Rumantsch is that mysterious, hidden language that only “comes to” if you take a look at a Swiss passport or ID card. On the last line of the inside back cover of our passport, where you might “usually” expect English, you get this instead…
Quest passport cuntegna in chip da datas electronic. Il passaport sto vegnir tractà cun quità e na dastga betg vegnir faudà, sturschi, donnegià u exponì a champs electromagnetics ferms. Mintga perdita dal passport sto vegnir annunziada al proxim post da polizia. In passport ch’è puspè vegni chattà na dastga betg pli vegnir utilisà.
I see you utterly confused! This is Rumantsch Grischun. ▶
Caution! No cover! That’s more likely a sign that a certain something isn’t going to provide you with shelter than an advisory not to cover something with, say, your jacket.
To ensure even the most minute of Chinglish are gone from northeastern China’s rail tracks (plus also to renew Tracy’s ID and get her travel permits for parts of China outside of the mainland), we headed up to Harbin. Temperatures weren’t the most accommodating, though: platform-side temps were rather Siberian, at around -10°C, but the warmth of the locals made it much more bearable.
We also took this chance to ride in China’s most northernly metro system (yet) — the Harbin Metro, which still operates at sub-zero temps over the long, Arctic winter. It drew much of its inspiration from the Beijing Subway, although the line number design icon had a seriously Shanghai feel. ▶
One thing I’m pretty “sure” about this picture is it’s going to tick quite a number of language purists off. But then, a shocking majority of young Chinese will often mix English into their otherwise Mandarin Chinese conversations. This got to the better of me at Baker Street tube station earlier today, when I was running out of words in Chinese with a fellow academic colleague (also Chinese), and I had to resort to a little bit of “assisted English” to get the message across.
My end, this is less a matter of concern for “lingo purists” as I’m somewhat with them — fully aware that Chinese is at the risk of being “eaten away” by “100% English”. Hu Jintao’s years saw a campaign, if ever so brief, to force government TV anchors to completely abandon Chinese as much as possible. Even TLAs (three-letter abbreviations) in English were officially frowned upon. But then, the language purification campaign came and went. ▶
Jau sun dischillusinà, SWISS!
Ti sas bain: Tgi che sa rumantsch sa dapli!
For 2014, I avoided flying with SWISS International Air Lines because I totally exploded into a year-long fit of fury after a bill to limit immigration from the rest of Europe passed by the narrowest of margins.
So when the year-long self-imposed ban lapsed in 2015, I returned to flying “my” bit of the world. To my absolute shock and horror, though: it looked like SWISS had done away with Rumantsch, certainly on their displays and other items, and where I could easily brush up my knowledge of Deutsch, Français, Italiano and Rumantsch (in addition to English), this was simply gone. Never mind it was spoken by “just” 0.5% of the Swiss population and has six or seven variants; it’s part of Switzerland and you simply don’t throw it away! ▶
I joined fellow Radio Beijing co-host Alison Zhou onstage at the Tuanjiehu community’s English event, when we were given the stage not only to promote the newly-created Handbook of Everyday English for Beijing residents. The event was held in the morning hours of 31 May 2014 at the Tuanjiehu local community activities centre.
When you come to think of it, it was a big deal at the end of the day. Both city authorities in charge for international affairs and Radio Beijing, as well as leading English experts in town, took the time to come together and to create a book for the rest of us, telling people how English should best be spoken and used.
Kids, seniors and local residents all joined us in the free two-hour session to get people more and more excited about learning English. Many said they loved listening to our spoken English as they could really learn from this. The event finished at 11:30 with a commitment to take such events to more places around the city. ▶
I served as a judge in the recent Beijing Vocational Teachers Final of the 5th Shanghai Foreign Languages Education Press Foreign Languages Teaching Contest, which took place on 24 & 25 May 2014. The two-day event saw 19 contestants in the first day of contest (semi-finals) and 7 in the finals on the second day.
The goals were simple:
- For the semi-finals: Give each contestant 20 minutes to teach a mock class
- For the finals: Allow 10 minutes for each contestant to describe a lesson plan; finish it off with a 5-minute Q&A session.
