ENGLISH IN CHINA

ENGLISH IN CHINA

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Chinglish
English is not widely spoken in China and most train, road and shop signs are written only in Chinese characters. In large major cities in China, there may be English translations for Chinese characters on signboards, but not usually in smaller cities and in small towns and villages. Chinese people involved in the tourist industry — guides and hotel and restaurant employees — often speak rudimentary English but are often not fluent in the language. Off the beaten track virtually no one speaks English other than "Hello."

According to the “Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language”: “For most Chinese, English is the international language par excellence, but as Cheng (above) observes, use often includes ‘identical or very similar expressions used in various publications. This tendency towards fixed expressions is also noticeable in spoken English. To an outsider, both spoken and written varieties appear stilted.’ He calls this politicized style Sinicized English. Its exponents, especially in such official organs as the English edition of the Beijing Review/Beijing Zhoubao (formerly the Peking Review), have tended to lace their English with such loan translations from Putonghua as running dogs for ‘lackeys’ (from zou gou) and capitalist roaders (from zou zi pai). English used by speakers of any Chinese dialect anywhere, regardless of their political persuasion, is often informally referred to as Chinglish.” [Source: Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language, Oxford University Press 1998]

In the People's Republic, the influence of English on Chinese has been mainly lexical, and in particular a large number of technical terms. English has had a mild effect on the morphology of Mandarin/Putonghua, in that the formation of loans and loan translations (such as modeng modern, moteer model, shehui society, and yuanliang excuse) has meant an increase in polysyllables in a mainly monosyllabic structure. In syntax, translation from English and the study of English grammar appears to have led to an increase in passive usage entailing the co-verb bei.

Chinese who speak English well relish the opportunity to speak with native English speakers. Many cities have English corners on Sunday mornings in a parks, where Chinese gather to speak English with one another and with foreigners. Some middle-aged Chinese learned English by listening to BBC and Voice of America broadcasts on homemade shortwave radios in the Mao and Deng eras. Some very old Chinese learned English back in the 1920s and 30s when there were large foreign communities in China. Young Chinese are often anxious to speak English because fluency in the language can help them get a good job or travel or study abroad. Sometimes you can find English signs that are written the traditional Chinese way characters are read: from right to left. Peter Hessler found one that read: “DTL .OC YRENIHCAM REWOP GNISNAS IUHSIL (LISHUI SANSING POWER MACHINERY CO. LTD.

Websites and Sources: Chinglish Chinglish Files chinglish.de Chinese English.com Chinglish Archives chineseenglish.com ; Links in this Website: CHINESE LANGUAGE TYPEWRITERS AND TATTOOS factsanddetails.com ; CHINESE SAYINGS, PROVERBS, PUNS AND SLOGANS factsanddetails.com ; CHINGLISH AND CRAZY ENGLISH IN CHINA factsanddetails.com ; CHINESE NAMES factsanddetails.com

Chinese Words in English and English Words in Chinese

Chinese words that have found there way into English include ping pong, typhoon, kowtow, tea, catsup, tycoon, sampan, shanghaied, chow, chow mein, and kung fu. Chow comes from the Chinese word “chou”, meaning edible. Coolie and coolie wages come from “kuli”, a word found in both Chinese and Urdu that means “low-paid workers.” Popular Cantonese loan words in English include “ketchup” and the word “chop” — as in company chop (stamp”) — for example. Other English words that come from Hong Kong English include “nullah” and “shroff”, which have Anglo-Indian roots, though they are only used in a few English-speaking places. “

According to the “Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language”: Few Chinese loan words to English have gained additional senses beyond the originally borrowed meaning or being transferred out of their Asian semantic contexts. A few, like tea, have become international forms borrowed into languages around the world. Nearly 1,000 loans into English have been tabulated, such as chow mein, ginseng, gung-ho, kaolin, kung fu, sampan, taipan; typhoon. [Source: Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language, Oxford University Press 1998]

