As a native English speaker arriving in China, one of the first things I noticed was the English translations of many signs, billboards, advertisements, brand names, labels, and other items. Initially, I found it helpful. It is also a telling piece of evidence to both the growing popularity of English as a second language in China and an increased number of non-native English speakers visiting, doing business, and studying in China. It does not take long to find oddly-phrased, jumbled, or even nonsensical translations is these signs, providing a little comic relief while perhaps visiting a historical sight, using a public restroom, or throwing something in a trash can. It is a largely lovable aspect of daily life for an English speaker in China.
As one of my friends in the general studies program pointed out, the translations can sometimes point to aspect of Chinese society, values, and language characteristics, and can be quite telling. The signs warning against walking through the grass or harming the trees, for instance, usually personify the plant, asking guests not to harm the plant. Stating that the protected plants have feelings offers a subtle insight into Chinese and Confucian values of existing in harmony with the earth and everything it contains. I found this intriguing and quite accurate.
There is an effort among government and its officials, however, to adjust these “Chinglish” translations, as they have come to be known. English-speaking university faculty are being called upon to assist in the effort to put better, more aptly-stated English translations on many signs on streets and in major tourist locations across China. Beijing in particular is being targeted for Chinglish clean-up, in preparation for the 2008 Olympic Games and the arrival to the city of hundreds of thousands of visitors, many among them English-speakers.
Some of my favorites I captured on film, and they are an interesting, funny collection so far.
Instead of "King of Beef Noodles"... NO SNOKING!!! A place for you to put your organisms
Someone named "carefully" has the electricity...