New Chinese Translation Guidelines: Is This the End of Engrish?

Over the years, China has become famous around the world for culture, food, industry . . . and funny translation mistakes. “Engrish” may have been born in Japan, but China has been exporting memes of hilariously bad translations for years now.

Except that the Chinese government is officially over it. Last week, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine issued a new set of guidelines regarding the use of English in public places. Is this the end of “Engrish?”

To find out, let’s take a look at the history of English translation in China, and why the new Chinese translation guidelines are needed.

A Brief History of Translation in China

Translation in China has a long, respectable history that dates to the Zhou dynasty in 1100 BC. At that time, Chinese translators were government clerks. Their goal was to “to replace one written language with another without changing the meaning for mutual understanding.”

Centuries later, translators would bring Buddhist scriptures to China. In the 7th century CE, during the Tang Dynasty, the famous monk Xuan Zang translated 1335 volumes of Buddhist manuscripts.

Later on, during the Qing Dynasty, translator Yan Fu brought Western political classics like  Thomas Henry Huxley’s Evolution and Ethics and Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations to China. His criteria were “Faithfulness, Fluency, and Elegance.”

So, what happened? How did we get from there to today, where “roasted wheat gluten” often shows up on menus as “roasted husband.”

Why Do So Many Funny Translation Fails Come From China?

It’s nobody’s fault, really. Chinese and English are two very different languages. The number of English-speaking tourists in China has increased over the past two decades, and that gives small business owners a reason to cater to them.

However, these small businesses don’t always have the funds to have their signs, menus, and documents professionally translated. Machine translations are often inadequate. Mistakes will be made, and the results will be hilarious.  And meme-worthy.  Websites like Engrish.com showcase these translation mistakes. Pictures go viral. (It’s also worth noting that while most Western businesses have access to better resources, translation mistakes go both ways. ) Read more

BELFRIT Supplement Industry

Why the BELFRIT Project Is a Step Forward for the European Food Supplements Industry

You’ve probably heard of the Bendy Banana Law before: it’s an EU regulation that bans bananas that have a curvature beyond a certain standard. EU detractors have often used it as an example of how intrusive the European Commission can be in the lives of its member citizens.

Although this claim has been exaggerated (there is no ban for overly bendy bananas), there is indeed a regulation that sets specific quality standards for green bananas (colour, measurements, etc.) and restricts circulation of those with an “abnormal curvature.” The Bendy Banana Law is intended to replace national classification and grading systems by a common set of rules, resulting in a complex law for what you would think is a straightforward fruit!

Certain botanicals can be cures or poisons, too, which makes classification and application beyond colour, curvature or measurement more controversial. The law should protect consumers from ingesting harmful biotoxins – stating the obvious! – so how can we make clear rules for operators that want to inform consumers of the benefits that popular botanicals such as Aloe veraGinko biloba or Panax ginseng may have?

The clarity and vagueness of the EU law on food supplements

Foods are categorised by the role they play in our diets. Some countries classify foods with medicinal properties as food supplements, whereas others consider them medicines. According to Directive 2002/46/EC, the EU states that food supplements are “concentrated sources of nutrients or other substances with a nutritional or physiological effect”, whose purpose is to “supplement the normal diet.” Read more

Website Localization: How 3 Multinational Businesses Customize Their Websites for Global Appeal

Ready to localize your website? There’s more to it than just translating words from one language to another. To appeal to audiences around the world, your site must appeal to their preferences . . . and while we like to think good design is universal, there’s usually a cultural component as well.

To optimize your site for its intended audiences, you may need to change images, tweak the color scheme and even reimagine the content.  It’s challenging, to be sure. So how do multinational brands like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s pull it off?

Let’s find out, shall we? Here’s how 3 multinational companies use website localization to appeal to customers around the world:

How Amazon.com Uses Website Localization To Attract Shoppers Around the World


To start, let’s take a look at how Amazon.com’s home page is localized for different markets. The slideshow above compares Amazon’s US home page with that of Japan and India.

As you can see, the American site has a color scheme that uses a lot of white, gray, black and turquoise blue.  The product choices are targeted at Americans, obviously, and of course, the text is in English.

Amazon Japan

Now, take a look at the Japan page. Amazon uses the same standard layout for all of their sites – it was obviously designed to be flexible for different languages. At the same time, they’ve done much more than simply translate the words on the page. They’ve showcased different products, and the images have been changed to feature Japanese models and Japanese products. The color scheme is much lighter, with more white throughout the page.

And look at the differences between the banner ads for Amazon’s Prime Video service.  Both pages use a grid to showcase some of the popular movies and TV shows available on Prime. But in the US version, the grid fades to black about halfway across. In the Japanese version, the squares are smaller, and the grid stretches across the entire page, so more video options can be featured.

