Recently I was teaching an online student from Beijing, China, and she explained she had learned from her outstanding DreyerCoaching.com Team teacher that the word "phenomenon" is not used very often in English, and that it refers to some occurrence that is rare, remarkable, or unusual. That student is exactly right, and her teacher taught her well! In fact, other than my book Write Like a Champion (p. 90), I am not aware of any other books that mention this little nugget of language learning. I often tell my students, "Many things in Chinese and English you cannot translate directly." "Phenomenon" is one word that DOES have a direct translation in Chinese (现象); however, the USAGE is different. Basically, Chinese uses this word often, while English uses it rarely. Again, in English, it usually refers to some odd happening that is rare and amazing.
In contrast, this word is commonly used and heard in Chinese. So, when Chinese speakers speak English, they might say things like:
The same is true with the word "comfortable." This word also has a direct translation in Chinese (舒服). There is also a direct translation for "feel comfortable" (感觉舒服). However, like "phenemenon," this word is used more in Chinese than in English, and it is used in more contexts in Chinese than in English.
In English, it is USUALLY used to describe a PHYSICAL state of feeling relaxed and pleasant.
It can also describe an emotional state:
In Chinese, though, it is often used in a way relating to health or illness. So, here a Chinese speaker in English might say:
Americans would probably say instead: My stomach doesn't feel well, so I'll have to miss school today.
OR I have a stomachache, so I'll have to miss school today.
OR My stomach doesn't feel well, so I'll have to miss school today.
(In this case too, "body" is a word that is used more in Chinese (身体) than in English.) Americans would probably say the above sentence as:
So, learning a foreign language is funny. Some things you can translate directly, and some you can't. And some words that CAN be translated directly, are used more often or rarely in different languages, and in different contexts.
The upshot? Practice, practice, practice!
A licensed teacher in the US state of Virginia since 1987, Scott Dreyer has been helping Chinese speakers improve their English since 1989. Dreyer lived in Taiwan from 1989-1999 where he learned Mandarin, met his wife, started his family, and realized he loved working with Chinese students. He became an award-winning author and started teaching ESL online in 2008. Dreyer and his wife and their four adult children make their home in the beautiful Roanoke Valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.dreyercoaching.com/en/about/scott-dreyer