Monday, March 30, 2009

War on Chinglish (5)

Do you like climbing mountains?

It's a popular holiday and weekend activity in China, you see, so it comes up quite a lot in conversation. You are at first surprised, and then suspicious when almost every single one of your college students, even the weediest or most overweight of them, both boys and girls, all claim this as a hobby.

Most Chinese mountains, you see, are not all that high. Most of them have monasteries or temples built on them, and thus become popular tourist destinations. Most of them have metalled roads going nearly all the way to the top. Chinese people weekending in "the mountains" do not need boots and ropes and pickaxes. No, they can walk to the top. Sometimes this might involve a steep and rugged path over the last mile or two; sometimes, some pretty daunting stone staircases; but never any actual "mountain climbing".

None of their textbooks seem to tell them that in English "mountain climbing" usually implies taking on vertical rockfaces. They never seem to learn any of the alternative words for less strenuous forms of "climbing" - 'hiking', 'hill-walking'. More Chinglish!


Kirby said...

Thanks,Froog! Very helpful.

I'm waiting for 6,7,8,...:)

Froog said...

Be patient, K. I'm trying to ration them to one very couple of weeks or so. But I have 30 or more examples already stored up, and am thinking of more all the time. This one could run and run.

Kirby said...

Thanks again! Although sensitive "fenqing" might consider it as a kind of humiliation.

You have learned a language for 10 years and you will still find it chinglish.What a tragedy!:)

Froog said...

Second language mistakes distinctive of people with a particular first language are a common problem with all language-combinations, but I do think that Chinese mistakes in English seem to be particularly numerous and particularly obtrusive. It's not just down to the very different structures of the languages (what linguists call 'first language interference'), I think, but also the poor quality of teaching and of educational publishing in China for so many years. The refusal (even today!) to consult native speakers in preparing teaching materials is continuing to entrench these sorts of mistakes in China's English-speaking culture.

Furthermore, I think there's a problem with reading English here. My Chinese students never read enough. When they do read, they read far too slowly (because they're worried about trying to identify every single word, rather than using guessing strategies, and/or being satisfied with understanding only the gist), which obstructs overall comprehension (and hence, enjoyment; and hence, motivation for further reading). And I think they're not usually very self-aware in their reading: they don't "notice" and remember new structures, idioms, collocations, etc. (I suspect it's because the Chinese teaching style seems to emphasise almost exclusively 'active learning' via the rote memorization of lists, rather than the 'passive learning' of acquiring more language through constant exposure to it.)

If the Chinese read more English, and read in a more attentive way, they would surely start to notice that many of the phrases in this 'War on Chinglish' series of mine either NEVER occur in native-speaker English, or occur only very rarely, or are written slightly differently, or are used in a rather different way, etc. But NO - once these errors have been learned from a Chinese textbook or a Chinese teacher, they are never corrected.