Like many contests, this one was a “mixed bag”. Some contestants did minimal interaction (although none did the feared “Boring Lecturer Position”); others were very interactive. Contestant 2 from the first day was my early favourite. He did everything I would do when teaching:
- Allow group activities and permit plenty of interaction
- Be encouraging; sprinkle your lessons with a healthy dose of humour
- Use technology right: in large classrooms, pass at least one other microphone to students and allow them to speak in the same volume as you are (if the teacher uses the mic, get students to do the same)
- Warn students of potential pitfalls
Competition was very fierce, though. In the end, Contestant 4 (who was Contestant 3 on Day 1) won my vote by mentioning role-play as part of her lesson proposal. She also shrank all lessons to 45 minutes (other contestants wanted 90 minutes). Her presentation was extremely persuasive: you could tell she was in it for the long run, and it was all helped by the right mix of body language and eye contact. ▶
Being a seasoned host, there was one thing I was missing from last year’s event: the live stage where you could actually record and broadcast, live, a show. But having done that last, year, I was always ready for something totally new. Or, if you must be so Monty Python-inclined, something that is just simply completely different…
The highlight of the festival for me this time was nearly 20 minutes of the main stage to myself, which I considered an extremely bad idea (because I had been through more than enough 90-minute lectures with the lecturer simply going yadda yadda yadda). The only way to stop people from leaving the main stage is if you glued them. (Ideally, without resorting to superglue.) Boom — the potentially 20-minute long academic sermon was quickly switched to an event where I didn’t have the mic, but kids did. We were having so much fun that crew had to remind us we had only a few minutes left. I instantly continued zipping through, but every kid was given time to read their bit out loud. I guided them patience — much like a teacher since 2000. At the very end, there was markedly audible applause as I left. It was great, because this was clearly a win-win situation.
Like many events I have loved before, my mantra re: the whole event remains: I loved every moment of it, and if I could do it again, I’m up for it. ▶
On Saturday, 17 May 2014, and again on Sunday, 18 May 2014, Beijing will hold its annual Foreign Languages Fair (World Languages Fair). I’ll play a very active role this time ’round.
Readers, both old and new, of the book, as well as subscribers via the WeChat / AM774 web site channel, are welcome to join me onstage or offstage. I intend to make this an open forum so that people go away with lots of learning to make their next overseas trip smoother, or to make their next encounter with expats in China less difficult.
So to make this conversation two-way and to make the learning “stick”, there will be take-home handouts (expected to be plenty in number). ▶
It’s finally here. The all-new Handbook of Everyday English is with us here in the city of Beijing. A joint production by the city’s more “international” authorities — including the city’s Foreign Office, the Beijing Speaks Foreign Languages Committee, and Radio Beijing’s bilingual channel, I took part in making this come to life. This was my first press conference; I shared the stage with Alison Zhou of Radio Beijing (we did our Wider World Waves last year; this year, we’re both more on about off-the-air English involvements for Beijing). I was one of the people in charge of not just taking a good look at the manuscript, but also translating it, and confirming edits. You’ll also be “hearing” from me a lot, as I did part of the voiceovers for the multimedia editions of this book.
Getting all of this made sense was far from easy. There were editors on board who were only active locally; some went to more places. In spite of me myself being to nearly 200 cities over 20 countries, finding a single system that worked was far from easy. Manuscripts were often sent to and forth, edits sometimes corrected, then reverted, and finally corrected again. Apart from edit wars, the other thing we found a challenge was how to keep the Chinglish at bay. In essence, Chinglish is born if you write English thinking in Chinese (the whole language mentality and everything). The best way to do Chinglish was to trust dictionaries and translate everything character-by-character — an excess of Google Translate also helps. The best way to do Chinglish in, then, would be to translate meanings instead of mere characters.
In the end, though, it was a team determination to create the best-possible guide for English speakers that finally saw this book born the way it is. We wanted to do something good for China that was innovative, that was inclusive of different cultures, and that, pulled off in the end, showed we cared for our city. It was indeed a real delight working with some of the most respected names in the business.
Most authors here will say, “I hope you enjoy using this book as much as we enjoyed making it”, but I want to send a better message. I’d like to say: We hope you enjoy using this book, and that this book is your first step to being a part of a modern world, a bilingual world. Learn English. Use it. Make friends around the planet. They’ll also be interested in China. Teach them Chinese. In the end, it’s a win-win situation, no matter how you look at it. ▶
Beginning today (16 January 2014) until the end of the Spring Festival Peak Travel Season, you’ll see me providing bilingual railway information throughout this peak travel period, especially on Weibo. The railways are pledging safe, convenient and pleasant services this year — and as a traveller to many different countries, I like this. This is a good move from China Railways — they’re treating their customers the right way.
A lot of people are on the move, so to make people travel the easiest, I’m promoting the bilingual posts. The entire railway system (national, joint-venture, local and private railways) as well as all of China’s transport systems, news organisations, and just about anyone is free to retweet the posts, and I allow this for the simple goal that people get home easier after getting info from them. I know rail and metro people are busy this time of the year. I hear you — it’s time I got into this to help you. Oh, and because I’m an English teacher, I take full responsibility for my translations.
I’m doing this on my own initiative — and in case you were wondering who I am, I’m a Lecturer (equivalent to Assistant Professor in the United States) at the Communication (Media) University of China (I’m also a “foreign expert” there). I’m also the author of Everyday Rail English, a column for making the rail system in China speak English. I’m doing this to help; I get no money out of this. And to many extents, because I’m helping everyone, I’d like to keep it that way. ▶