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Chinese Language Teacher Becomes Internet Celebrity

In China, Jessica Beinecke is kind of  a big deal.

The 27-year-old language teacher has become an internet celebrity for her work on OMG Meiyu (OMG American English), a YouTube program produced by Voice of America that teaches American slang terms like “twerk” and “swag” to Mandarin speakers.  She also has two programs of her own: Crazy Fresh Chinese, which teaches English-speaking students how to say words like “totes” and “hipster” in Mandarin, and Bai Jie LaLaLa. Like OMG Meiyu, Bai Jie LaLaLa is aimed at Chinese speakers.

With her offbeat, bubbly personality and model-pretty good looks, Ms. Beinecke ( Bai Jie to her Chinese audience) has attracted a loyal army of fans, including 400,000 followers on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter.

Why the focus on slang, especially the type of slang words that more conservative English scholars see as a sign of the coming apocalypse? Ms. Beinecke told the Wall Street Journal that the show’s format makes the language more accessible to young students:

“I kind of spice it up and give them something to use. They can say when they go to Starbucks, ‘Hey, get me a zhong bei dou na tie – give me a medium soy latte. It’s something they can use in the moment. So I think that’s what really connects.”

The effect goes both ways, also making Mandarin more relatable to an American audience, she says:

“The looks on their faces when they learn there’s a word for swag and twerk in Mandarin, they instantly have this new connection to Mandarin and they can more instantly relate to a language that they thought up to that point was foreign to them.”

The videos are fun, bite-sized and almost addictive. For example,  if you’ve ever wondered how to say “hipster” in Mandarin, wonder no more:

Notes from Hong Kong

Notes from Hong Kong

This week we have an interesting piece for the language blog from one of our exceptional team members, Liz Kim. After a whirlwind tour of Hong Kong, here’s Liz’s write up of the attractions she encountered in one of the world’s most impressive cities. Over to Liz…

Hong Kong is a fascinating, vibrant and exciting place to visit. It’s cosmopolitan yet integrally Chinese. 95% of its’ 7.1 million inhabitants are Chinese, and the city is constantly fuelled by newcomers from across the border. Now officially a Special Administrative Region of China with one of the highest population densities in the world but at the same time it is efficient, clean and very well organised. It was originally built by pirates, merchants and adventurers in the pursuit of wealth, the top dollar is still the main preoccupation of its current inhabitants. Nowhere is it more evident than in the myriads of shops of all types and sizes, and huge elegant shopping malls housing the famous high-end retailers. Shopping is a favourite past time of Hong Kong’s designer label conscious dwellers. Read more

Shanghainese in Danger

How do you unite a country as diverse as China? A common spoken language certainly helps, but the government has often promoted Mandarin at the expense of, instead of in addition to, local dialects.

As a result, the survival of other Chinese languages is threatened. For example, even Shanghainese, the most famous branch of the ancient Wu dialect family, is under threat. Linguistics professor Qian Nairong of Shanghai University was quoted in the Telegraph as saying “Shanghainese will come to an end within a generation or two.”

The popularity of English as a second language is another obstacle for Shanghainese. Language activist Roman Xu told the reporters:

“I guess the younger generation is much more familiar with English than their mother tongue. I’ve read in history books about how a language gradually dies out. Hope my mother tongue won’t become one.”

However, English is really a secondary threat. As in so many other countries, the government’s promotion of a common language (“putonghua,” or standard Mandarin) has in the not-too-distant past taken the form of suppressing the local dialect in schools- even outside of class.

As Qian Narong explained to the Global Times, starting in the early 1990’s, “Teachers’ morality scores, which are related to their salary, were lowered if their students were discovered speaking the dialect.”

Cao Zhiyi, a student when the policy was implemented, explained that the school used a system of student informers to catch students who spoke in Shanghainese between and after classes:

“Students from other classes were dispatched to take records when we spoke Shanghainese after class. The class teacher would scold those who spoke it as damaging class honor.”

The news isn’t all bad, however. Efforts have been made to revive the language and to prevent schools from discouraging Shanghainese, though very few actually teach it. The local court system has also started training officers in Shanghainese. And for now, at least, speaking Shanghainese is still an advantage when it comes to doing business in Shanghai. Insurance saleswoman Xu Shudan is actually studying the dialect so that she can more easily make connections in the city. She told the Guardian,

“Mandarin is spoken nationwide. However in Shanghai, using words like “nonghao” -a local expression for hello – can immediately close the distance between business partners.”

That’s positive, but how long will it last? If young people don’t speak it, the language will certainly lose its prestige among businesspeople when they begin calling the shots.

