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. ▶
Beginning today, I’ll gladly do pro bono language lessons in the following languages for the following bodies in the following countries:
Bodies: National railways, city metro, transport police, visas, and immigration.
Languages and Countries: English for China (with future option of German, French, Italian, and, at a much later date, Rumantsch); English and Chinese for Switzerland.
And the reason(s) why? In bullet-point form, real quick, here’s why:
- The 2014 Handbook of Everyday English for Beijing, a work of a whole smorgasbord of language and media experts, had me deeply involved in the project. It was a great project to work together on — we met with some of the most knowledgeable experts in the field, which included translators at the Chinese Foreign Ministry and at key national universities. I did much of the translation and a fair load of the proofreading, as well as the VOs and video show presentations (hopefully they’ll be live soon).
- That Handbook had a lot of content which was precisely related to public transit, visas and immigration, and how the police are asked questions by visitors. I’ve also been through many of these (over a million kilometres in 220+ cities across 24 countries / territories); I’m now on my sixth passport). ▶
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). ▶
There are two camps in China when it comes to foreign languages: left-leaning campers are known for being nationalistic and prefer that foreigners learn Chinese instead of making locals learn English for expats. The other camp is more realistic, and realises China stands to benefit a lot by allowing foreign tongues on their soil.
That’s the stance I love.
I’m headed to London later this year. I like the bit of London that is Chinatown not because it’s a bit of home (in fact, I stay away from the Chinatowns overseas as it’s what I tried to get myself out of in the first place), but because street signs are bilingual: Chinese and English.
When Beijing’s Koreatown, Wangjing, wanted trilingual signs (Chinese, English, Korean), I thought this was a great idea. When Beijing Airport sported quadlingual signs, I thought it was neat as well. But what I saw at Red Snail Temple (Hongluo Si) was something that was beyond my expectations: signs in six languages. These were Chinese, English, Korean, Japanese, Thai and Russian. ▶
The UK is known for great programming — some of my favourites include not just the “plain-vanilla” news shows on the BBC, but also a whole slew of others, including comedies. I know Open All Hours off by heart (in summer 1998 I gave it a quick dekko), and more recent favourites my end include much from Monty Python, Blackadder, Are You Being Served?, Yes Minister, and The Vicar of Dibley.
But British TV is also a must-see when it comes to quality programming. And for me, hHosting around 30 of some of Britain’s best media people, including those in the independent documentaries business and others, was and remains a great delight. I learnt as much as the audience, and I was really happy to take part in the event, mainly as a host.
My favourite event was co-hosting the UK Evening Gala with others from the UK, where we cracked just the funniest jokes ever, and I would continue on with a few in English whilst translating the rest into Chinese using the words I knew might trigger laughs equally quickly. Never mind the fireworks never synchronised with our two countdown attempts: everyone had fabulous fun, and there was a lot of appreciation from everyone at the event. ▶
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. ▶