Chinese Opera Program

Music may be the “universal language,” but that didn’t make learning to sing opera in Chinese any easier for the 20 American singers who joined China’s “I Sing Beijing” program this summer. The Associated Press chronicled the vocalists’ struggles in a recent article.

You probably remember learning to sing “Frère Jacques” and “Feliz Navidad” in school as a child. Unfortunately for the vocalists, learning to sing opera well in Mandarin is decidedly more challenging. For example, vocal coach Katherine Chu told the AP:

“Singers are already sensitive to pitch, which is a big advantage in learning Mandarin. But certain words, like ‘zi’ and ‘zhi,’ aren’t singer-friendly. These words can tighten the jaw so we have to teach them how to carry the tones.”

And there’s more…Mandarin includes sounds that aren’t even found in English as well as different intonation patterns, making it quite difficult to master. Read more

Chinese Takes Over in American Schools

American school systems, often strapped for cash and forced to divert resources toward preparing kids for standardized achievement tests, have been slowly decreasing their foreign-language offerings. According to the New York Times, “thousands” of American schools have dropped languages from their foreign-language programs in the past decade. Japanese has been especially affected, but the number of schools offering instruction in European languages like French and German is also declining.

However, even though the study of foreign languages in general has declined, the number of American students learning Chinese is on the increase. Over the past 10 years, the number of American schools teaching Chinese has increased substantially, from around 300 to around 1,600.

There are a couple of different factors driving this trend. One reason, of course, is China’s growing economic clout. Another is the fact that the Chinese government, through Hanban, a language council affiliated with the Chinese Education Ministry, sponsors Chinese “guest teachers” to come to the US and teach. Hanban contributes $13,000 toward each guest teacher’s salary, with the school district paying the rest. To a school district having trouble making ends meet, the extra money makes a big difference.

For example, here’s what Parthena Draggett, the director of the world languages department at Ohio’s Jackson High School, told the New York Times:

“We were able to get a free Chinese teacher. I’d like to start a Spanish program for elementary children, but we can’t get a free Spanish teacher.”

So far, Hanban, which works with the College Board to administer the guest teacher program, has sent 325 teachers to teach in US schools. The two organizations also offer a program that subsidizes trips to China for American educators. It’s wonderful that more American students are learning Chinese, and that the program helps cash-poor school districts offer more foreign language classes. At the same time, it’s sad that other foreign language offerings are becoming scarcer, especially in the younger grades, when it’s easier to learn a new language.

The New York Times Now Speaks Chinese

Last week, the New York Times learned a new language: Chinese. The US-based media company launched a Chinese-language website last Thursday at

According to the New York Times’ Media Decoder blog, a majority of the content will consist of existing articles that have been translated into Chinese. However, approximately 1/3 of it is expected to be original, created by freelance contributors and the newspapers’ Chinese reporters and staff.

What prompted the new site? As always, business considerations were part of the motivation. As the Media Decoder blog pointed out, China’s rapidly growing, conspicuously consuming upper class has become a prize demographic for advertisers. Denise F. Warren, the paper’s chief advertising officer, said that advertisers acquired so far have been “generally luxury manufacturers. But I believe there will also be an opportunity for corporate and financial advisers. We believe we will be reaching a global, well-educated, international audience.”

The other motivation, according to a New York Times statement to its readers, is to “provide China’s growing number of educated, affluent, global citizens with high-quality coverage of world affairs, business and culture.”

Successfully reporting on certain topics is likely to be a little bit more difficult than selling ads, but the company pledged to do its best. The website will be hosted on servers in Hong Kong, and there are no plans to become an official Chinese media company. As foreign editor Joseph Kahn put it,

“We’re not tailoring it to the demands of the Chinese government, so we’re not operating like a Chinese media company. China operates a very vigorous firewall. We have no control over that. We hope and expect that Chinese officials will welcome what we’re doing.”

Thus far, it seems the road may have been a bit rockier than the New York Times would have liked. The Guardian is reporting that two of the sites’ social media accounts were suspended for several hours following the launch, though the Times was happy with the traffic it has received since the site went online.

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:

Learn a Language

The Top Languages to Learn in 2018

Fancy learning a new language this year? As one of the UK’s leading translation service providers, we’re in just the right place to give some tips on the most useful ones to pick. Whether you’re still a student or you’re just looking for a way to improve your career outlook, we’ve selected the top languages to learn in 2018.

1. Mandarin


The official language of China, Mandarin is already the most widely spoken language in the world. Per Wikipedia, 955 million people, 14.4% of the world’s population, claim it as their native tongue.

The demand for Mandarin speakers will only grow in the years to come, as China nudges the United States out of the top spot as the nation with the world’s largest GDP.  According to Bloomberg, as of November 06, 2017 the Chinese economy is projected to overtake the United States economy in 2028.

