Crowdsourcing to banish ‘Chinglish’

Netizens of the web, gather ’round, for we have a challenge for you: to banish ‘Chinglish’ from the Chinese city of Shenzhen.

‘Chinglish,’ the term given to Chinese-to-English mistranslations often seen on street signs or menus, are popular on the Internet and with English tourists and expats in China. However, the city of Shenzhen is looking to put a stop to it by crowdsourcing efforts to have their signs properly translated.

Any Chinese speaking linguists living in Shenzhen can submit a photo of a sign through popular microblogging site Weibo by email, or even by calling a hotline. The Foreign Affairs Office in Shenzhen launched the campaign last week, which will last for two months. All submissions will be reviewed by a team of professional translators and participants can even win prizes. The awards include certificates, a Chinese-English Dictionary and free English language classes.

But why does ‘Chinglish’ get lost in translation? As the Chinese Language Blog explains:

Trying to translate Chinese directly into English will give you sentences such as “I very like play basketball” (我很喜欢打篮球 – wǒ hěn xǐhuān dǎ lánqiú) or “I with my friend together have dinner” (我跟我的朋友一起吃晚饭 – wǒ gēn wǒ de péngyǒu yīqǐ chī wǎnfàn). Other times, it is a result of trying to directly translate Chinese words for foreign things. That’s why I’ve had students ask me about “Christmas old man” (圣诞老人 – Shèngdàn lǎorén – Santa Claus) and the “fire chicken” (火鸡 – huǒ jī – turkey).

This isn’t the first time China has made efforts to eradicate ‘Chinglish’ from the landscape, with Beijing and Shanghai launching similar initiatives ahead of the 2008 Olympics and 2009 World Expo. Only time will tell if the initiative has been successful, but until then, we wish all linguists in Shenzhen best of luck with properly translating their signs.