November 19th, 2008
Really, in this day and age, we still have to put up with this kind of bullshit here in Beijing? In a part of the city that has been attracting foreigners for years already? “Yes, absolutely” is the answer, apparently, and certain sections of the linked report had my wife, a native Mandarin speaker fluent in English (for the one or two vaguely possible new readers’ benefit) just about wetting herself laughing. It’s already half past nine, I have an eight o’clock start tomorrow, and there’s too much bollocks to rant at, so let me just cut out a few key excerpts:
“我听不懂你说的”，在朝阳区女人街经营外贸服装的一名商户摊位前，一个老外听了一通“鼓捣普瑞斯”（Good price 价钱很公道），“闹欧迪斯康特”（No discount不讲价）之类的“土产英语”，显得一头雾水，还是只能在计算器上敲价钱完成生意。
“I don’t understand what you’re saying”. In front of a foreign trade clothing stall in
Chaoyang District’s Nvren Jie [English name? Lady Street?] looked bewildered on hearing “local English” like “gu dao pu rui si” (good price) and “nao ou di si kang te” (no discount), and still could only do business by typing the price on a calculator.
Yeah, because using Chinese characters to sound out foreign words only ever results in confusion- at best. The pronuciation of Chinese characters just isn’t that flexible.
Experts say this local method is not advisable
But in the opinion of experts, this method of using Chinese to sound out English is not advisable. Yesterday, a worker at the Beijingers Speak Foreign Languages Office said using Chinese characters to sound out and remember foreign pronunciations is most inadvisable, and can not become a shortcut to learning English. This local method of learning English put forward by the market, on its surface solves an immediate worry, but sets up an obstacle for future learning of English and is not worth encouraging.
And some more examples, with some quick and toneless pinyin thrown in for those who don’t read Chinese:
谢谢/thank you/三克油 [san ke you] 完美/wonderful/万得佛[wan de fo]
问：欢迎光临/May I help you？/美爱嗨扑由？[mei ai hai pu you]
答：我只是看/I”m just looking./爱目炸斯特路科应。[ai mu zha si te lu ke ying]
答：我想买件套装/I”d like a suit./爱的赖克饿秀特。[ai de lai ke e xiu te]
Note: Pinyin you does not sound like the English second person pronoun you. Pinyin you sounds like more like yohoho and a bottle of rum kind of yo. Zha sounds like the Rasta Jah. E sounds like the sound you’d make on finding something unexpected and unfortunate on your dinner plate. Xiu sounds like shee-oh, but with the sh softer than in English, and the whole thing being one short syllable. No part of this note should be taken as an accurate guide to Chinese pronunciation. Don’t copy the market and find some lazy approach to learning a language; get out there and learn it properly. This note was only written to make it clear just how loose an approximation of English pronunciation the market’s silly attempt at a pronunciation guide is.
More important note: I am in no way mocking any genuine attempt to learn English. I am saying this horribly outdated and thoroughly discredited method of learning really should have disappeared a long, long time ago, especially from a part of Beijing that has been attracting foreigners for years and years now. Trust me on this one: Although finding loose equivalents in your native language can help you learn the pronunciation of a foreign language in the initial stages of language learning [I’ve done the same myself many times], it is a technique that should be kept only at the very initial stages and should be dumped as soon as possible. It can never be substituted for an honest attempt at learning to communicate in a second language. And that first quotation from the article shows you that the market’s silliness has not benefitted anyone.
And I have to say that I suspect- although I could well be wrong on this point- that most foreigners visiting the market in question would be local residents. Unless they are tourists or have only recently arrived in China, then they should be capable of navigating their way through a market and buying the things they need at a price they can accept in at least broken Chinese, Chinese good enough to express their needs and negotiate a price. If they can’t manage that, they shouldn’t be here.
Fortunately the journalist seems to agree with my view that this is all utterly absurd.