Meanwhile,  China is busy constructing a “New Silk Road” to connect the Chinese mainland with Europe, the rest of Asia, and emerging markets in Africa. 

Mandarin is also the second most popular language online. And according to Statista, while the US will probably remain the largest economy overall for a few years yet, by the end of 2018 China will be the largest digital economy in the world. 

When you look at the facts, it’s easy to see why the British Council ranked Mandarin as one of the most important languages for the future of the UK.  If you’re learning a new language this year and you’re up for a challenge, Mandarin is definitely one of the top languages to learn.

Want to learn more about the languages of China? See our beginner’s guide to Chinese translation services!

Read more

Translation services in Chinese

Chinese Language Information

The Chinese language belongs to the Sino-Tibetan language family. More than 1.3 billion of people speak Chinese with the majority of the Chinese speaking population concentrated only in a small number of countries: China, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore.

The written Chinese language characters are not just pictographs (which make up less than 5%), but they are highly stylised and carry much abstract meaning. The total number of the characters is not known accurately, 50,000+ is a good approximation. Read more


Language barriers and mistranslations are fertile ground for comedy. Chinese translations of English seem to be particularly vulnerable to gaffes, possibly due to a shortage of fluent English speakers and a corresponding over-reliance on translation software.

As an aside, it should be noted that English speakers have their own problems when it comes to translating Chinese characters. Also, at least our Eastern brethren’s translation failures seem to be confined to signs and menus as opposed to permanent tattoos. You can always change a sign! Read more

Top 10 Asian English Translation Failures

Accurately translating text from Japanese or Chinese to English (or vice versa) can be a difficult task. The languages are just so different, both grammatically and phonetically. Meanwhile, small Asian businesses often don’t have the resources to get a proper translator and rely on machine translation instead. The resulting translations are sometimes odd and nonsensical, and often hilarious. If you need a laugh, has a constantly growing collection of these mistranslations and malapropisms. Here are 10 of my personal favorites:

  1. Hand grenade:” Found over a fire extinguisher in China.
  2. “The grass is smiling at you. Please detour.” Found on a “Keep off the grass” sign from China. Why yes, don’t mind if I do…
  3. “Nokia – Connocting poopie.” Found over a cell phone shop in Manzhouli, China. Obviously, this should say “Nokia – Connecting people.” But it doesn’t.
  4. Read more

Beijing Students Learn Through Translation

A group of young students at Western Academy, an international school in Beijing, finished off the school year with a memorable project: translating a series of children’s books into Chinese to be professionally published.The students, all around 10 to 11 years old, translated 8 illustrated children’s books with stories describing the day-to-day lives of kids in other countries.

As Wang Biao, of the Peking University Press Department of Chinese Language and Linguistics, which will publish the Chinese editions of the books, explained to China Daily:

“Our target readers are those children who are learning Chinese both in China and overseas…By describing children’s daily lives in different countries these books give a simple and vivid introduction to the cultural and historical features of the four countries.”

As they translated, the children encountered difficulties that would be familiar to any professional translator. One student, Lau Tin Sun, described these obstacles for China Daily:

“In the beginning, we thought it was really easy, but when we actually started translating, it was not as easy as we thought. English has a completely different grammar compared to Chinese. Therefore, it took us quite a lot of time and energy to change the grammar. But it was truly amazing to see the books in print. Publishing books during primary school, this is really a good memory.”

You might expect that the children would need help from a professional translator to produce a finished product capable of holding its own on bookshelves around the world, but you would be wrong. According to Peking University Press’ Deng Xiaoxia, the students’ work stood up quite well on its own:

“The kids’ translation is “amazing”, as the words they choose are “childish but interesting” and appeal to young readers – compared to the words used by professional translators.”

Congratulations, kids. K International salutes you!

Photo Credit: Lori Ann

Translation of Foreign Stores

New York City has long been a city of immigrants, the first stop for the “huddled masses” who got off the boat in Ellis Island. While modern-day Americans like to natter on about how those original huddled masses assimilated themselves immediately while today’s immigrants do not, the truth is that immigrants have long clustered together, creating neighbourhoods that reflect their cultures and remind them of home.

For example, the neighbourhood of Flushing in Queens is primarily Chinese and Korean, and it shows- especially in the Chinese- and Korean-language signs over the doors of shops and restaurants. As Peter Tu, the executive director of the Flushing Chinese Business Association, told the Washington Post :

“People must respect that this is a special area and please respect the Asian culture. They have their own life in this area. When you walk in the street, you don’t feel like you are in America.”

For some New Yorkers, that’s precisely the problem. While many residents embrace the city’s multi-ethnic character, others are annoyed and alienated. In response, the Washington Post reports that two City Councilmen, Dan Halloran and Peter Koo, are drafting legislation that would require translation of foreign-language store signs. Read more