Friday, May 11, 2007

The Law of the Letter

Barnson, Misery. I stared at the back of the student’s windbreaker as he sat in front of me during the field day events and struggled to decipher the butchered English. Next to him sat several guys and gals with the long-eared Playboy logo on their jackets, over their hearts, where friends back home in the States might wear alligators or horses. Did they understand the emblems they wore like badges? I chuckled and then, eureka! Branson, Missouri!

One of the joys of teaching English in China was reading all the butchered English from my students: on signs, in books, anywhere that English was printed. We affectionately called the mistakes “Chinglish.” One day I passed a crew of workers putting up a sign on the Bureau of something or other. They had all the letters but not in the right order. I salvaged the crew leader’s reputation from criticism when I stopped and had them change Bareuu back to its proper spelling. Little did I know I saved him from future legal problems.

Last month, Fox News ran an AP story that caught my attention. In an effort to crack down on irregular English, Chinese authorities have laid down the law and beefed up security surrounding Beijing in anticipation of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. Apparently, private businesses and others who have dealings with foreigners are simply not following the rules.

According to Liu Yang, head of the Beijing Speaks Foreign Languages Program, a language hotline is in the works to encourage the public to report nonsense English. The standard by which each case is judged is to be found in a two-pound stack of regulations detailing proper English usage in advertising.

The problem, however, is not just with advertisers. Evidently the taxi drivers are also failing in English. Liu said Beijing taxi drivers must pass an English test to keep their licenses. But he acknowledged, "The taxi training courses are not working effectively, and there is a problem of taxi drivers missing classes.” Despite the problems, Liu said one-third of Beijing's 15 million residents speak some English, a claim that was challenged by a local reporter from China's state-run CCTV.

"I think 5 million is a big number," the reporter told Liu.

Liu stood by the figure, but conceded the vast majority of the English speakers fell into a category he labeled "low level."
Said Liu, "They can have very simply conversations, like: `Who am I? Where am I going?"'

This blogger wishes she could have simple conversations in English, like: “Who am I? Where am I going?” For more fun, read this then scroll down the link for some more classic “Chinglish.”


Jenni said...

Hey Karen, I found The Southern Review at the B&N on W. Park and Preston - there is a Whole Foods in that shopping center, too. I hope you can find a copy!

see me loink said...

i forgot i had a blahh-g, i just went and logged at iyteh, i forget how to get in and do things to it, i will try to find, i saqw this therte: thanks you karn: Karen Miedrich-Luo said...
I posted a note about your site on Allison's blog which probably isn't fair since you may not know. I can't say it better than I said it there, your work is lovely. My appreciation for it grows the longer I know you. I especially like the collage on the page. That, in itself, is art.

jerry fall well said...

karen? KAREN? k a r e n ?



harold of cardboard . . . said...


wonderful post

i wuuda been cliggin awy with my comera

and how dare you "help" a person stop something funny

i think you might like

hope ya had a nice tawk w/A today


harold of cardboard . . . said...


here are some signs i recently found: