Thursday, April 12, 2007

Might as well be speaking Chinese...

Maybe you've heard: China is banning bad manners, spitting, and unintelligible English in preparation for the Beijing Olympics. So I guess the US will be leaving many athletes home...oh, did I say that? Out loud?

It's an effort to present a better public image to the world, and to some extent, it's a laudable effort. Trying to get taxi drivers to at least know some English to help with the influx of fans, hoping businesses will have signs that don't confound people. But there's a problem, and it's that the businesses were given strict guidelines for their signage (a stack of regs that weigh about 2 lbs) but aren't following them. Here are some examples:

A store selling tobacco products advertises: "An Excellent Winding Smoke."

On a billboard, this mysterious message: "Shangri-La is in you mind, but your Buffalo is not." Maybe we don't want more Chinese signs translated. Yet, it's not just the private sector. Look at this gem from the Beijing airport:

On the floor at Beijing's Capital Airport, a sign reads: "Careful Landslip Attention Security." People have the nerve to say our airport security is out to lunch? Or this one, that I'm not sure what it means:

In an elevator, parents are warned: "Please lead your child to tare the life." tare weight is an empty shipping container's weight, maybe the Chinese government is worried the youth of China is leading an empty life? Yet all is not lost. As always, the Chinese governement, that benign body of bureaucracy, has selected an eminently qualified person in the form of Liu Yang, who heads the "Beijing Speaks Foreign Languages Program" for the city government. In all their wisdom, the Chinese have selected someone to whom English isn't their primary language.

Of course, as the interview went on, I began thinking I was mistaken, especially after reading this statement: "We will pass the message on to authorities in the advertising sector," Liu said. "If English translation is needed it must be subject to the standards set forth in the regulations." Sounds like any English speaking lawyer to me. My confidence restored, I continued.

Much like a Honeymooner's episode, though, you just know what's coming. Somewhere, our Ralph, like Liu, despite all the good intentions, will faceplant into the pavement. And so it began with this quote.

"In the future when we set up new signs in public places in English, we hope all these standards will be followed to avoid more additional mistakes." More additional mistakes? Hello, can I please have the Government Department of Redundancy Department? This is who the Chinese have in charge of the program? It gets worse, as like any good $19.95 TV offer, there's more.

Beijing has 15 million residents, of which supposedly 5 million speak English. Liu backs this up by stating many fall into "low level" English. What exactly is that? According to Liu, this:

"They can have very simply conversations, like: `Who am I? Where am I going?"' Very simply put, Liu, you might be going soon, too. Maybe the US will be able to send all it's athletes, after all. They might even have some, like the basketball team, teach some English. How much worse can it get?

Some of this post consists of quotes from an AP article. No author was listed, otherwise I'd have gladly given credit for the inspiration.


blackcrag said...

Okay, you get to make fun of Mr. Liu's English, and yes, he does make some mistakes. One question: how's your Chinese?

Anyone who learns another language will make some garish mistakes. As for "more additional mistakes", it is possible, the grammar is wrong. Try "... more--additional mistakes," as Mr. Liu corrected himself as he remembered the precise word he wanted.

This is something I hear politicains of all stripe do constantly, and hear almost daily in conversation with practically anyone.

Out of curiosity, when Salt Lake City or Atlanta hosted the Olympics, how much foreign language signage did they put up?s

Mike said...

Point well made and taken. Though the US has put up signs in host cities in several languages, they never really asked anyone else to learn the languages. As for my Chinese, it's basically non existent. I've only got French, Italian, and some German going on upstairs, and a little Spanish my wife tries to teach me.

I was kind of poking fun at the whole situation, and at the fact that many in the US would be banned from Beijing, too, though it wasn't the focus of the article. The idea I was getting at was how the Chinese are so anxious to please that they forget themselves to some extent.

China has a rich and fascinating culture, why try to blanket it under western ideas and languages? It's like they're inviting imperialism, which they fought for so long.

Never is it my intention to bash another culture or race. I'm of Ukranian and Polish descent, and we were the doormats of Eastern Europe for centuries. It's just interesting how the modern world turns sometimes. As always, I welcome anyone's comments whether or not they like what I say. It's the only way to get different perspectives on the same issue.

blackcrag said...

I saw you poke fun at the US basketball team, and recognized this post was supposed to be ironic, but I think I missed the main point, though I agree the Chinese have a rich and vibrant culture. My parents just went there last fall, had a fantastic time.

You are ahead of me on the language issue, though. I only have some French and Spanish but I do know a couple words of Chinese.

Mike said...

Hey, between the two of us we'll be able to talk on all the continents!! Pretty good, huh?

LostInTX said...

I think it boils down to the fact that one can't translate languages word for word. It's also important to recognize that one word may have multiple meanings and if a qualified translator isn't involved in then the word may be used in the wrong context and not make sense at all. I know sometimes I think in Spanish and when the words come out of my mouth in English it sounds funny because the grammar is incorrect. It's funny sometimes, though, which is why Carlos Mencia and George Lopez make so much money making fun of our peeps.