Beijing is racing to fix its mistranslated English phrases before the 2022 Olympics hits

A group of volunteers check Beijing Capital International Airport for signs with mistranslated English.
Qianlong
  • Beijing is once again cracking down on public signs with mistranslated English phrases before the city hosts the 2022 Winter Olympics, just as it did for the 2008 Summer Olympics.

  • The municipal foreign affairs office has already vetted over 2 million Chinese characters on signs and notices.

  • Most of these signs are a result of using the Internet to translate between Chinese and English, which often results in literal meanings.

  • On social media, some people said they would miss seeing the funny signs around.

Vising a park in Beijing? Remember to fall into the water carefully.

While it’s not uncommon to find poorly-translated signs across the Chinese capital, these examples are exactly what the municipal government of Beijing is racing to fix before the city plays host to the 2022 Winter Olympics, state news agency Xinhua reported on Tuesday (Dec 4).

Much like in the lead up to the 2008 Olympics, Beijing is once again trying to correct the city’s many mistranslated English signs before thousands of visitors descend – and inevitably take pictures.

In 2007, the municipal government introduced a local standard for English translations in public, and the Beijing Tourism Bureau launched a hotline for people to tip off government officers to bad English translations on public signs, China Daily reported.

This time, Beijing’s foreign affairs office is sending staff on hunts for these erroneous signs in city areas, Xinhua said.

The Chinese government – which voiced concerns that these signs could jeopardise the country’s image – implemented a set of standardised national translations for signs from Chinese to English last December.

Since then, Beijijng’s foreign affairs office has vetted over 2 million Chinese characters on signs and notices, Xinhua said.

Since March, it has also hired experts to run translation checks on signs in the central business district, international hotels, schools and hospitals.

Other programmes include training English-proficient students from Beijing Language and Culture University to take photos and record down signs, which are then sent back to a translation team in the university for review.

Beijing foreign affairs office vice head Zhang Qian told Xinhua that signs put up by private businesses are often wrong because their owners often get a quick translation from the Internet.

This can result in awkward verbatim translations, which do not account for polysemantic Chinese words (words that have multiple meanings).

The foreign affairs office also set up a website for the public to report erroneously translated signs, with top participants rewarded with RMB30 (US$4.36) of phone bill credit.

The website also contains lists of proper English translations on topics like restaurants, shopping, and sporting events, so people can check signs easily.

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But it looks like some English speakers don’t mind the signs – and will even miss the occasional laugh they bring.

 

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