Angie Eagan and Rebecca Weiner wrote in “CultureShock! China”: The English word ‘tea’ comes from the Cantonese pronunciation of the characterҶ, which in Cantonese is ‘te’. In the days of the clipper ships, most tea traded to England came from Canton, hence ‘te’ became ‘tea’. The Mandarin pronunciation, by the way, is ‘cha’, which became ‘chai’ in Hindi after the Indians learned tea culture from the Chinese, which in turn inspired that sweet drink. Some other English words are more obviously Chinese in origin, but they are by and large words you will have relatively little need for these days: ‘kowtow’ (ketou), ‘coolie’ (kuli) and the like are relics of a long-gone and unlamented period in Chinese-Western relations. [Source:“CultureShock! China: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette” by Angie Eagan and Rebecca Weiner, Marshall Cavendish 2011]

With food” .In many cases, you can easily work backward from borrowed English words to find the correct Chinese words: tofu (dofu), chow mein (chao mian), lo mein (lao mian) and chop suey (chao sui—literally ‘stir-fried leftover bits’) are just a few examples. There are also in today’s spoken Chinese a few cognates borrowed from English phonetically using sound-alike characters, again often involving foods. For instance, (kafei) is a fairly recognisable sound for ‘coffee’, and Д Ў (hanbaobao), with a little imagination, is recognisable as ‘hamburger’. The aid these cognates will give you in learning the language is limited, but they are fun. Following is a list of a few simple basic phrases in Chinese, and any decent phrase book will get you talking more.

A number of words often attributed to China actually evolved from Europe. Pagoda is a Portuguese word that means noise and mandarin comes from Portuguese word mandar (to be in charge). Gung-ho — originally used by U.S. Marines in 1942 to mean “work together” and later came to mean “enthusiastic — comes from “gonghe”, a clipped form of the Chinese words for “Chinese Industrial Co-operative Society.”

Dr Jon Orman, honorary assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong’s school of English, told World of Chinese: “Over the years, many “Hong Kong English” terms have been immortalised: “char siu” (barbecued pork), “compensated dating” (companionship and sometimes sex, for cash), “lucky money” (also known as lai see), “sandwich class” (middle-class dwellers too poor to buy property in the private market, but not poor enough to qualify for subsidised flats), “milk tea”, “wet market” and “sitting-out area”, to name a few. [Source: Sun Jiahui, World of Chinese, November 28, 2018]

Early History of English in China

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Chinglish
In 1636, King Charles I authorized a small fleet of four ships, under the command of Captain John Weddell, to sail to China and establish trade relations. At Canton the expedition got into a firefight with a Chinese fort and other battles occurred after that. The British blamed the failure in part on their inability to communicate.

According to the “Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language”: Contact between the English and Chinese languages dates from the establishment of a British trading post in 1640 in Guangzhou (Kwangchow, Canton), where PIDGIN English developed in the 18c. This was a trade jargon of the ports, now known technically as Chinese Pidgin English and China Coast Pidgin. Influenced by an earlier Cantonese Pidgin Portuguese (used by and with the Portuguese traders who preceded the British), it developed into a lingua franca of the Pacific that influenced the pidgins of Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Queensland, and elsewhere. With regard to its origin, the linguist Chin-Chuan Cheng notes: ‘The Chinese held the British, like all “foreign devils,” in low esteem, and would not stoop to learning the foreign tongue in its full form. The British, on the other hand, regarded the “heathen Chinee” as beyond any possibility of learning, and so began to modify their own language for the natives' benefit’ (‘Chinese Varieties of English’, in Braj. B. Kachru (ed.), The Other Tongue, 1982). Pidgin spread when the Treaty Ports were established in China in 1843, but declined towards the end of the 19 century as standard English began to be systematically taught in schools and universities. It is now extinct in the People's Republic and marginal in Hong Kong. The jargon, though a practical and useful medium, was generally looked down on; a disparaging term for it was coolie Esperanto. An example from its heyday is: Tailor, my have got one piece plenty hansom silk; my want you make one nice evening dress. [Source: Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language, Oxford University Press 1998]

By the 18th century English tradesman were a common sight in Canton. Local merchants began to make sense of their foreign language and made a pidgin-English dictionary called “The Common Foreign Language of the Red-Haired People” that used Chinese characters to capture the phonetics. Most of the people who spoke English at that time were middlemen and compradors who were largely looked upon by many Chinese as “boorish, their knowledge shallow...their moral principals...mean.”

A premium was not placed on learning English until the Chinese realized the needed it for diplomatic negotiations. Foreign-language schools and translation centers—mainly for English—were set up along China’s coast after the Opium Wars of the mid-19th century. Then an effort was made to teach the language at night to students in special language schools. Missionary schools began teaching English and other foreign languages to Chinese in the 19th century and remained doing so until the missionaries were kicked out by the Communists in 1949.

