Chinese language

Wrong MTR station names

Many MTR stations have really confusing “English” names on the official maps.

尖沙咀 appears as “Tsim Sha Tsui" on signs.  Good luck trying to pronounce that - and if your valiant effort is “Sim Sha Chewy” you won’t be understood by locals because it's actually more like "Jim Sa Joy".

紅磡 is shown as “Hung Hom”, but really it’s Hong Ham, which I always find confusing.

旺角 isn’t “Mong Kok” (as the MTR would have you believe), it’s "Wong Gok". 

上水 isn’t “Sheung Shui”, it’s something like “song soy”,

Some are more or less correct (at least to my tin ear), such as: 葵芳 Kwai Fong and nearby 葵興 Kwai Hing, and others are probably close enough, though it would help if you pronounce

  • 大 as “dai” (not “tai” as the MTR have it), 
  • 沙 as “sa” or “za” (not “sha”),
  • 上 as “soeng” (not “sheung”)

But why can’t we have simple Romanization that's easy to understand?


Cheesing

黐線 chi1 sin3 – crazy, idiot; nuts

Waitrose Double Gloucester

ParknShop were selling this cheese for HK$40 (which is reasonable by Hong Kong supermarket standards).  Then a few weeks later it went up to HK$88, which is definitely 黐線 chisin.  Then it went back down to HK$44. 

Then it was HK$22, which is slightly cheaper than the regular price in the UK (£2.55, since you asked).  Only in some PnS stores – one branch of Taste is selling it for around HK$70.

But there was no information about those earlier prices.  This from a company that will advertise reductions such as HK$88 down to HK$87.90, not to mention “alt fact” reductions (where the higher price might have been charged for one day, if at all). 

Sadly, it’s not one of my favourite Waitrose cheeses.  OK on toast, but that’s all.


Lei Hou

I was amused by this story in the Economist: Long live Cantopop - about the University of British Columbia (UBC) offering a course in Cantonese.

I have been listening again to Naked Cantonese (RTHK Podcast), in which Cecilie Gamst Berg tries to teach us to speak like Hong Kong people.  One of the many tricks played on foreigners is to pretend that it’s correct to say “Neih” (you) and “Ngoh” (me) rather than “Leih” and “[ng]oh”.  Cecilie rightly teaches the latter as current usage (however ‘wrong’ it may be).

Yet the Economist persists with this nonsense in its story:

Newcomers to Vancouver’s Chinatown are richer and speak Mandarin. A sign advertising luxury apartments welcomes potential buyers (in Roman letters) with ni hao, the putonghua greeting, rather than the Cantonese nei hou. A decade ago, dignitaries at Chinese-new-year festivities gave speeches in Cantonese; today they speak Mandarin.

Then we learn that the university has been paid to do this:

The university has rejected four offers from the Confucius Institute, a cultural body financed by China’s government, to expand its teaching of Mandarin. “When a university can reject money, it’s a subtle form of pushback to an overbearing culture,” says Mr King. Instead, in 2013 UBC accepted C$2m ($1.5m) from a pair of philanthropists in Hong Kong to offer Cantonese.


You want English? Learn Chinese!

If you live in Greater China you will know that stuff (phones, tablets, etc.) often comes with Chinese as the default setting.  And the (pitifully) few Chinese characters I might recognize are nowhere near enough to navigate through the menus to find the option to change to English.  

Yes it’s my own fault for buying a tablet with Chinese Windows.  I was in a hurry and I assumed that it would be easy to switch to English.  Indeed (with some help), I changed the primary language to English. 

Then I downloaded Evernote Touch, and it’s all in Chinese.  What?  I couldn’t find the menu in the application, and it turns out you have to do something in Windows and then all is (reasonably) well.  Anyway, waste of time because it’s rubbish.  Back to the normal (desktop version) of the program, which is fine except that there’s no way to do a right-click.  

This is strange because in Google Chrome you can do a right-click (hold your finger and up pops a menu). 

But back to the point - is it too much to ask that there should always be a button or high-level menu in English, Spanish, or French that takes you to language selection?  


English? Only if you can read Chinese

imageAnother piece of stupid website design. 

This is the UPS Hong Kong website.  It’s in Chinese, which is fair enough, but surely there must be an English version.  Common sense would dictate that there would be a button marked ‘Language’or ‘Eng’or something similar.  In English.  Nope, can’t see that anywhere.

