Friday, October 16, 2009


Rise of Chinglish

An example of written chinglish on a signpost....Image via Wikipedia

Chinglish is basically "odd English" esp. when used as part of Chinese sign. It is a funny curiosity to English speakers, but it's actually even funnier to bilingual speakers, who can actually understand where did the "lost in translation" happen.

There are several reasons why Chinglish occur.

* over-reliance on machine translation
* lack of true mastery of both English and Chinese
* lack of importance on accurate translation (not enough foreigners to see them!)
* lack of English spell-check
* lack of understanding the English connotations of the words
* trying to translate Chinese transliterations of European / English terms back to English
* the pride of Chinese people, and inability to admit failure/ignorance
* some rhymes and expressions that do not survive translation

On the other hand, Chinglish has that feel of true direct wording that is often lost on the more politically correct English, and has a feel of that... "innocence" to it. It's almost like a child learning English, and manage to put words together that DOES manage to convey the meaning, yet you'd never expect that combination before.

In fact, here's a couple questions for you... Can you guess what are the following actually says?

Q: "Cripple's Lane"
A: Handicapped Person's Ramp

Q: "Be careful Don't be crowded!"
A: Be safe, don't push

Q: "Inhibition astraddle transgress"
A: Do not trespass.

Q: "Resist Bacteria Hotel"
A: [Certified] Sanitary Hotel

Q: "Exportation"
A: Exit

Q: "Exit of Importance"
A: Emergency Exit

Q: "Coffee with Iron" (tough one!)
A: Cafe Latte

This one requires a little explanation. Chinese often insists on transliterating European/English terms in Chinese, and "latte", in this case, was written as "na-tieh", or literally, "take iron". Thus, "coffee with iron".

Q: "Genitl Emen" (tough one too)
A: Restroom

It's actually supposed to say "Gentlemen and Ladie's Rooms", but they seem to have left out a few words, and can't spell check.

Q: "if you are stolen, call the police at once."
A: Call the police if you were pick-pocketed.

Actually, the Chinese side says "If you were pickpocketed, call police. Don't embolden the criminal with inaction!"

Q: "This plot declines the interview photograph."
A: "Cameras prohibited [at this location]."

Q: "Please take the initiative for bringing invalidity pregnant parks"
A: Please volunteer to give up your seats for seniors, young children, handicapped, or pregnant women.

Q: "No entry on Peacetime" (tough!)
A: "Emergency exit only"

Actually, the Chinese says "if not emergency situation, stop step [do not enter]"

Q: Russian type afraid of someone with a whistle gravy (VERY tough!)
A: Russian style steak with pannini and gravy

Another case of transliteration gone wrong. Pannini was transliterated as "pah-ni-ni", or "afraid ni-ni", and somehow "ni-ni" was translated as "someone with a whistle".

Q: "Male do not" (tough!)
A: Ladies' room

This one is a bit of Chinese culture. The full expression is actually "[Ladies Territory] Gentlemen stop [step]."

A: Restroom

Someone forgot that English only goes left to right (and Chinese can go either way). STELIOT is TOILETS spelled backwards.

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Saturday, April 11, 2009


Practice, practice, practice!

You cannot learn a language from a book or a tape alone

A language is what I call a three-sense entity: you need to engage your eyes, your ears, and your mouth to learn a language, because you need to speak it, listen to it, and read it (writing it comes later).

A book is one-sense medium: you read it. You can't tell how those words are pronounced, and you can't pronounce it. You can guess, but your guesses may be wrong.

Audiobooks are slightly better. You don't read it, but you listen to it, and in turn you can try to repeat the words, thus learning proper pronunciation.

Combine the two, and you'll get a much better learning experience.

But don't overlook practice. Find some friends who will help you correct your English. Best way is to barter a language... you teach him/her your language (probably Mandarin Chinese, while he or she teaches you English).

Part of the time should just be listening to you read a random passage from a book or newspaper or magazine. Why? It builds your confidence, vocabulary, and reading skills. Any of the corrections s/he gives on the spot will help you learn from your mistakes (like that "rap music" mistake above... unless you have heard it said before, how would you know you're doing it right?)

You pretty much have to IMMERSE yourself in the language for weeks and months. Don't bother with shortcuts like Rosetta Stone (tm) and such. There are no shortcuts to learning a language, except hard work.

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Some new updates for 2009

Cover of "Rush Hour 2 (Infinifilm Edition...Cover of Rush Hour 2 (Infinifilm Edition)

I know, I know, didn't update this thing for over a year. The BBS/Newsgroup in Taiwan I usually visit was overran by spam, making it not worth re-visiting.

