If you just read the title you are probably thinking the answer is ‘Everything!’ and you aren’t wrong, Mandarin Chinese and English are very different languages.
Tones vs Intonation
Let’s start with the most basic one Tones and Intonation. Chinese has 4 tones (5 if you count the silent tone), as an example, the word in pinyin ‘ma’ can have 5 different meanings depending on what tone you use. Whereas in English words are spelled based on phonics and regional accents and intonation like Chinese tones are used as an expression.
China loves Idioms! Sure we have them in the English language as well but they are not as widely used as in China. Idioms are used to express long messages in the least amount of characters, it’s an eloquent but fast and compact way to express a sentiment.
In Chinese ‘The’ just doesn’t exist. In Chinese, if you want to say ‘The most beautiful thing is love’ you would actually say ‘most important is love’.
Repetition Vs Omission
I thought it was interesting that in China some words are repeated twice, this is often to put emphasis on the meaning of that phrase (since remember words sound similar because of tones) or your intention. An example is, thank you, if you want to add extra meaning you would say thank you twice. In English however, we omit recurrences to make the sentence structure simpler.
Although it may not seem like it, Chinese tends to create short and simple sentences and portray meaning in a simple and practical way. English in comparison is like a long essay!