Tag Archives: Chinese

Chinese Language Version of DavidFeng.com Arriving September 2016

With a fair bit of regret — I’m announcing the Chinese language versions (simplified and standard traditional script) will arrive with huge delays. After talking to language specialists I have realised that the Chinese I am using is either too official or too “non-professional”, as was told.

Whom do I really have to blame — the Chinese I have learnt in China was in essence forgotten when I landed in Switzerland in late 1988. (Thankfully, I picked them up again in intensive courses in 2000 through to late 2001.) I have been told many times that people would probably feel more “at home” in a presentation I did in English rather than one I tried in Chinese, even though I’ve done many similar events in Chinese. But for the public delivery factor, I’m defaulting back to English-only presentations with immediate effect. It’d be awful if my Chinese made no sense to you.

I know I’m going against the flow here. The thing is: in China, the way you look plays a very big role. (I wish this wasn’t the case, though.) If you look “non-Chinese”, a la Mark Zuckerberg, you giving even a three-minute speech in Chinese will be regarded as a gift from the lingo gods. If you look “Chinese”, you get the same treatment — if you pull it off in English.

And on that bit I am more than spooked. In 2009 I travelled with Twitter friends on trains around Beijing. Many passengers around us looked at the two of us in utter astonishment — these were two Chinese-looking people (one a Swiss citizen, the other a US citizen), talking in English. If they weren’t part of some secretive, foreign-funded plot to “do bad things to China”, they’d at least be very unpatriotic, so said the looks. From then onwards I’ve tried to play the “local card” by using Chinese whenever possible — only to be told, “Boy, this isn’t how we use Chinese here in China”.

I’m getting together Chinese professionals born-and-bred in China to help me with the Chinese sites. Until then it’s simply a case of — pretend these sites don’t come with a Chinese version. I’ll try to blank out pages but realise it’s not a censorship campaign — it’s just we write Chinese, even the basics, in a completely different way. If the Oyster machines have awful Chinese, that’s normal; it is one of the hardest languages to learn, both in terms of expressing ourselves, as well as the pronunciation and the characters. I have it harder as a “Chinese-looking” foreign passport holder. Reality is: to completely dispel any odd myths, I’ve been forced to resort to this measure of killing all sites in Chinese until it has been triple, even quadruple-checked, in Chinese by local experts. I’m also cutting down speaking opportunities in Chinese until I am quite sure that what goes into the mic is actually comprehensible to 1.3 billion.

It’s all very Swiss at the end of the day, really: if it’s not done to perfection, one prefers it was never done in the first place…

Oh and why September 2016? That’s 20 years after I first started coding for my first site (in English). I thought it’d make good timing…

Beijing’s “Cheap” Way to Solve Chinglish / English: Downgrade the Importance of English in the Exams!

The guys behind the “North Jing” (Beijing) are masters in particularly easy and remarkably cheap methods aimed at apparently solving problems. Want more people in the Subway and off the roads? Make Subway fares incredibly cheap. Still too many cars on the roads? Implement road rationing policies. Still still an excess of motorised wheels? Institute a cheap lottery system which is impossible to win for most of us. Still still still too many cars? Decrease the plates available for the lottery and reintroduce the “odd / even plate” rule on (unpredictable) Bad Air days. Oh and also increase penalties for those caught resisting the rules.

An excess of Chinglish in the city? Get some retired academics with limited overseas experience into a makeshift “experts committee” instead of — what can I say — qualified people. (For rail English, I have one as well — but these are award-winning professionals and seasoned travellers in the group instead of people who slipped in “through the back door”.) Make them translate a 50+ page book they wanted to do about “proper English for locals” from standardised English into Chinglish. (I’ve the copies on my hard drive: after submitting the ones I improved and put a lot of effort into, the “revised” ones by a Chinese professor who must have had just limited experience overseas were so “Chinglishified”, I ended up staring at a wall, thinking if my head should head there (pardon the pun) because of this shock of total, utter disbelief.) Oh, and in case you thought Stop Mouth at this train station with service to “Xuzhoudong” (Xuzhou East, but with the cardinal direction illegally using pinyin) station were anything out of the ordinary — well, let me tell you this: City authorities are floating the idea of lowering the total score for English on standardised university entrance exams, so they will in future weigh less. That’ll be 100 points instead of the 150 points. The sad practice of bored academic sermons, sadly, will see no changes.