Yes there is an English version, but you have to be able to read Chinese to find it.  Click on the correct button and a little drop-down appears and gives you the choice of Chinese or English:  image


Too difficult for you, lah!

Look, I've tried, really I have.  I've attended public courses, I've paid for private tuition, I've bought books...and yet my Cantonese is still rubbish - and I've always felt that somehow this wasn't actually my fault. 

Now I'm delighted to discover that this might not be self-delusion, and that Hong Kong people don't really want foreigners to learn Cantonese.  They tell us it's so difficult, it's not really a language (it's a dialect, lah), and helpfully suggest that we learn Mandarin because it's so much easier.  Right. 

In case we hadn't quite got the message, they make fun of our attempts to speak their "dialect", pretending that they don't understand the dumb gweilo who used the low falling tone when it should have been the low rising tone. 

Hong Kong's most famous Norwegian Cantonese teacher, Cecilie Gamst Berg, isn't having any of this nonsense.  She plays down the importance of tones, arguing (rightly in my opinion), that generally the context is enough for people to understand what you mean, even if you get the tone wrong. 

She also points out that Cantonese is actually quite simple compared to English.  No past or present or irregular verbs or any of that nonsense.  If you can learn the words, sentence construction is the easy bit.   

Yes, I finally got round to downloading RTHK's "Naked Cantonese" podcast, and I have listened to the first three (only 97 to go), and I am feeling slightly more optimistic. Cecilie's approach is certainly quite refreshing, and the format seems to work quite well (she is teaching an RTHK presenter how to speak Cantonese).  

If you haven't yet discovered this podcast, go to iTunes and download it now.  Or try You Tube.


English - if you can read Chinese

Paypal have set up a Hong Kong site.  Hurrah - there's an English version.  However, you have to wonder about the common sense of the people who set it up, because this is the screen header:

image

Well-designed multi-lingual sites have a button saying 'English'.  This one doesn't.

However, if you can recognize any Chinese characters you might try clicking that button on the second row:

image

and when you click it it duly expands to give you a menu:

image

Easy wasn't it - if you can read Chinese...


Soup of the day

shoot-to-translateNew Scientist reports that Nokia are going to launch a new phone which will be able to translate menus from Chinese to English.

IF YOU think you are ordering ice cream from a foreign menu, you don't want to end up asking for a plate of sheep's eyes by mistake. A cameraphone Nokia plans to launch next year will set you straight.

Snap a picture of, say, a dessert menu and the phone will recognise the characters and translate the words within a few seconds . The prototype shown to New Scientist can translate 9000 Chinese and 600 Japanese food-related words into English, with more language versions to follow.

However, if you closely at the photograph you can see that it may not be all that helpful - the English translation manages only one word - soup (湯).


Beware of your belongings

The BBC reports (China dishes up menu translations) that the Beijing Tourism Bureau is trying to improve the English translations of restaurant menus in preparation for next year's Olympics.

Translations such as "virgin chicken" for a young chicken dish and "burnt lion's head" for pork meatballs are confusing for foreigners, it says.

[..] The names of many Chinese dishes have historical, cultural, regional and political connotations that would not necessarily be understood by foreigners, Xinhua reports.

Not just Chinese, of course.  What do foreigners make of menus with items such as Yorkshire Pudding, Hors d’œuvre (which I once saw translated as "mixed outworks"), Peach Melba, Hash Browns, Bombay Duck etc. 

But the poor English translations "either scare or embarrass foreign customers and may cause misunderstanding of China's diet habits".

The tourism bureau is seeking opinions on the translations of 2,753 dishes and drinks. The final, approved list of translated names will then be rolled out to restaurants across the country, Xinhua says.

One of the many problems with translations is that there are subtle differences in meaning in both English and Chinese.  For example, I recently saw a sign with a series of warnings in both Chinese and English.  One of them was 'Beware of your belongings', which might be apt if you have a Nokia phone with an exploding battery, but clearly it wasn't what they really meant.

The Chinese version started with a very familiar phrase - 小心 (siu sam in Yale romanization), which means "take care".  In some cases, "beware" is a good translation, such as "beware of the slippery floor", but here it isn't and the normal translation would be correct. 

Of course the meaning is clear enough, and frankly I don't need to be to be reminded to look after my belongings, but you have to wonder why someone didn't take the trouble to ask a native English speaker whether the translation was correct.