Later History of English in China

According to the “Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language”: In the first half of the 20th century, English was based on the British model and taught largely through literature. After the Communist regime established itself in 1949, the British-English model continued, not because of trade or imperial connections, but because the new educational policy was influenced by that of the Soviet Union, for which British-English was also the model. For many years China and the US had limited relations, and American-English has only recently become a possible target for learners.

Russian was the primary foreign language taught in China in the 1950s. There were fewer than 900 high school English teacher in the whole country at that time. The Cultural Revolution was a set back for all foreign languages. If you knew a foreign language it was best you keep it quiet lest you end up being harassed or tortured for being a foreign sympathiser.English started becoming fashionable after Nixon’s visit to China in 1971 with interest growing when China began opening up in 1978. Two phrases that students learned without fail were “foreign language is a tool of class struggle” and “Long live Chairman Mao.” The main thing that held study back was a lack of teachers and decent textbooks.

Some learned English in the Mao period by secretly listening to banned Voice of America broadcasts when speaking a foreign tongue could land you in jail. English became more important when Deng Xiaoping launched economic reforms in 1978 and China was eager to learn about technology and investment from the West. In the 1990s, all middle school and high schools were required to offer mandatory English courses. There was a severe shortage of instructors. Peace Corps volunteers trained some instructors. [Source: Dexter Roberts, Bloomberg Businessweek, May 22, 2014 -]

Banning of Some English Words, Allowing Others, in China

In 2014, the BBC reported: “There are translations for Nokia and Motorola, but not iPad or iPhone in China. Nowadays, if you eavesdrop on Chinese people's phone conversations, it is commonplace to hear English phrases popping up here and there, like "Okay", "Cool" and "Bye bye". In today's Chinese publications, English abbreviations and acronyms also pop up frequently without any Chinese translations: GDP, WTO, Wifi, CEO, MBA, VIP and the air pollutant term PM2.5 are among the most popular. [Source: Yuwen Wu, BBC Chinese, April 30, 2014]

This phenomenon, termed "zero translation", has sparked a fierce debate.Coca-Cola, whose Chinese rendition (kekou kele) literally means "tasty and jolly", conveys a sense of euphoria that it is often held up as the best brand translation. Unlike the "bad example text", these words and many others have been given Chinese characters so they blend into the Chinese language.

More and more Chinese people speak English and they like to switch between Chinese and English in conversation or when they write. The internet has helped spread English, especially in the fields of innovation and technology, while popular US and British films and TV dramas have also played a part.

US basketball is very popular in China and "NBA" was used on TV for many years before the authorities decided to ban it in 2010, in favor of the Chinese rendition (mei zhi lan), which literally means American professional basketball instead. This proved very controversial. In 2012, the Modern Chinese Dictionary, long considered the authority in language use, included NBA and more than 200 other foreign words in its new edition, and NBA made its way back on TV.

Around 100 scholars then signed an open letter to the national publication authorities, accusing the dictionary editors of violating Chinese laws and regulations. They argued that including such English terms and abbreviations in the Chinese dictionary would do long-term damage to the language. Not everybody agreed. The official Xinhua news agency carried a piece by Zhang Kuixing wondering how the use of some English vocabulary in a dictionary could be against the law if the language was legal in China.

China's War on English

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Chinglish
In May 2014, Dexter Roberts of Bloomberg wrote: “Chinese authorities are waging a war on American culture and the use of English. In April, China’s media regulators yanked the popular U.S. television shows The Big Bang Theory, NCIS, and The Good Wife from Chinese streaming websites Sohu (SOHU) and Youku (YOKU). The official party newspaper, People’s Daily, ran two editorials in April bemoaning the use of words borrowed from English when speaking Chinese. Then in mid-May came a flurry of reports in the state media confirming plans announced last fall to reduce the importance of English-language instruction and to expand courses on traditional culture in grade school and high school. [Source: Dexter Roberts, Bloomberg Businessweek, May 22, 2014 -]

