Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Chinese pronunciation classics

I have just been delivering an afternoon-long presentation on how to improve English speaking ability. The audience, alas, were 1st year science undergraduates at a minor Beijing university, and thus could hardly speak a word of English between them (all 100+ of them!) - and probably never will. It was utterly inappropriate and pointless to subject such an audience to an extended native speaker lecture, and I am thoroughly frustrated by the experience. Unfortunately, I need the money.

It did, however, put me in my mind of one of favourite ever pieces of mangled pronunciation.

In a class a few years ago, I had asked the students (all adults, with at least a modest level of English ability) to tell me what their favourite English-language film was. It is a common problem here that people never know the actual English names for things or people (historical figures, actors, sports and music stars, books, movies) but only the - often not at all similar - Chinese translations or transliterations of them. Several of my students complained that they did not know or could not remember the name of the film they wanted to talk about. I encouraged them to tell me about their chosen film anyway, saying that if they could tell me a little of the story, I would probably recognise which film they were talking about and be able to tell them the English title of it.

One guy told me, "About a BIG sheep."

"A big sheep?" I boggled.

"Yes. Big sheep! She eat a piece of ice."

I boggled some more.

"Everybody die."

The penny dropped. "Ah, Titanic," I said. That has been my favourite summary of a movie plot ever since.

Another corker, which I've encountered quite a few times now, is this:

I pose the question, "If you were not all petrochemical engineers, what other job might you like to do?"

And always someone will say, "I want to be a sailor!"

"A sailor??"

"Yes. In a market."

Chinese pronunciation of English is, surely, amongst the worst in the world. Chinese career choices are often quite unfathomable. Chinese taste in movies sucks.

Enough generalizations. I'm starting to sound bitter.....

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