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New standard will help foreigners lost in translation

Xinhua | Updated: 2017-06-29 09:37

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

With all these on offer, it may seem strange that tourists are 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. Hilarity aside, last week, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, and the Standardization Administration issued a standard for translation in the public service sector, in a bid to polish its prose and publicity.

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

Fuller is a British artist who has been in Beijing since March. He has been exploring the city as research for his current project. When asked if he had come across any mistranslations, he responded, "So many."

"They are funny. But, actually, it just shows a lazy attitude toward language, especially the official signs," he said.

The same goes for menus in restaurants. One establishment had 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.

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, once volunteered to correct translations in Shenyang, capital of Liaoning province in Northeast China. Close to 100 students also took part.

"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."

Therefore, 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 Xiaofeng believes that 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.

Jiang Qi, a shopkeeper in Anhui province, said he had asked some English teachers to help him translate his signage. "Foreigners live in my neighborhood. I don't want to be the butt of jokes and lose face."

"Over time, the new standard could improve English language nationwide, which could be beneficial for China," said Fuller. "Like the language on the subway has been in English since the Olympics. This is really positive and inclusive."

Social networks and messaging apps are full of memes, gifs and emojis featuring examples of mistranslations, such as a cheerleader accompanied by the chant "Come on" ("Jia You" in Chinese), which when translated word-for-word means "add oil" ;or a blushing school girl with the statement "Hao Li Hai", which means "superb" but is translated into its homophone "Holy high."

"I like the translations on these emojis," said Ahmed, a student from Pakistan, adding that he uses them often. "I like self-deprecating humor derived from mistakes."

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