“The government “wants to make us respect the Chinese language and culture more,” says Guo Jintong, a 16-year-old Beijing high school student, as he sits in a Starbucks drinking a grande cappuccino. “With everyone wanting to go overseas to study, there is a craze for English and the West that you can say has become excessive. This could have a bad effect on China.” Guo says he plans to go to the U.S. for graduate school after getting his bachelor’s in physics in China. -

“The authorities fear the Chinese are losing mastery over their written language. With smartphones, tablets, and computers equipped with character recognition software, Chinese have less need to remember the strokes for the 3,500 to 4,000 characters the average high school graduate is expected to know. A survey last year by Beijing-based Horizon Research Consultancy Group found that 94.1 percent of Chinese occasionally had trouble remembering characters, while 26.8 percent said the problem occurred frequently. The worries are starting to increase business at private Chinese-language tutoring schools that introduce children to classic literature such as Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The shift in emphasis away from English and toward Chinese will “drive demand for programs where children can learn more about traditional culture,” says Wang Naizhong, director at Dongxuetang, a private school in Beijing that teaches children their characters and Chinese traditions.” -

China Bans English in All Publications

In December 2010 AFP reported: “Chinese newspapers, books and websites will no longer be allowed to use English words and phrases, the country's publishing body has announced, saying the "purity" of the Chinese language is in peril. The General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) said the increasing use of English words and abbreviations in Chinese texts had caused confusion and was a means of “abusing the language”... GAPP said companies which violated the regulation would face "administrative punishment" without offering specifics.” [Source: AFP, December 22, 2010]

Such practices "severely damaged the standard and purity of the Chinese language and disrupted the harmonious and healthy language and cultural environment, causing negative social impacts," the body said on its website. "It is banned to mix at will foreign language phrases such as English words or abbreviations with Chinese publications, creating words of vague meaning that are not exactly Chinese or of any foreign language," it said. "Publishing houses and the media must further strengthen the regulated use of foreign languages and respect the structure, glossary and grammar of the Chinese and foreign languages."

Over the years, English idioms and terms have gradually crept into the native Chinese vocabulary, and replaced several Chinese words. The General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) is worried that English intrusion is compromising linguistic integrity, making people "less Chinese." Thus the government intervention, if seen as justified, has won plaudits.

English abbreviations such as NBA (National Basketball Association), GDP (gross domestic product), CPI (consumer price index) and WTO (World Trade Organization) are commonly used in Chinese publications. They are also often used in everyday conversation, and government officials routinely use the abbreviations at press conferences. The body left a small loophole, stipulating in the regulation that "if necessary", English terms could be used but must be followed by a direct translation of the abbreviation or an explanation in Chinese. The names of people or places in English also must be translated.

China has launched several campaigns in recent years to try to root out poor grammar and misused vocabulary in official usage. Earlier this year, China Central Television and Beijing Television told the China Daily that they had received notification from the government to avoid using certain English abbreviations on Chinese programmes. But English abbreviations are still commonly heard on regular news and sports broadcasts.

People’s Daily on the English Ban in China

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Li Mu reported in the People's Daily Online, “Coined terms that are not intelligible to everyone are not allowed to be used, according to a notice released by GAPP...Abuse of foreign languages, including arbitrary use of English words; acronym mixing in Mandarin and coined half-English, half-Chinese terms that are intelligible to nobody, are commonly seen... All these have seriously damaged to the purity of the Chinese language and resulted in adverse social impacts to the harmonious and healthy cultural environment.” [Source: Li Mu, People's Daily Online, December 21, 2010]

“According to the notice, press and publication administration departments are required to follow vocabulary and grammar rules of used languages in publications. The translation of foreign language should be consistent with the basic translation principles and practices. Proper nouns as well as scientific and technical terms should be translated into common language according to relevant provisions.”

“The notice required that press and publication administration departments at all levels to further strengthen inspection and management of language usage quality control in publications. The checking of foreign languages usage is required in daily censorship and annual inspection. Violations of norms shall be required to be corrected and will be punished according to law.”