It seems inevitable that “pure” Shanghainese will change as it takes on influences from Mandarin. In fact, Chinese linguists told the Global Times that this has already happened. Hopefully, though, the language will survive.

 

8 Fun Facts about the Chinese New Year

21 Fun Facts about the Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year falls on February 16th 2018. Each year is assigned one of 12 Zodiac signs with an associated animal. 2017 will be the Year of the Dog. The Chinese believe that each sign has associated characteristics, with people born under the dog sign believed to be very loyal. Honest, helpful, and steadfast to the point of stubbornness, Dogs are outwardly popular but often suffer from anxiety.

In addition to designating an animal for each year, the Chinese zodiac also cycles through the five elements of nature: Earth, Wind, Water, Fire, and Metal.

Expecting a new addition in 2018? Babies born this year will be Earth Dogs. According to this Chinese astrology guide,

“Earth dogs are broad-minded, faithful, considerate, well-disciplined and they stick to principles. Also, they are grateful, chivalrous, brave and have the courage to take the blame for what they do, thus it’s easy for them to offend somebody. Earth dogs always have clear goals and they are self-poised towards success and failure, never compromising their conscience to do things. They are persistent and never give up. They believe in the life philosophy of taking their own road in a down-to-earth manner. Although earth dogs are very capricious sometimes, they never hurt others arbitrarily and they respect the other’s position and attitude rather than forcing the other to accept their opinions. Earth dogs don’t like to interfere in the life of others, vice versa.

Earth dogs have the artistic spirit, so it’s not suitable for them to work in industry and commerce circles with fierce competition and internal strife. It doesn’t mean that their physical strength or fighting spirit is inferior to others, but their practice and personality cannot cater to others in this complicated society.”

Previous Dog years include 2006, 1994, 1982, 1970, 1958 and 1946. Famous “Earth Dog” celebrities include Madonna, Al Capone, Billy Idol, and Michael Jackson.

Were you born in the Year of the Dog? Watch out! According to Chinese astrology, 2018 will be unlucky for you.

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It's the year of the snake!

Chinese New Year Celebrations

Chinese New Year, a festive event celebrated by people all around the world (the image above was taken in Yokohama, Japan). As you may well know, the Chinese New Year is represented by one of 12 different animals which cycle annually, the sheep, the monkey, the rooster, the dog, the pig, the rat, the ox, the tiger, the rabbit, the dragon and the snake.

Read more

“Zero Translation” Causes a Row in China

Slowly but surely, bits of English are creeping into Chinese, Roman alphabet and all. English words and acronyms like Wifi, GDP and NBA now appear untranslated in all sorts of contexts, from spoken conversations to emails to news stories.

But not everyone is pleased with this trend, which is known as “zero translation.” The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, recently weighed in with an editorial attacking the use of untranslated English words.

According to the BBC, the editorial, which bore the headline “Why is zero translation so prevalent?,” claimed that

“[S]uch practices damage the integrity and harmony of the Chinese language, dilute the richness of the Chinese culture and hamper comprehension. “How many people can understand these words?” they ask.”

According to the New York Times, the editorial went on to say that “It’s become so serious that the foreign words are even showing up in regular publications and formal documents, giving rise to resentment among the public.”

But is the public really resentful of these English loanwords?  Surely some are. But not everyone, or the government would have an easier time promoting its list of “official translations.” As it stands now, some translations for commonly used English terms take off quickly. Other zero translation words, like NBA, are much more firmly entrenched. The government has been trying to get people to stop saying “NBA” in reference to American basketball for the past four years, with no success.

That’s not to say that the English words being used in China now will be used forever.  Sometimes, “zero translation” is just a temporary stage. For example, according to the New York Times, “email” was once used in China, but now two separate Chinese words have evolved to take its place:” 电邮 (dianyou), literally “electronic mail,” and 邮件 (youjian), which simply means ‘mail.'”

The People’s Daily editorial has generated a lot of attention and commentary online. Many people feel that trying to preserve the “purity” of Mandarin Chinese is a lost cause. For example, “My brothers name is Ruprecht” commented on the BBC website:

“Having worked in and visited China for 24 years, I can honestly say the people really don’t care how Western culture affects their language or anything else. They are very comfortable with it. Maybe in 20 years time the Chinese Govt will catch up with their own people.”

Meanwhile, DGR in Ithaca told the New York Times that while some of the editorial’s concerns were valid, others were misplaced:

“I fully share the concern about loanwords that are transliterated into a meaningless string of Chinese characters, for example the popular 巴士 ‘bashi’ for “bus”, with a literal meaning of handle/knight — i.e. gibberish. The evolution of the e-mail from this to a native combination is correct. Using a foreign-derived word or name in Latin script at least preserves the meaning of Chinese characters. I have no problem with “NBA”.”

