Chinglish or English?

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 December, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 December, 2002, 12:00am

SCMP, December 2, 2002

By Michael Jen-Siu in Beijing

A sign in the lavatory of an imperial-style Beijing restaurant urges people not to 'forget their something' when they leave the restroom.

Another in the men's room of the Beijing Friendship store urges customers not to 'shake' near the urinals, while one at Beihai Park uses some colourful words to describe what its auto-flush toilets can clear away.

For better or worse, the use of English has become all the rage in Beijing.

The official goal is to have five million people in the city - just over 30 per cent of the population - speaking the language by the time the Olympic Games are staged in 2008.

At the frontline of the campaign are Beijing's finest. The government has ordered that for the next six years every police officer in the capital should study English so they can talk to foreigners who come for the Games.

Taught by American-born Nicholas Paolucci, 24, they use a primary textbook for three classes a week, which are conducted in their own time. The officers, who have a no-nonsense reputation, were recently practising the phrase 'Are you having a good time?'

By 2008, 6,000 officers should have an intermediate level of written and spoken English, the police public affairs department has said.

They will not be alone. The push to learn English has spawned 1,000 special schools, Web sites, university-based 'English corners' and open meetings for adults to practise and learn.

The government estimates 3.12 million Beijing residents speak some English, and 600,000 are studying the language.

But as the poorly worded signs suggest, progress has been slow.

'If you want to learn some language, you must depend on yourself, and a school just gives us an environment to speak with foreigners,' said Chen Ying, 24, a purchasing department assistant with Volkswagen in Beijing.

Ms Chen has done better than most. She studied for two years on her own, four nights a week at a private school near her office, and read textbooks and watched videos at the weekend. For many others, time and motivation are hard to sustain in a society where English is rarely used. Service industry workers and others encouraged by the government to learn English are often so busy trying to make a living that they have little energy left to tackle the complexity of a language that includes words as confusing as to, too and two.

- Read the main news section of SCMP for more stories.


urinal (n) a bowl fixed to the wall inside the men's room for men to urinate in

rage (n) a fad, something that is cool to do

no-nonsense (adj) matter-of-fact, not tolerating irrelevancies

Example: Although the rugby captain has a quiet manner, he's a no-nonsense player.

spawn (v) to give birth to

sustain (v) to continue doing something

Discussion points

- In the first paragraph, it mentions a sign that reads 'don't forget something'. Do you know what it is trying to say in your mother tongue? Can you improve the sign?

- Imagine you meet some English-speaking tourists in front of your school. They are lost and want to go to the Tsim Sha Tsui Ferry Pier. Try your best to give them directions.

- Were the above two tasks difficult? Is learning English difficult?

- Discuss with your school friends what you think is the best way to learn English.

- Look out for road instructions that may have double meanings or sound unnatural. Take a picture and write down what should be on the sign. Join our EC Corner competiton. For details, read page 2.