Usually I end up saying

我并非/不是以中文为母语的人,(...so please forgive my mistakes).

Is there any way to avoid the awkward-seeming "以中文为母语" construction here but still get this point across, without saying something totally different like "I'm a foreigner" - there are other situations where I really do need to be referring to the specific level of Chinese language capability. It's obvious that I'm not, but I still feel the need to say something along these lines for politeness' sake, from time to time.

  • 4
    汉语不是我母语/我母语不是汉语。It's true for all languages, the simpler the better.
    – imrek
    Dec 31, 2014 at 19:55
  • it also looks like i can drop the initial "以" according to some quick google searches, e.g. "...中文为母语的人“... does the double "语" ("汉语" and "母语") make it sound weird, though? Dec 31, 2014 at 20:02
  • 1
    @MasterSparkles Unlike in western languages, character/word level repetition in Chinese isn't much of a problem, as long as there is no redundancy in meaning.
    – NS.X.
    Dec 31, 2014 at 20:27
  • that's actually a very good thing to keep in mind. It's hard for that kind of repetition not to sound unwanted. Thank you! Dec 31, 2014 at 20:28

3 Answers 3


A rather concise way: "中文不是我母语"


中文 is the language, and we speak in 普通話 (Mandarin), 廣東話 (Cantonese), etc. You'd better say "我的母語不是普通話".

  • 普通话 is not Chinese, that's Mandarin. And Cantonese has also nothing to do with the question, the OP is talking about Chinese in general.
    – imrek
    Jan 2, 2015 at 11:52
  • People won't say "I am not a native American English speaker" or "I am not a native British English speaker" because they sound similar enough to be named commonly as "English" in this context. Chinese is a different story. Mandarin, Cantonese, etc. are called Chinese because they are backed by a common written language. If one merely says "Chinese speaker", we can only guess the spoken "form" by the social context.
    – Henry HO
    Jan 3, 2015 at 1:49
  • Perhaps, but this is not what OP wants to know. Check again.
    – imrek
    Jan 3, 2015 at 9:42
  • One cannot have "Chinese" as mother tongue, unless he/she is (implicitly) referring to spoken forms like Mandarin or Cantonese.
    – Henry HO
    Jan 6, 2015 at 10:28
  • Look, you may be right, but it's irrelevant to the OP.
    – imrek
    Jan 6, 2015 at 10:47

If you think you cannot get your meaning across,you can append 我中文说的不太好,请见谅。 or 我不太会说中文。.

Usually, it not necessary, we can simply understand the fact that you are a foreigner from your accent.

  • yup - that's why I was referring to a written context, specifically.:) Jan 21, 2015 at 21:52

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