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June 30, 2017

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China’s English about to get better

CHINA is home to the Great Wall, the birthplace of tea, the site of a giant telescope searching space for alien life, and the list goes on.

With all that on offer, it may seem strange that many tourists delight in taking pictures of Chinese signs.

“Please wait outside a noodle.” “Watch your hand.” “Fire on everyone.” What on earth are these cryptic sentences suppose to mean?

A quick search on social media for Chinglish brings up a whole host of mistranslations, from restaurant menus to metro information signs. They have inspired memes and blogs, and more than a few articles.

Now the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, and the Standardization Administration has issued a standard for translation in the public service sector, in a bid to polish its prose.

The standard features more than 3,500 stock translations covering 13 areas, including transport, culture and health care. It will take effect on December 1.

Restaurants translations in China are not often kind to the dishes. One establishment named its pork lungs in chili sauce after the couple who had first cooked it, but the English name, husband and wife’s lung slice, sounds gruesome.

Jiang Qi is the owner of a small shop in east China’s Anhui Province. “English translations can make a shop or restaurant stand out,” he said, adding that some people just used the pinyin, the system for writing Chinese with the Latin alphabet, or just used translation tools like Baidu.

Guo Xiaofeng, a teacher at Yucai Middle School in northeast China, once volunteered to correct translations in Shenyang, capital of Liaoning Province. Close to 100 students also took part in the project.

“Armed with cameras, we checked signs in railways stations, subways, bus stops and malls, documenting questionable translations and consulting with native speakers,” he said.

“China is growing and more foreigners are coming here,” said Wu Yong, head of the Liaoning office of China Daily. “With more foreign trade and a larger number of tourists, we definitely need to up the ante with our translations.” He supports the new standard. “It is a good thing,” he said. “The next step will be how to ensure the standard is applied and maintained.”

Wu suggested additional measures to improve translation. “When I see a sign that is wrongly translated, which department should I inform, how do I contact them? We need a dedicated team to take care of the issue.”

Guo believes local governments should encourage the public to find and correct mistakes. “The public should work with media outlets and rewards should be offered to those who actively participate. This would, ultimately, improve the English level of the whole country,” he said.


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