It’s probably impossible to stem the tide of English loanwords into Chinese, but that doesn’t make translation any less important for companies looking to expand into the Chinese market. The cachet of “zero translation” may fade over time.   A well-translated brand will endure.

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

China Seeks Chinese Language Tutor For Panda

Friday, China celebrated the arrival of two pandas from the United States, Tai Shan and Mei Lan. The two pandas are being treated like the celebrities they are, and China is sparing no expense when it comes to making them comfortable in their new homes. That includes hiring a Chinese tutor for Mei Lan, the female panda born in a zoo in Atlanta.

Although she was born in the USA, her parents were loaned to the Atlanta Zoo by the Chinese government, and under the agreement, all giant pandas and their cubs must go home to China after a specified period of time.

In the Los Angeles Times, Huang Xiangming, director of the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding’s animal management department,explained that:

“Mei Lan has been living in the United States since she was born, and she must be unfamiliar with Chinese.”

In an article posted on China Daily, Cui Kai, a worker at the breeding center, said that:

“She will be taught Chinese with a Sichuan dialect. She will become familiar with some simple phrases. For example, she will be taught the phrases for returning to the cage or coming out from the dormitory.”

According to China Daily, 14 people have already applied for the job of teaching Chinese to the panda. The US sent back another panda, Tai Shan, on Friday as well. However, there is no need for a Chinese tutor for Tai Shan-he will be kept at the Bifengxia Base of China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda, and handlers there are bilingual, able to speak both English and Chinese.

Both pandas are expected to be introduced into the breeding program, and the Chinese government has set up a website to allow citizens to vote on a “boyfriend” for Mei Lan.

"Onion’s" Satire Lost in Translation

Jokes and satire are often quite difficult to translate. So, perhaps it’s not all that surprising that a leading Chinese newspaper recently found the joke was on them when they quoted an article from “The Onion”, a satirical American online newspaper, as fact.

It all started on November 14th, when The Onion announced the winner of its “Sexiest Man Alive” award: newly-minted North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. Someone over at China’s People’s Daily apparently thought this little tidbit was written in complete and total sincerity:

“With his devastatingly handsome, round face, his boyish charm, and his strong, sturdy frame, this Pyongyang-bred heartthrob is every woman’s dream come true. Blessed with an air of power that masks an unmistakable cute, cuddly side, Kim made this newspaper’s editorial board swoon with his impeccable fashion sense, chic short hairstyle, and, of course, that famous smile.”

According to The Onion’s article, that week’s print edition was to include a 16-page photo spread of Kim Jong-un. Not to be outdone, The People’s Daily posted an apparently serious article on Kim’s “victory,” complete with a 55-page photo spread showing the young dictator on the back of a horse, at a military parade, wearing sunglasses as he waves to adoring crowds, and so on. The article and accompanying photo spread are gone now, but The Atlantic still has screenshots.

For someone not familiar with The Onion, such a mistake is perhaps understandable. As Kevin Sites, a journalist and associate professor at Hong Kong University, explained to Voice of America:

“Their satire is so finely honed. It’s very sharp. And, in fact, in some cases – maybe not in this one – it’s nuanced and not everyone gets the joke around the world,” said Sites.

A South Korean online newspaper also printed the story. However, they noted in the original Korean-language version that it was, in fact, satire. Unfortunately, that observation didn’t make it into the English-language version of the story, leading readers to think that they had also been duped.

This is not the first (and probably won’t be the last) time that a foreign news source translates a story from the Onion without translating the sarcasm behind it. According to Wikipedia, the list of countries in which news organizations have fallen victim include China, Iran, and Bangladesh, Denmark, Russia, Italy, France…and the United States.

Sometimes, it seems, sarcasm doesn’t translate even when you speak the same language.

Translate your Brand Name in Chinese

For companies looking to expand into Asia, one of the hardest steps is choosing the right name. Chinese in particular lends itself to plays on words, and it’s common for names to have multiple meanings that can either help a brand or damage it. The result is that a company name that seems simple and straightforward in English can have undesirable connotations when translated phonetically into Chinese.

For example, this story on CNN.com recounts the struggle that US-based law firm Kobre & Kim LLP went through to find a Chinese version of their name. While the Chinese character for “Kim” means “gold,” finding the right characters to approximate “Kobre” was harder. Eventually, the company decided on a combination of characters that means “Plentiful Knowledge and Victorious in Our Pursuit of Gold.” Read more