exposure to authentic English.
Input alone is not enough, writing practice is of vital impor-
tance as well. Swain’s (1985) Output Hypothesis argues that
output production of the targeted form in addition to input is
necessary for learners’ internalization of the language.
Output production forces learners to recognize problems in
their interlanguage, subsequently prompting them to seek solu-
tions to these problems (Izumi & Bigelow, 2000). Song and
Suh (2008) claim that output production relates directly to
Schmidt’s (1990) Noticing Hypothesis, in that output often
leads to noticing of nontarget-like expressions and overall
problems in the interlanguage. Input needs to be coupled with
output and the awareness of inappropriate usage in order to
transfer input into intake and produce more target language-like
Teaching writing as a procedure is a practical way for stu-
dents to write well and reduce Chinglish. The procedures can
be grouped into three steps: preparation, writing and checking.
Thinking and discussing in the preparation period is very im-
portant. Students’ discussion about the topic at the pre-writing
stage in groups or with the whole class is a good strategy to
involve students in talking about a topic. As a warm up activity,
brainstorming can take the form of oral discussion, helping
students to think in English by simply focusing on the topic “in
a stream-of-consciousness fashion” (Clausen, 1987: p. 7).
Proofreading is a necessary step for discerning imperfection in
their writings. It is a good way for students to check their writ-
ings for each other and exchange their viewpoints about their
writings. They can find something inappropriate for others and
help them to correct it. A lecture about Chinglish can bring the
problem to students’ full attention. It is only when students
have “noticed the gap” between their nontarget-like expressions
and those of more target-like ones that they can learn the fea-
tures of the target language. Analyzing typical example of
Chinglish can remind students to be aware of it and try to avoid
it. Discussion between the teacher and students about certain
problems a number of students share in their writings is an
effective form of corrective feedback. For example, the follow-
ing sentences are prevalent in students’ writings:
(1) a) Curiosity made me want to open the box.
(2) a) The teacher’s encouragement made me want to do bet-
ter in my study.
Chinese students tend to write the above sentences because
the causative structure is very common in Chinese. The teacher
should help students realize that ideas can be carried across in
more expressive ways than the Chinese “make somebody do
something” structure and ask them to convey the meaning in
alternative ways. The teacher can offer such options as:
(1) b) Curiosity drove me to open the box.
(2) b) The teacher’s encouragement inspired me to do better
in my study.
It is better to offer balanced feedback because the teacher’s
constant reminding students of Chinglish in their writings may
weaken their confidence. Commenting on some excellent points
in students’ writings can help students gain confidence in im-
proving their writings. Recommending well-written essays for
students to read and imitate can also help students to write well.
Chinglish is produced by Chinese students influenced by
Chinese language, culture and thought patterns. Chinglish is
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 77
mainly caused by syntactic transfer from Chinese, the influence
of Chinese thought patterns, inadequate exposure to authentic
English and insufficient practice in English writing. The inter-
views with the students in this study showed that the students’
L2 writing process is a bilingual event. The proportion of L1
thinking decreased with the writer’s L2 development. It also
showed that it is more difficult for students to think in English
with respect to the interpretation of the writing topic, the
pre-writing thinking and writing process regulation, and it is
comparatively less difficult for them to think in English in ac-
tual writing and outline writing. Therefore, the ultimate solution
for decreasing Chinglish in students’ writings is to improve
their English competence, thereby achieving proficiency in
English. Chinese college students’ production of Chinglish can
be reduced if they are made conscious of the linguistic and
cultural distinctions between English and Chinese, and are ex-
posed to authentic English as much as possible, both to develop
their knowledge of English language, society, and culture, and
gradually adjusting their Chinese thought patterns to English
ones. Practice writing as a procedure is also helpful in over-
coming Chinglish.
This paper provides valuable information concerning the
causes of and remedies for Chinglish in Chinese college stu-
dents’ English writings. It sheds new light on the study of
Chinglish by adopting the method of corpus analysis and by
making practical suggestions about enhancing English syntax
and adjusting students’ ways of thinking, and teaching writing
as a procedure.
Special thanks should go to Dr Cheng Luo from Brock Uni-
versity in Canada and Dr Monro, an American professor who
presently works at Wuhan University, for their support and
valuable suggestions on my paper.
Heartfelt thanks should be extended to the students in Wuhan
University for their cooperation and contribution.
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Appendix 1. Questionire of Percentage of Thoughts in English among Students with Different
Placement Test Scores
1. Percentage of thoughts in English in interpreting the writing topic
A. 0% - 20% B. 21% - 40% C. 41% - 60% D. 61% - 80% E. 81% - 100%
2. Percentage of thoughts in English in pre-writing thinking
A. 0% - 20% B. 21% - 40% C. 41% - 60% D. 61% - 80% E. 81% - 100%
3. Percentage of thoughts in English in outline writing
A. 0% - 20% B. 21% - 40% C. 41% - 60% D. 61% - 80% E. 81% - 100%
4. Percentage of thoughts in English in actual writing
A. 0% - 20% B. 21% - 40% C. 41% - 60% D. 61% - 80% E. 81% - 100%
5. Percentage of thoughts in English in writing process regulation
A. 0% - 20% B. 21% - 40% C. 41% - 60% D. 61% - 80% E. 81% - 100%
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