Rail English Lessons Jinan Jan 2016

Above picture — Photographer: Liang Bo

■ Staff from the Beijing Speaks Foreign Languages office reported that English-language translations on public signs do not as of yet have a unified standard. […] Staff also were appreciative of Mr Feng and what he was doing. “He has contributed to society at large and has also been of service to everyone.”
Citing staff from the Beijing city government’s arm for English-language translations on public signs at railway stations in a media report by Legal Evening News, Beijing (2013; translated from Mandarin Chinese)


The reason why you’re seeing me giving English lessons in China and improving the country’s level of English probably started with me seeing too much Chinglish on China’s roads, rails and airports, and seeing a real need to improve China’s “grammar-obsessed textbook English”. A completely random sign at a city car park in Beijing — “TO TAKE NOTICE OF SAFE. THE SLIPPERY ARE VERY CRAFTY.” — I found was proof that China’s English had a long way to go before reaching perfection.

My commitment to improving China’s English include the following:

  • English lessons. I’ve been teaching English in China since 2000, first as a side job, then as a fully salaried job. My students have included everyone from elementary school pupils to professors and government-owned corporate employees.
  • Solving “Chinglish” riddles. In 2011, I published a book in Mandarin Chinese outlining cases where Chinglish was easily seen (and where people often end up writing in Chinglish). The incredibly affordable book was a guide for people to learn English the right way.
  • “Smoke-’em-out” events. These events, in “David-speak”, are events where I go hunting for Chinglish, takes photo evidence, and then, based on these, offer advice on how they can be improved. These impromptu events are probably the most immediate way traces of Chinglish are spotted for later correction. I’ve been involved in these events throughout China’s railway system and in Beijing’s CBD, where I lead a group of students to correct cases of problematic English.
  • Setting new standards. I’ve issued a full new set of railway English / Chinese standards, which are being used by an increasing number of stations across the system. The Everyday Rail English series of optimised English for rail crew are based on this new standard. I have also trained rail crew both in eastern China and in the western, underdeveloped hinterlands.
  • Collaborating on the Handbook of Everyday English. I’ve translated an all-new handbook, and has been responsible for further revisions. I joined forces with local radio host Alison Zhou provided the voice-overs to the handbook.

In the end, I hope that both English and Chinese become winners by being languages widely used around the world. I encourage locals to be bilingual, and welcomes expats learning Chinese — both in China and overseas.


I have a separate blog just about Chinglish: Chinglish Alert!
The Chinglish Alert! blog incorporates original David Feng content from as early as 2006.

I was totally fascinated by this crazy bit of Chinglish in 1992 — when I was still just a kid at 10. The family dinner with friends was something I forgot much about — except for the unforgettable Chinglish on the comment card. It started off with this immortal bit of Chinglish: “WELCOME TO OUR GUESTS!“… (which felt weird, unless this was a royal announcement or something!).

This figure kept rising, eventually reaching around 5,000 cases by mid-2015. These included cases of Chinglish on mainland China, Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, and in overseas Chinese communities — including the unforgettable “TO TAKE NOTICE OF SAFE: THE SLIPPERY ARE VERY CRAFTY” and their Chinglish ilk like that. It got me fascinated. It also got my media friends addicted. It got the Chinese Publishing House of Electronics Industry totally sold. They helped me out with a David Feng book — Jiong Chinglish (Chinese: 囧图就在你身边: 雷人 Chinglish).

Since then, I’ve stayed stayed in the Chinglish world. Both before and after the book was published, I kept on contributing to the Flickr Chinglish pool. The thing about the Chinglish phenomenon is — it’s awkward fun, when one really comes to think of it. Chinglish is going to be funny for those of us who’ve been told to “Stop mouth!” at a sign for a station entrance. But apart from the guffaws, there’s also a big problem — do expats get the Chinglish? Chinglish is only so fun — until you get to the wrong train or plane due to a mistranslated sign. For those of us who’ve been here for a few years, sure, we’ll have an idea of what “An electric dangerous” might mean (it actually meant in the Beijing Subway “Beware! Power lines”. But for the newly-arrived Frenchman from Clermont-Ferrand, or tour groups from Dubai, they will have little to no idea what on earth that might mean.

There’s also this thing about making China looking good versus not good. I feel strongly that the world’s second-largest economy should not “economise” on the language and help itself to second class English. There’s a scary-to-think-of number of expats heading into China; Beijing and Shanghai even offer transiting visitors visa-free access for much of the developed world. It’s time, then, to improve China’s English. China has perfected the compass, the printing press, paper, and fireworks. It’s time to keep that spirit of perfection going.

SPOTTED CHINGLISH AT CHINA’S RAIL STATIONS? One of my social commitments is translating and perfecting English, especially in more and more of China’s rail system. If you see Chinglish in China’s train stations, contact me. I’ve corrected Chinglish at an increasing number of Chinese train stations — so if you’ve Wronglish, I will write right it!