Ain’t it exciting? The World Expo is finally here. You bet China, especially Shanghai, has been spending huge money and human or non-human resource preparing for this. For those who had been to the Beijing Olympics back in 08, maybe you still remember the warm feeling of being cared about by countless volunteers. Apparently Shanghai is planning to tune that up a notch by enabling *everybody* in the public service sector to court foreign tourists. The proof of this assumption is a picture passed along by a classmate of my cousin:
No, this isn’t urban legend. I know the “classmate of cousin” part sounds like it, but I really doubt if anyone could hammer such a picture out of Photoshop. The banner was apparently designed/distributed by “Command center for public services and commerce development, Luwan District”. Thus I assume that the intended audience of this banner is Shanghainese working in banks, transport hubs, shopping malls, newspaper stands, etc. The purpose seems to be teaching general Shanghainese in the service sector the most English in the shortest time possible. As a matter of fact English letters are beyond a lot of Chinese, not to mention those quirky phonetic symbols. But to prepare the whole city for World Expo, that isn’t a problem. They used Chinese characters to mark pronunciation. Some examples on the banner are:
English: Welcome to our store!
Pinyin: Wei2 Er3 Kang4 Mu3 Tu1 Ao4 Wo1 Si1 Dao4
Comment: Totally gibberish in Chinese. And in my case it takes me 30 seconds to pull off the tongue twister.
English: I’m sorry, I can only speak a little English.
Pinyin: An3 Me0 Sao1 Rui4, An3 Kan3 Weng1 Lei4 Si1 Bi2 Ke1 E2 Lei4 Tou1 Ying1 Ge2 Li4 Shi3
Comment: Oh man, you can only speak a little English, but I see you fire a hell of great Chinese tongue twister. My eyes and mind get mingled merely looking at that line!
English: Just a moment, please.
Pinyin: Jie2 Si1 Te4 Mou1 Men1 Te4, Pu3 Li4 Si1
Comment: This… should… work…? It’s just that I’m not sure if that rarely used 哞 could be picked up by the majority of people…?
In general I think this is a failure. High school students tend to use this trick for their English lessons, and that’s OK, since they are only marking single words. But forging such long lines of gibberish, I’m not sure which is easier, start from the rightful phonetic symbols, or try to master this twisted gibberish? In my case, with the same time and effort to burn that “Wei2 Er3 Kang4 Mu3 Tu1 Ao4 Wo1 Si1 Dao4” into my mind, I can pretty much master how to deliver “welcome to our store” in 5 different languages…
Another reason why this is a failure is that the tutorial given here is far from enough. Based on this English-in-(supposedly)-30-seconds tutorial, let’s imagine the following scenario:
Mr. Wang (let’s say, 50 years old), who runs a small newspaper stand by a main street, saw a bewildered foreign tourist standing nearby. In good faith, helpful mind, and augmented by the quick English lesson he just picked up not long ago, he approached the foreigner and initiated a conversation:
Wang: Kan3 Ai2 Hai3 Er3 Pu1 You2? (Can I help you?)
Foreigner: Sure, thanks so much, gentleman! I’m trying to figure out how to get to [fill in a preferred place name] from here. All my gratitude if you could show me the route!
Foreigner: … ???
Wang: An3 Me0 Sao1 Rui4, An3 Kan3 Weng1 Lei4 Si1 Bi2 Ke1 E2 Lei4 Tou1 Ying1 Ge2 Li4 Shi3! Bai2 Bai2! (I’m sorry, I can only speak a little English! Bye bye!) [Retreats into his booth]
Foreigner: [High on triple dose of bewilderment]
Doesn’t make much sense, right? And I’m in serious doubt if any Mr. Wang could really get around the “I’m sorry blah blah blah” line. So come on, Shanghai, cancel the joke, do it properly, hire some professionals, or recruit college volunteers. You saw those volunteer booths in Beijing a couple of years ago, and they worked like a charm.
Or if this is how things go in reality, and you happen to be in Shanghai, and you are really confused by your Mr. Wang, here is a little Chinese-in-30-seconds, delivered in similar fashion, for your reference. Oh you’re welcome, don’t have to thank me. We share the planet, we help each other out.
Meaning: How much is this?
Pronunciation: Drill Girl Dough Shall Chant?
Notes: As a matter of course it’s not perfect match, but repeat it a handful of times and keep pointing to the item you want to buy, they will get it eventually.
Meaning: Excuse me, what’s the time please?
Pronunciation: Cheering When Gee Diane La
Notes: You’re asking about *time*, and there is a “when” in this line. Perfect logic. See? You’ve already remembered 1/5 of the whole sentence in a blink of eyes. It’s so much more efficient than Luwan District English.
Meaning: May I use the bathroom?
Pronunciation: Cur Ill Jay Young Ill Share Weight Shown Jan Ma?
Notes: Not an easy one, but now you should get the idea what your general Chinese may feel when he/she stumbles upon the Luwan banner.
Meaning: That’s too expensive. I won’t buy it.
Pronunciation: Thai Gale Le. Wow Bull My.
Meaning: Hello / Good morning / Good afternoon / Good evening
Pronunciation: Knee Hall.
Meaning: Sorry / Excuse me
Pronunciation: Dale Bull Cheese.
Note: All nouns, short, easy to remember.
Pronunciation: Shy Shy
Note: Not the ideal pronunciation match. Can’t do better, Dale Bull Cheese. Remember to keep a big, bright grin on your face to enhance the scene. Don’t literally go shy.
Meaning: No worries / It doesn’t matter / You’re welcome / So be it
Pronunciation: May Gum She
Meaning: Bye bye.
Pronunciation: Zap Jan
Sincerely wish you enjoy your stay in Shanghai during the World Expo. Please find our wishes and greetings as:
上 海 欢 迎 你！
Shang4 Hai3 Huan1 Ying2 Ni3!
Sharn Hi Juan Ing Knee!
Article by Kane Gao, Illuminant’s Head of Research