Editor’s note: a sign at a busy subway station in Shanghai recently caused embarrassment and furor among the public. The sign, with instructions on how to use and exchange transport cards, was intended to provide useful information to English speakers. However, as this translated article from Wenxue City points out, the ridiculous amount of Chinglish and confusing syntax managed to achieve the complete opposite. While ‘Chinglish’ signs are an endless source of amusement for many, it does reflect a lack of professionalism and “cultural gap”, especially when the text is a government-made poster in a major city like Shanghai. It seems like the days of spotting ‘Chinglish’ in China are from over.
A sign was recently erected at East Nanjing Road Station on Shanghai Subway’s Line 2 to explain prepaid transportation cards to the public in English. The intention of the sign was to make using the subway and other public transportation more convenient and easy for English speakers. However, the plan backfired and the clear translation errors on the sign have attracted much criticism from the public. Those in the translation business suggest that all such signs should be uniform across the city and they should be checked over by professionals.
“Go to the below website”
The part of the sign that received the brunt of the criticism was the following sentence: “Need to return the card transfer passengers can go to the below website.” A reporter from Xinmin News had this to say: “This kind of bad translation is of course a classic East meets West mishap. The translator was either quite stupid or not careful about his translation and put the Chinese words directly into Baidu translate.” The sign introducing the idea of returning prepaid transportation cards was originally meant to make life easier for the public; however the bad translation just made it confusing. “First of all, one should never translate Chinese directly into English. This just turns into ‘Chinglish (A confusing mashup of the two languages).’ On the sign, ‘subway station’ became ‘website’ when translated into English. This had to be done by a computer, not a real translator.”
“I happened to have two or three extra bus cards I needed to return and looked at the instructions on the billboard. The English translation was so ridiculous I almost laughed out loud,” said Miss Liu, a subway passenger.
“The English translation of the word ‘website’ is a classic mistake. Although my English is not good, I am sure there is a problem with the translation. It is clear that the use of the word ‘website’ is a joke or a mistake. ‘Website’ in Chinese is ‘web station’ (网站) but the sign refers to the subway station (地铁车站). However, the original Chinese just uses ‘station’ (站) which may have caused the confusion in the translation. The sign accidentally tells English speakers to go to a website to recharge or return their cards,” said Miss Liu.
Two nights ago, a young reporter confirmed Miss Liu’s statements by traveling to the service center at East Nanjing Road Station. The billboard did not have very much information on it but it did indeed have the controversial translation that initially caught the public’s attention. Despite the misleading text, the reporter noticed that individual foreign passengers still stopped to read the sign. Many passengers found the translation to be ridiculous. “This sign is clearly translated by a computer and not an English speaker. Why else would there be such a stupid mistake on it,” one passenger remarked.
The importance of hiring a pro
This sign has only recently appeared in the East Nanjing Road metro station. Many passengers do not know how to recharge and return prepaid transport cards. Because of this, they end up selling or returning their transportation cards to scalpers at a loss. The Shanghai Metro Transportation Management Center thanked the attentive passengers who pointed out the mistake on the sign and stated that they will hire someone to modify the English translation.
Experts said that signs and notices play a key guiding role for tourists but also are an important reflection of the city itself. Cities with signs in a variety of foreign languages are often more open and inclusive. If the translations of foreign language signs are wrong, then it is confusing for foreigners living and traveling in the city. Bad translations also lead to the exposure of the city’s “cultural deficiencies.” Signs should not only be unified (i.e. signs should have the same translation in every metro station) but the relevant departments must take the initiative to check the translations with professionals in order to avoid stupid mistakes.
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Keywords: Chinglish on Shanghai subway Chinglish Chinglush in China
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