Category Archives: spoken

Chinglish Alert! “Columbus is the first guy to land in the America land”…

Chez nous it’s orals time again… that time of the year when students are tested by standing in front of a microphone, mastering Keynote / PowerPoint presentations, and telling others their own stories they’ve prepared.

We’ve obviously had a fair number of students who have done very well, but I’ve also heard a fair bit of gibberish. Without revealing who said what in detail (isn’t privacy always a good thing?), I’ve decided to list some of the Chinglishes I’ve found and decrypt them…

• “Columbus is the first guy to land in the America land.”

One of my students actually wanted to say Columbus was the first [Westerner] to land in the Americas”. Trouble is, his bit of Chinglish has a number of serious mistakes:—

  • Columbus is the first guy… No, seriously: How sure can you be that he was the first male member of the human race to land in the Americas? Native English speakers hit the details pretty hard, so I’d rather you not mix “slangese” with “reality-ese”, so to speak.
  • …to land in the America land. Here, there’s one land too much: also, if you wanted to mean the whole of the Americas, use — that’s right, the Americas instead. “The America land” hardly makes much sense.
  • The whole sentence is also very awkward and it is mere truthiness to suggest Columbus “was there first”. We’ve cases of the Aztec, the Native Americans, those from the First Nations, etc, being there ahead of Columbus. So your sentence — sorry to say this — is wrong when it comes to the facts.

• “Relevant stuffs.”

When I hear this, I instantly think of the closest “proper” English word using “stuff(s)” — which will have to be foodstuff. So you’ve already sent me barking up the wrong tree to start with.

I can kind of understand your meaning: you most probably wanted to say 東西 (dongxi) or 玩意兒 (wanyier), which means, in slangspeak, things or stuff. My favourite was from another fellow student, who wrote to me in “rap-slang” asking me if I’d be interested in interesting “stuffs about China” (in essence: stories about China).

I’d have probably ended up writing items or objects instead. First, it’s not slangese; second of all, it’s much more understandable..

• 1907 (year) = “nineteen seven”?

I know what you’re on about here: You’d pronounce 1996 as the year nineteen ninety-six or alternatively, nineteen-hundred ninety-six. Zeros are — OK, so most of us think we can skip the zero. Right?

This is probably why we got a few students trying to “read” the year 1907 as the year “nineteen seven” — simply because there was a zero in the year. They might be thinking: we don’t “read out” / “spell out” zeroes, so it’s no surprise, really, that they end up reading it as nineteen seven, which I’m more tempted to decipher as 197 (19… 7… 197).

The correct way to do this, then, would be to call it nineteen oh-seven (zero sounds a tad odd, the way I’d see it). And just because you might have called 2007 two thousand (and) seven doesn’t mean you can forget the zeroes altogether.

Chinglish Alert! “The smell of Mona Lisa is very weird.”

Some of us can’t stand but going to the Louvre, getting close to La Joconde, and — out of all things — smelling at her.

Being told off in Franglais would just the start of it all.

Or would it? I think it’s more a case that amongst students in class, there are constant cases of students finding it hard to pronounce a handful of words in English. Of course, the much abhorred to / too / two trio is hellish; but even outside of the trio of T trouble, some of us are having issues pronouncing words in English the right way.

Smell / Smile: Facial Expressions of Awkwardness

Unless you were addicted to iFart, where the passing of wind might elicit a giggle, you’d see quite clearly that these two words are worlds apart. Sadly, not all of us pronounce the letter I in smile like that; some tend to get it wrong, and mis-pronounce it as an E instead. Next time you’re told to “smell for the camera” by a local photographer, you might want to co-operate with a happy facial expression — instead of either putting on a face mask, or sniffing at the photographer!

Usually: Extreme Difficulties in Pronunciation

Nearly everyone I’ve worked with have a very hard time pronouncing usually right. In the weirdest of all boo-boos I cannot fathom, they tend to see the “S” as an “R”, thus rendering it to urually! This throws too many people off, and is a nationwide issue.

I often have them correct by preferring they think of it as ushually instead.

Product / Production: Equally Difficult

The stress on the word product is on the pro bit, although if you wanted to say production, you might have wanted to put the stress on the duct bit instead.

Sadly, too many of us in China put the emphasis on the duct, and they mangled the pronunciation at times so it really sounds more like prodaackt. It’s painful for mine ear. It really is a case of — their English teachers (locals, mostly!) should have known better!