The English Mistake Taiwanese People Don’t Even Know They Make, And It’s Confusing & Funny As Hell

M or Ello?Sometimes language mistakes are so standardized that non-native speakers actually think they are correct. A fine example of this is “no problemo” used by many Americans to mean “no hay problema” in Spanish. Fortunately, the mutation is close enough to the original phrase that it doesn’t cause confusion.

But what if the mistake were significant enough to totally baffle the native listener? That’s exactly what happened to me at a coffee shop in Taipei last weekend!

To set the scene, I was at the counter ordering a cup of tea in Chinese. I’m pretty confident and well-practiced when it comes to using my Chinese skills to procure tea. There isn’t much that can go wrong in this simple transaction. I make my request, and the barista asks me questions like, “For here to go?” “Do you want sugar with that?” Etc.

Everything was going along swimmingly in Chinese until the barista asked, “妳要ello嗎?” (Do you want ello?) Nobody had ever asked me about “ello” before and I had never heard this word. But there are countless Chinese words I don’t know, so I cocked my head and asked, “Ello是什麼?” (What is ello?) The barista held up a paper cup. I must have looked even more confused. He held up another, smaller paper cup and asked, “M嗎?” (M?)

That was the clue that tipped me off and my confusion broke into a quiet chuckle. I smiled and said, “Ello就好了。” (Ello is just fine.)

He was asking if I wanted a size medium (M) or large (L) cup!

For some strange reason unbeknownst to me, Taiwanese people routinely pronounce the letter L like ello. No letter in English is pronounced with more than a single syllable, except W (because it just wouldn’t be English without exceptions, right?)

So where did this erroneous pronunciation for L come from? I am soliciting any tips or leads as to WHY this mistake persists in Taiwan in such a ubiquitous way. Please help me crack the case by leaving your theories, suggestions, ideas, clues, speculations, insights and funny ello stories in the comments below.

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Chinese Characters That Look Like Space Invaders


That is all.

(And if you don’t know what Space Invaders are, you weren’t there for the birth of video games.)

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Get It Right From The Get-Go & Avoid These Mistakes When You Speak Chinese

Chinese grammar common mistakesOver the next few weeks I am going to highlight common mistakes native English speakers make when speaking Chinese, and introduce the correct grammar structures. I’m doing this for my benefit as much as yours!

While mistakes are inevitable, I think it’s important to examine these common errors early on so they don’t become ingrained as bad habits.

Today I want to look at the the following words when used with 來 Lái or 去 Qù:

  • 上 Shàng
  • 下 Xià
  • 進 Jìn
  • 出 Chū
  • 回 Huí
  • 過 Guò

The rule to remember is that when any of these words are followed by a place word or location, the place word comes before or.

For example, if you wish to express “He will go back to Taiwan next Monday,” English speakers will generally want to say:

他下個禮拜一要回去臺灣。Tā xià gè lǐbài yī yào huí táiwān. Incorrect!

The correct word order is: 他下個禮拜一要回臺灣。Tā xià gè lǐbài yī yào huì táiwān . Notice the word comes after the place.

Let’s look at another example:

(I want to move this table out of the room.)

我想把這張桌子搬出屋子。Wǒ xiǎng bǎ zhè zhāng zhuōzi bān chū wūzi. Incorrect!

The correct word order is: 我想把這張桌子搬出屋子。Wǒ xiǎng bǎ zhè zhāng zhuōzi bānchū wūzi .

I believe building good grammar habits is important! Are you with me?

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Is 妳 Outmoded? Do You Use It?

Yesterday I was texting with a Taiwanese friend in Chinese. He addressed me as 你 instead of 妳. I thought I was being so smart by correcting him and reminding him that I’m female. He responded by saying that nowadays 你 is used for both males and females.

你 and 妳 are the pronouns for you in Chinese, both pronounced Nǐ in pinyin.

So I did a cursory internet search to get my facts straight. It turns out that in China 你 is often used for both men and women, but some online forums claims 妳 is still used in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:

Traditional Chinese characters, as influenced by translations from Western languages and the Bible in the nineteenth century, occasionally distinguished gender in pronouns, although that distinction is abandoned in simplified Characters. Those traditional characters developed after Western contact include both masculine and feminine forms of “you” ( and ), rarely used today even in writings in traditional characters; in the simplified system,  is rare. The traditional characters also included three neuter third-person pronouns after Western contact,  () for animals,  for deities, and  for inanimate objects, but, again, this distinction is rare in current actual usage; in simplified characters,  is used in place of .

I can say from my own personal experience with texting Taiwanese friends,  妳 is still widely used. But I’m curious to know what you think. Is 妳 outmoded? Let me know in the comments.

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What The Heck Is A Chengyu?

Waiting by a stump for a rabbitChengyu (成語 chéngyǔ) literally means “set phrases.” They are a type of traditional Chinese idiomatic expression, most of which consist of four characters.

Chengyu were widely used in Classical Chinese and are still common in vernacular Chinese writing and in the spoken language today. According to the most stringent definition, there are about 5,000 chengyu in the Chinese language, though some dictionaries list over 20,000.

Chengyu are mostly derived from ancient literature. The meaning of a chengyu usually surpasses the sum of the meanings carried by the four characters, as chengyu are often intimately linked with the myth, story or historical fact from which they were derived. As such, chengyu do not follow the usual grammatical structure and syntax of the modern Chinese spoken language, and are instead highly compact and synthetic.

Chengyu in isolation are often unintelligible without explanation, and when students in China learn chengyu in school as part of the classical curriculum, they also need to study the context from which the chengyu was born. Often the four characters reflect the moral behind the story rather than the story itself.


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