Mandarin Chinese is both a thrill and a challenge to learn. Approaching it from the beginner's end, it seemed daunting and exhausting and impossible. After all, there are thousands of characters to learn and comprehend by themselves; then characters can take on completely random meanings depending on the other words with which they are combined. Context is everything in Chinese. So is tone, as I'm sure most non-speakers are at least aware of. A single syllable pronounced four different ways can have 8 different meanings. But for me, this spring, learning Mandarin has been a thrill. It is such a rush to be able to read a page in my textbook. I love knowing how to write the characters in their correct stroke order, and for that matter, I love knowing the strokes and how they fit together. I like learning the radicals, and cracking the mysterious code of each new word.

By no means is it easy, but it is a pleasure seeing results, seeing myself absorb the words. I am more receptive to this language than I ever was to high school French or Spanish once I got to college. That moment of realization, comprehending a foreign language and understanding what kind of door that opens for you is quite indescribable. I am beginning to widen my discussion opportunities in the world-- there is a new, HUGE population for me to chat with, over in China. So I'll keep studying!

Do You Speak Chinglish?

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...