Then the other day I saw an article in Chinese newspaper about the big Chinese movie stars with lousy English (like Zhang Ziyi, Jackie Chan, and so on) and how they learned, which reminded me that I have this blog I should be updating.

Did you know how Zhang Ziyi improved her English? She got an Israeli millionaire as a boyfriend. As you guessed, they speak English.

And did you know that Jackie Chan's English is quite horrible? He speaks BRITISH English just fine, as that's what's taught in Hong Kong. However, while filming Rush Hour 2 with Chris Tucker, he reputedly failed to learn the expression "Freeze!" (in case you don't know, that's American-speak for 'Do not move!') He kept saying "Cheese!", which, of course, got the American co-star busting out in laughter, since "Cheese!" is something you say when you want to take a picture, like "smile!"

And here's a pronunciation lesson from the same article...

The word "rap" in "rap music" is pronounced like "tap", not "tape". PLEASE do NOT pronounce it the other way. You can look up what the other word is (add an "e" at the end). You'll be VERY embarrassed if you make that sort of mistake.

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Saturday, February 16, 2008


Even American Court Clerks are not immune

Courtroom Grammar Humor

Study this letter closely. Click on it to open a larger version. Did you spot the problem yet?

Disclaimer: this is a real letter, the only parts manipulated are any portions that deals with private information, such as names and case numbers.

Technically speaking, this is NOT a grammatical mistake, believe it or not. According to (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary), you CAN use "notice" as a verb that way, which actually does mean "serve notice to". However, it is considered to be "jargon / legalese" (i.e. lawyer language).

Thus, it should be an example of how NOT to speak and write English (unless, of course, you are a lawyer!

Saturday, January 12, 2008


Here's a warning to pilots: study English

Or you'll end up like this Air China pilot talking to JFK ground control...

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


Never rely on machine translations

There is a tendency in China to "claim" English proficiency, but instead heavily rely on machine translations. However, machines do NOT translate actual meaning, and thus, it can lead to some serious misunderstandings. Take this example...

A manager is hiring in China, and received a whole bunch of resumes, which comes in both English and original Chinese. One of the candidates, a female, wrote under skills:

* had a relationship with all of my customers

On the English resume, of course.

No, she did NOT try to sleep with all of her customers. In Chinese, guanxi, or 關係, is translated as "relationship", but this is professional and cordial business type relationship, not the male-female relationship.

Another victim of machine translation!

Sunday, July 22, 2007


Note on multiple choice questions

There is a trick in answering multiple choices questions, esp. those written by professionals, such as SAT and similar American exams.

If you are given four choices, a), b), c), and d), you can be sure that two of them are outright WRONG. That leaves two for you to consider. However, one of those is actually wrong, leaving you with one final choice as your answer.

Here's an example:

> How many _________ did your mother buy this morning?
> A) fish B) meat C) tomatos D) glass

We can eliminate C) and D) because they don't match "many". Tomatoes is the correct plural form of tomato, and plural of glass is glasses.

That leaves A) and B). If you try the expression "how many meat" and "how many fish", you'll realize that "meat" is used with "much", not "many", leaving A) as the correct answer.

If you have five answers to choose from, A), B), C), D) and E), then the process is similar. At least two are completely wrong. One may appear correct, but is actually wrong upon re-examination. Then you must choose between the final two.


Many, much, and more

Here's a question that popped up on tw.bbs

> 以下這句為何不能選 B, C, 或D呢?

> How many _________ did your mother buy this morning?
> A) fish B) meat C) tomatos D) glass

> 答案是A, why?

meat -> much, not many
tomatoes, not tomatos
glasses, not glass

fish is correct because the plural of fish is still fish.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


A couple hilarious Chinese translations

The following is from a very recent movie with some Chinese fansub. I'll post the pictures, and the English transcription. You can read the Chinese fansub yourself. While fansubs may be of lower quality, the mistakes are true howlers.

Click on the picture to get a full size view.

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Sean: Nice ride.

(trans: Car's not bad.)

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Dom: I won it from my friend Han a few years ago.

(trans: few years back, I was Han's friend.)

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Sean: I didn't know he was into American muscle.

(trans: I didn't know Han was sexually interested in American hunk)

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Dom: He was when he was rolling with me.

(trans: He was when he was "rolling [in bed]" with me)

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Sean: You know this ain't no 10-second race.

(trans: You know this is not a kid's game)

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Dom: I got nothing but time.

(trans: I am so busy I only have time left.)

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