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我在家说英语

If this means "I speak English at home" then why doesn't this

他在那里说英语

mean "he speaks English over there"? Instead according to a translation I have, it means "he's over there speaking English".

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  • 我在家说英语 means I speak Eng at home/ when I'm home. BUT, 他在那里说英语 really should translates as "he speaks english over there". "he's over there speaking english" should translate as 他人在那,正在说英语. Commented Mar 3, 2023 at 9:19
  • Of course both. Except for translating a book.
    – wqy24
    Commented Apr 1, 2023 at 13:00

5 Answers 5

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From a pure grammar point of view, both are right. But in real world, 99.9% of situations this means "I speak English at home".

The same applies to the second one, both are right. But when you use the sentence, usually it means he is over there speaking English.

An explanation might be: it depends on the scene, if someone asks you, 他在那里干嘛? what is he doing over there? Then 他在那里说英语, he is speaking English over there. If someone asks, 他在那里讲什么话?which language does he speak over there? He speaks English over there。 他在那里说英语。

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This is a perfect example of why context is so important in Chinese. Most of the time this phrase will mean speaking English at home in general, since that will match most contexts you would say this.

However, if you had an appropriate context -- like telling someone you are practicing your English at home right now -- this would also be a perfectly acceptable thing to say.

Chinese has a lot of this, where certain patterns are commonly one thing, but contexts can change things in a way that makes sense (just like 了 is often associated with the past by context of completed actions, but can be for the future if context shows it's something you will complete).

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100% means "I speak English at home".

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In Chinese, 说英语 usually means "speak in English", which is "talk in English", not "talk about English", or "talk English".

My point of view, "speak English" is not a perfect English sentence if you compare it with "teach English" and "teach in English".

There is another example. 讲英语 may have a couple of meanings depending on the situation.

1。她在学校当老师,在学校讲英语。= 在学校教英语课。(teach English. "English" is the object).

2。她在一所国际学校上学,在学校讲英语。= 国际学校的学生们在学校用英语交谈。(talk in English. "in English" is the adverb prepositional phrase)

In Chinese,讲英语课 and 用英语讲课 (数学课,物理课)are different. Same as in 教英语课 and 用英语教课。

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Let's check the grammar of the English sentences:

"he's over there speaking English" is in the grammatical form of "present continuous/progressive/perfect tense", which is generally used to describe something that is taking place at the present moment. It contrasts with permanent activities or situations, which are described using the simple present tense - "He speaks English over there".

Since there is no clear tense indicator in the Chinese sentence, so, depending on the situation,

"他在那里说英语" can either be "he's over there speaking English" if he is speaking English over there right now - at a particular moment, or "He speaks English over there" if it states his usual use of language over there.

This sentence can be made clear by adding the tense indicator:

  • "他在那里说英语" or "他在那里说英语"- He is speaking English over there right now. (A present ongoing event)

  • "他在那里總是说英语" - He always speaks English over there. (A description of a permanent/repetitive behavior)

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