China Steps Back from It Bans on English

A few days after the foreign media and China Internet users made a big deal about the ban on English words in Chinese publications the Global Times ran a story under the headline , "Loanwords from English No Cause for Worry." Victor Mair wrote in his blog Language Log, “Clearly, there has been an uproar among China's netizens, who are fond of peppering their writing with English words and Roman letters. So the Global Times tries to do some fast backpedaling, saying that, well, it is all right to use such authentically Chinese English words as "gelivable" (awesome), "niubility" (brilliance), and "smilence" (soundless smile), but — after all — it's really best to stay away from those non-Chinese English words, because they are threatening the national language. [Source: Victor Mair, Language Log, December 23, 2010]

One editor at a Beijing publishing house told the China Daily that the new GAPP regulation could actually result in reduced understanding. "The intention of protecting the Chinese language is good. But in an age of globalization, when some English acronyms like WTO have been widely accepted by readers, it might be too absolute to eliminate them," the editor said. "Conversationally, people also use these words all the time, so the regulation could create discord between the oral and written uses of language." [Source: AFP, December 22, 2010]

The Global Times quoted an editor at a Beijing publishing house as saying finding translations for globally used acronyms would be time-consuming and confusing. "I wonder how many people understand 'guoji shangye jiqi gongsi', when IBM is instantly recognisable," the editor said.

Learning English in China

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Linguists estimate between 250 million and 350 million Chinese are learning English in China, with 20 million more taking up the language every year. This means there are about as many Chinese studying English as there are Americans citizens living in the United States. In 20 years, some predict, there will be more Chinese English speakers than native English speakers. A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center before the 2008 Olympics found that 77 percent of the Chinese interviewed said “children need to learn English to succeed on the world day.” This is down from 92 percent in 2002. Still the view that English is necessary to get ahead remains strong among many segments of the population Every college student must meet a minimal level of English comprehension and English is the only foreign language tested on the university entrance exam. In a British study on English skills, China ranked 29th out of 44 countries. The study, conducted by a group called Education First (EF) compared test scores of more than 2.3 million adults from 2007 through 2009.

Chinese students are learning English starting from Kindergarten, and there are more people in China who speak English than there are in America. English is big business in China More than 200 million copies of the New Concept English series of school textbooks have been printed. The largest English school company, New Oriental, is traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Scores in China on the standardized TOEFL exam were an average of 543 in 2000. Scores in Japan and South Korea, respectively, were 501 and 535.

In Beijing, it has become quite fashionable for pre-school and kindergarten children to learn English at special schools staffed by Americans, Canadians and Filipinos. Most of the students are children of fairly well-off parents, many of whom work for companies that do business with foreigners. The father of a 5-year-old boy in one of these schools told a Japanese newspaper, “I hope my son would become a public relations lawyer who can negotiate with American and European companies.”

Some English schools in China make some rather bold claims. An English course that advertised on television in the 1980s reportedly helped an ordinary soldier become an English professor. Learning English was given a high priority as Beijing prepared for the 2008 Olympics. The Beijing government’s “Let’s Speak English action plan,” has included speaking contests, English television programs, English events in local parks organized by neighborhood groups and free English lessons offered by university students. Taxi drivers and mass transit workers have to pass English exams.

Some Chinese families offer free accommodation to foreign tourist in return for English lessons. A non-profit organization called Tourboarding specializes in setting up such arrangements in Shanghai and other cities. Families that have participated find the lessons a welcome alternative to lessons that otherwise can cost $30 to $50 an hour. Travelers also like it. A 22-year-old from Utah who stayed with a family in Shanghai told the China Daily, “It think is very nice to be actually be this close to the local culture. We’d like to not only visit tourist spots, but also see how a Chinese family lives, what their customs are like, and what’s their favorite television show is.”

Studying English in School in China

Dexter Roberts of Bloomberg wrote: “Urban children usually begin studying English in the third grade, and it is one of three core subjects throughout elementary and high school, along with math and Chinese. Regardless of what field one chooses, passing an English proficiency test is required to get into university and graduate school. Academics who want to be promoted to a full professorship have to pass English examinations. Language training schools including New Oriental and Global Yasi School have opened branches across the country to meet the demand. “English has become more important not only in schools but in society as well,” says Wang Xiaoyang, product director of the Higher Education Research Institute at Tsinghua University. “Now it looks like China’s English fever has reached a high point.” [Source: Dexter Roberts, Bloomberg Businessweek, May 22, 2014 -]

In kindergarten kids learn their ABCs and a few simple greetings. In primary schools they focus on reading, reciting and writing the 26 letters. Many parents send their kids to out-of school English classes and often orient them towards passing Public English Test (PETs), which are divided into six levels with Level Six being the highest. Passage of a Level 2 test is often required for admission to a good middle school. The emphasis in the system is on reading and writing and students end up “mute” — unable to speak or listen very well.

