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>By Steven McMath – Guangzhou, China

“I live in a harmonious family…”

Apparently Chinese people actually say this in Chinese. I suppose it is similar to China’s harmonious society. A Chinese friend expressed surprised that it wasn’t good English. I suppose we just like to call a spade a spade more often.

“My home town is very beautiful, is very famous and the food is delicious… “

“Today I want to talk about my washing machine…”

Again, Chinese people actually say these things in Chinese, except the washing machine bit which came from an IELTS book co-written by an New Oriental Chinese English teacher and a Chinese ‘genius’ who went to Oxford. The book was full of grammar mistakes as well. It took me about 2 years to get the department to stop selling it to the students.

Surprisingly students do tell me that Guangzhou is beautiful. I tell them, as much as I like Guangzhou, please look out the window for a moment. They laugh. Luckily Guangzhou people have a sense of humour and can laugh at themselves which is one reason why I like Guangzhou.

I’m asking a Chinese friend for some insights as I write this. Apparently everyone has been singing songs about how beautiful and famous their hometown is since they were small children. My Chinese friend tells me that they talk about delicious food because their lives are boring so they focus on the food. I think he is probably
over intellectualising. I think they are just obsessed with food.

One girl told me once that her home town was famous because of bamboo. Apparently Zhongshan is famous because Bruce lee came from there. Except that he didn’t and having personally been interested in martial arts for years, I had never heard of that before.

I find I have no need to make fun of the expressions. They want to do well in the IELTS exam and I want to help them do so, so we have a real goal congruence. I did make fun of the girl who said her hometown was famous because of Bamboo though. I couldn’t help myself. I do sometimes make fun of what they say but only for a laugh.

“My hometown is located approximately 173.5 km from the centre of Guangzhou. It has a population of 376,472 people. And a dog. It is very beautiful. It is very famous. The food is delicious. Welcome to my hometown.” It gets a laugh.

The latest one that has cropped up in the last year in Guangzhou is “I come from a nuclear family”. When was the last time you heard a native speaker say that?

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2 Comments

  1. >Another incorrect phrase I frequently hear when Chinese are speaking English is “How to do ____?” According to my Chinese friends, that’s taught in the early grammar books here. There’s further discussion of How questions here: http://www.italki.com/Answers/question/12159.htm

  2. >It would be nice if we could track down that book.


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