Chinese text correction: ChatGPT vs professional Chinese teacher

Can ChatGPT correct my badly written Chinese texts better than a Chinese teacher?

Lately I’ve been producing short Chinese texts in a learning app called maayot almost on a daily a basis. The app provides corrections by a Chinese teacher as well. This is just one example:

Teacher correction – screenshot from the maayot app

I wondered if ChatGPT can do corrections equally well or maybe even better. After all, the AI language model can elaborate on why it corrected certain mistakes, if you ask it to. Like this for instance:

It then instantly rewrote my text and explained each correction like requested. But there’s a problem:

The problem is not so much that ChatGPT doesn’t highlight corrected mistakes like requested, but it doesn’t know how to write like native speakers would. At least, that is my suspicion.

How native is ChatGPT when it comes to generating Chinese text?

When I use ChatGPT in Dutch – my native language – it always gives me the impression that it translates English into Dutch, because the output feels unnatural. The sentence structure is not wrong, but awkward and often strangely repetitive. It’s the same vibe I get when translating English into Dutch with Google Translate. Although 99,9 % correct, no normal Dutch person produces text like that and it’s unpleasant to read. I have no reason to assume that Chinese texts generated by ChatGPT are of higher quality.

Does ChatGPT translate its output from English into Chinese? To get answers you have to ask. So to quote ChatGPT here:

As an AI language model, I don’t translate text in the traditional sense. Instead, I generate text based on patterns learned from the data I’ve been trained on. When producing Chinese text, I analyze the input I receive and generate responses based on the context, grammar rules, and vocabulary learned during training.

I don’t translate languages like a human would; rather, I understand the structure and semantics of language patterns. This allows me to generate responses in Chinese or any other language I’ve been trained on without directly translating from English.

The question ‘how native’ ChatGPT is when generating Chinese text has been discussed on Reddit as well. Although people are generally quite positive about ChatGPT, some forum members advise caution when using ChatGPT as learning tool for Chinese, since it does make spectacular mistakes and is by no means ‘all-knowing’ when it comes to the Chinese speaking world.

Just one recent example from personal experience is that when asked to list Chinese films about the Chinese cultural revolution it named several historical movies that didn’t have any relation to that specific period.

How do ChatGPT’s Chinese text corrections tick?

Now what about ChatGPT’s corrections? It’s surely a big improvement to have a tool like ChatGPT that is able to correct and modify any given input. Before the rise of AI, it wasn’t possible or only in a very limited way.

One thing I noticed time and time again, is that ChatGPT has a preference for clear and logical language. Every time I use a casual expression, ChatGPT replaces it with a more formal word for the sake of clarity. That’s why I think ChatGPT does a decent job at lifting spoken or colloquial Chinese to more formal written Chinese. This is very useful, when you want to polish your writing skills.

Very unlike most ‘human teachers’, corrections of the same text may turn out differently – all you have to do is alter the prompt a bit and ChatGPT may decide to correct different things. A bit like jazz music where you never play a tune in the same way twice. Here I asked it to be as critical as possible and it suddenly switched to English and included new mistakes:

Why did my Chinese teacher correct different things?

Although the teacher also corrected “而因为”, she noticed something that ChatGPT didn’t and solved one of my mistakes differently:

“然而” was corrected in “不过”, because “然而” is probably too literary for this context (style issue)

“祝福 “/ “做祈祷” – I misused “祈祷”, so the teacher came up with “做和财富相关的祝福祈祷” where as ChatGPT wrote “祈求与财富相关的祝福”. I guess both are possible, but the first solution is more consistent with my language level and probably closer to how native speakers would phrase it.

Contrary to ChatGPT, the maayot teacher correction had an eye for style, authenticity and took my language ability into consideration.

ChatGPT or corrections by Chinese teacher?

To wrap this little comparison up: what speaks for ChatGPT are the easy and free access and instant feedback. If you’re writing an email or any other Chinese text that needs checking, running it through ChatGPT results in super fast corrections and (almost always) better text quality. Plus, in case you got questions concerning a certain word or meaning, ChatGPT always answers. It won’t make your texts more authentic or ‘sound more like you’ though.

Why, in most cases, I still would prefer a teacher or an app like maayot that provides professional feedback is the ‘human character’ of the correction which values style and the use of the right expressions. The teacher still has a feeling for the language that an AI language model does not possess. A teacher is also aware of your abilities and can correct you accordingly, pointing out expressions and structures that match your current level. That’s why, in nine out of ten cases, I’d trust my teachers corrections rather than ChatGPT.

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