Amazon India

And now take a look at the Indian site. The Indian site is in English, with no local language options. But even so, the content has been localized to make the site appeal to Indian customers. And the color scheme has changed, too, with more red, saffron yellow, orange and green throughout.  For example, in the Prime banner on the US website, Amazon chose turquoise blue for the background. In the Indian version, it’s lime green. Read more

Translating gender identity in a non-binary world

Translating Gender Identity in a Non-Binary World

Translation, in its simplest context, involves converting words from one language to another, in order that the same information can be shared with audiences of different nationalities. However, translation is rarely that simple in reality. Messages that are acceptable in one culture can cause offence in another. The same is true of individual words. This can cause headaches for translation companies in many areas of their work, from general marketing documents to the translation of information on more sensitive topics.

Read more

Translation & Interpreting in Sports

Translating sport into global success

Translation and interpreting have long played a role in the global sporting industry. The international nature of a great many sporting competitions brings together athletes, trainers, coaches, judges, sponsors, fans and more from all corners of the globe. All of those participating need to understand the rules of the competition, local regulations, safety announcements and a myriad of other details. Meanwhile, those attending the event as spectators need to be able to understand the practical details of the venue (where to find exits, toilets, food and so forth) as well as associated information such as the event schedule etc.

Translation in sport is key to facilitating international competitions such as the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup. However, that is far from the only role of applied translation when it comes to the sporting industry. Read more

Covfefe, Bridget Jones in Japanese, and Brexit’s Silver Lining: 10 Language Stories to Read Today

Need something to get you over the hump this Wednesday? Get your language and translation water cooler fodder here! We’ve selected 10 stories from the past month that are interesting, thought-provoking or just plain funny. Enjoy!

Arab Women Writers, Lost in Translation

Translation is about so much more than words. Context matters, too. In this article, Pakistani writer Rafia Zakaria examines how the words of female Arabic writers often lose meaning in translation, as Western translators interpret them in the context of their own stereotypes.  Even the nickname of Arab poetess Al-Khansaa is usually mistranslated, according to Zakaria: It’s rendered as “pug-nosed” in English when it actually refers to a gazelle.

For more on the difficulties of literary translation, read: The Challenges of Translating Literature 

Need to Double-Check Google Translate? There’s an App for That

But does it work? Boomerang is an app that is supposed to help you avoid those ubiquitous Google Translate errors. Here’s how it works. First, you plug in the phrase you want to be translated. Then, Boomerang runs it through Google Translate. Finally, it translates the result back into your language.

Of course, back translation by human translators is a common quality control procedure. And back translation with machines could certainly catch some errors . . . but it’s unlikely to catch all of them. And it doesn’t tell you what to say instead. Read more

Translation at the UN

Translation at the UN: 5 Ways Translators and Interpreters Power the United Nations

Last month, the United Nations officially recognized our favorite holiday (and no, it’s not Christmas). In a new resolution on 24 May, the UN declared September 30th International Translation Day to recognize the important role translators and interpreters play in the organization.

And it’s hard to overstate how much the UN depends on these services. Here are 5 ways translation and interpretation keep the United Nations running.

Translation at the UN: Support for 6 Official Languages

The UN has 6 official languages:  Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. As an organization, it is committed to multilingualism. Naturally, almost everything the organization does is translated into each of these 6 languages.

As the UN website observes,

The correct interpretation and translation of these six languages, in both spoken and written form, is very important to the work of the Organization, because this enables clear and concise communication on issues of global importance.

Without the efforts of translators and interpreters, working in 6 different languages would be difficult, to say the least. But why not just choose one language for everyone to use? First of all, doing so would create a situation that favors native speakers of one official language over the other five. Most people are simply more comfortable communicating in their native language.

Secondly, in politics, appearances count. And favoring one official language over the others looks bad for an organization that’s supposed to fairly balance the interests of 193 different nations. Read more

Translating a brand - china vs the world

Translating a Brand: China vs. the World

When it comes to cultural and linguistic differences, few regions stand as far apart as China and the Western world – the US in particular. One is a communist state that prioritises cooperation and collectivism, the other a democracy that sees itself as a paragon of meritocracy. While both may fall short of their ideals (which country in this world can truly live up to its values across all parts of its society?), this does not change the vast differences between their fundamental principles.

When it comes to population size, China dwarfs the US, with 1.38 billion citizens, versus just 326 million in the US. Nevertheless, the US reigns supreme when it comes to GDP – at least for the moment. The US economy is worth $18.5 trillion, accounting for 24.5% of gross world product. China has the second largest global economy, at $11.3 trillion.

Linguistically, too, China and the West are very different. Mandarin, is a tonal, analytic language that uses a subject-verb-object word order and topic-prominent organisation. It is written using logograms known as hànzì. The English language, on the other hand, is a Germanic language that uses a Latin script, modal verbs and the palatalisation of consonants, though it does share the subject-verb-object order of Mandarin.  Read more

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