Many Chinese in their 30s have fond memories of studying English using a textbooks that focused on the lives of a boy named Li Lei and a girl named Han Meimei. Found in high school books used between 1993 and 2000, Li and Han are now featured on T-shirts, schoolbags and stationary sold at bookstores. The textbooks are also associated with a period in which Chinese began to take the study of English more seriously.

The number of English words high school graduates are expected to know has increased from 1,800 in the 1980s, to 2,000 on the 1990s to 2,500 to 3,300 in 2008. By 2010 they are expected to know 3,300 to 4,000 English words.

English Teacher's Stunt in China Goes Horribly Wrong

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In December 2010, the China Daily reported: “An English teacher’s decision to stage an act of individuality in front of his creative writing class...and emulate a Robin Williams character... resulted in 14 maimed students and one dead poetry teacher. Students at No. 2 Dongguan Polytechnic arrived for class expecting a colorless continuation of Monday’s lecture on iambic pentameter, only to discover that their teacher, William Carlos Wallace, 27, of Lancaster, Massachusetts, had spent all night arranging a pyre of firewood beneath the whiteboard, upon which he had drawn in large letters “CARPE DIAN” (“seize the Electricity”) in Latin and Chinese. [Source: Tiantian Xiangshang Education Correspondent, China Daily, December 1, 2010]

“He was upset that the university had cut the electric in his dormitory,” said English major Li Song, 21, who happened to be with Wallace when his power stopped working. In an interview with China Daily Show, Li said the two had been watching Wallace’s favorite movie, “ Dead Poets Society “ , which stars Robin Williams as a literature teacher who encourages his class of New England students to carpe diem or ‘seize the day,” rather than follow the staid orthodoxies of the traditional educational establishment, when the juice suddenly failed. “It was at that moment that he decided to show his power against the school,” said Li.

The next morning, Wallace welcomed his students, locked the door, stood atop the pyre and lit a torch he had constructed and labeled “Prometheus.” He then called administrators on his mobile and was quoted as saying, “To thee misguided nanny state Confucians, desist and cease your human rights abuses. Restore the use of nightly lumination, else face the wrath of fiery retribution.”

When administrators failed to understand Wallace’s English, they called police, who arrived moments later and promptly tear-gassed the classroom. These are the facts: 1) The flammable tear gas set Wallace and 14 students on fire; 2) As students fled for the door, Wallace leapt from the six story window, declaring, “You may take away our power, but you will never take our freedom!” 3) Wallace’s last words were cut short when, according to one of his students, “he landed in a migrant worker’s red wheelbarrow, stained with rain water, beside the white chickens.”

“Administrators have employed grievance counselors to help students come to grips with the teacher’s senseless act of Western ignorance, and have recharged the late pedagogue’s electricity meter, which had inexplicably run out of credit four months ahead of schedule.” The 14 injured students from Wallace’s class are currently lying in the burn victim’s ward at Shenzhen’s Last Hope Memorial Hospital. In lieu of flowers, their parents have asked mourners to donate a steady supply of traditional, status quo-promoting examples of Chinese cinema.

Improving English Skills in China

In 2010, as part of an effort to make Beijing a “world city,” authorities announced that students and residents from a variety of professions, including lavatory cleaners and policemen, would be required to learn English. A continuation of program launched in 2002 for the 2008 Olympics, the plan calls for kindergartens to introduce English courses within five years and 60 percent of shop assistants. receptionists and hair dressers under 40 and other people that might have contact with foreigners to pass an English test. Every civil servant with a college degree and policeman under the age of 40 will be required to master a minimum of 1,000 English sentences.

Already there are doubts about how effective the program will be. In preparation for the Olympics 80 percent of policemen in Beijing had to pass a basic English test. A survey by newspaper at several city police stations found that most policemen had never even heard of the test. Taxi drivers that studied for their Olympic test used a book that taught English using Chinese sounds. For example, according to one book if you pronounced “ sab ke yu fei li ma chu “” quickly enough it comes out “Thank you, very much.”

Efforts have also focused on cleaning up Chinglish. The campaign to clean up English signs before the 2008 Summer Olympics led to the replacement of 400,000 street signs, 1,300 restaurant menus and such things of impropriety as the Dongda Anus Hospital — now known as the Dongda Proctology Hospital, and Racist Park, rechristened Minorities Park.[Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, May 2, 2010]

See Beijing Olympics 2008

Thinking, Dreaming and Writing in Chinese and English

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The London-based science fiction writer Xiaolu Guo wrote in The Guardian: ‘One language is not enough — I write in both Chinese and English...My writing day starts in the night, with midnight or early morning dreams. When I wake up in my east London flat, I ponder on them while making coffee. In one recurrent dream, my dead Chinese grandmother speaks in my hometown dialect to my western boyfriend, and my western boyfriend responds to her in his language. Both seem to understand each other perfectly without a translator. I must have been using a hidden language to narrate the dream — neither Chinese nor English. It is a dreaming language. I desperately want to capture it, and write in it. [Source: Xiaolu Guo, The Guardian, October 13, 2016. Her “UFO in Her Eyes” was published by Vintage in 2016]

“Since I left China 14 years ago, my everyday writing life seems to be a battle between the language I think in and the language I write in. Sometimes, before my pen touches paper, none of my languages — Mandarin, English, Zhejiang dialect — come out; my hand freezes and I stare at my notebook or a scene in the street, my thoughts lost in translation. I cannot write — even though I’ve written several books in Chinese, and a few more in English; and I still feel there’s so much in me screaming to be heard. But something is deeply suppressed. My tongue is tied. I cannot express my thoughts with only one language. So I translate. I use one word to find another word. I try to write a transcript which is in both Chinese and English, a text that is alive and true for both cultures I am living in.

“It has been like this for a while now. For the last decade I have led a life of an artist-in-residence in Europe. I’ve lived in France, Germany, Switzerland and Britain, although London and Beijing have been my main bases. When I lived in Paris, I was writing a Chinese novel — UFO in Her Eyes — in English while studying French. In Zurich, I worked on my memoir in English, largely set in China, and conversed with myself in a mix of Chinese, English and German. In those foreign cities, I woke up with confused dreams. I noted them down until I realised the linguistic disunity in my narrative. Then my pen froze again. My languages alienate me. They don’t make me feel at home. They tell me I live in the wrong place. They make me stateless. That’s the nature of my writing life.

“This morning I take my daughter to nursery. I’m aware that tomorrow we’ll be in Berlin and I need to print the boarding passes today. After China abandoned me (or did I abandon China?), I decided that I would be based in London, but Berlin would be my second home — so as to keep touch with the continent. Each time I return to Berlin, I try to write English novels, while studying some German. But, today, my mind is in Beijing — a city I lived in for a decade before coming to London.

“After leaving the nursery, I print out our boarding passes, and go to a bookshop where I buy a well-known Chinese sci-fi novel in an English edition, The Three-Body Problem. How fitting! It sums up my state. I will be interviewing the Chinese sci-fi author Cixin Liu — I’ll converse with him in Chinese and then translate our words into English for the audience. I must prepare the interview this week in Berlin. Returning to my flat. I cook some Sichuan-style stir-fry, and plan the rest of my day — mainly writing and reading, and stretching my limited vocabularies.

“Wittgenstein’s famous line stays with me: “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.” Words fail me all the time, whether in Chinese or in English. But I still churn my words out in a foreign world, in a language that I hope will become mine. Since I began to write in English in 2003, I’ve been living in multiple spaces, each with its own language. The fact that I now write in my third tongue makes my writing days even more difficult.

“This evening as I pack my luggage, I stand before my shelf thinking: should I bring Mishima to Berlin or keep his books in London? What about Laozi? Or Bolaño? Or Joyce? I need them by my bedside, even though I don’t read them very often. Without them, I feel I’ve lost my glasses. Everything blurs. In this perpetual living abroad, I need to locate myself through these authors, through their particular ways of using language, ways of dreaming. The dream language exists beyond verbal languages. But it’s my real native language. I want to understand the dream in which my dead grandma converses with my western boyfriend. One day I’ll fathom it; that mysterious language will eventually belong to me.

Image Sources: Mostly from Asia Obscura. Also 1)Nushu, Nushu website; 2) Craxy English, Pardo com; 3) Chinglish poco pico blog and Wikipedia

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2021


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