City Hall is thus saying: To solve the city’s Chinglish problems and to “make English easier”, we are downgrading its importance. Guess what: that’s a mere formality. Still part of the exams will be — I swear — questions where locals see only one correct answer, but where two correct answers will be comprehended by native speakers of English from Europe and North America. I swear, this will be utter hell to all students. Downgrading English doesn’t solve the problem: it merely aggravates it. You will still be stuck with the average local unable to respond to your simplest-of-all-demands in English. You will still be stuck with bilingual essays that earn an A+ in Chinese — and merely, at best, probably a C in English. Oh, and not to mention the massive plagiarism in the academic world. How do you identify a paper from mainland China? Chinglish throughout, terrible grammar, and a way of thinking that just befuddles the average overseas academic. Is that what you want — or want to keep?… and I ask that to city authorities both before and after the points downgrade. Can you swear in the name of God Marx that you can totally annihilate, say, Chinglish, by downgrading the importance of English in the university entrance exams? (I really can’t see how that could work.)

Always willing to listen to a second opinion, I put this question forward to my class: Do you think we should downgrade English? Nearly all students sounded a clear NO — some were outright furious at the idea. It seems the new trend in China is to “throw up” on problems instead of solving it. HSR train crash (July 2011)? Downgrade new lines from 350 km/h to 250 km/h. Worsening smog? Force people through ridiculous lotteries just to get a car. Chinglish conquering Beijing? Downgrade the importance of (proper) English.

I’m pretty sure that, some years down the road (when “more competent” people with a fully functioning brain take over), we’ll take a second look at history — and regard that those who have run our failure of a capital in these years (at present) the same way as we looked at George W. Bush when he left office.

Sending the Makers of Chinglish Back to Their…


There — I did it this way because having two appearances of “makers” in the same sentence would sound kind of weird, no?

David Feng speaking at Tuanjiehu

Lest you thought I aped Steve Ballmer, nope. It wasn’t an excess of some North American comedy either. Let me tell you guys one thing: the worst thing than can happen when your mouth is less than an inch away from the microphone — is to bore the living and dead #beep out of people. I’m not kidding you. I had those terrible lessons in my BEc years in university because that teacher sat in one of these positions:—

  • mouth fixed in front of mic;
  • eyes fixed on sunken screen;
  • hands fixed on scroll mouse

and delivered an (un)academic sermon for 90 minutes straight. Jeez. After 15 minutes, I gave it up and favoured a little Lonely Planet guide into Hong Kong.

Whenever I speak I favour a handheld mic for the simple reason it gets me away from the lectern. First, you’ve got to move your eyeballs, so there goes all that (potential) drowsiness. Second, you can actually do crazy things with the thing, as you’re no longer chained to any one place in particular. You also have total control over the crazy noises you do. These days in China, presentation counts.

And the content, too, by the way. Today in my two-hour lingo sermon (which thankfully had nobody sleeping; this is a major problem here in China), I proceeded to rip open Chinglish at face value and tell people what made this weird lingo concoction of ours up. Inspired were about 60 or 70 people in the increasingly internationalising (that’s a word, I guess!) community of Tuanjiehu in eastern central Beijing. Yep, senior citizens, but also young kids from universities in town. Turns out there were a few things of note:—

  • English distinguishes between plural and single forms; in Chinese, the characters don’t reflect on that at all;
  • English has spaces; in contemporary mainland China, they’re all but gone;
  • There are a few words which have more than one meaning, and often the wrong meaning is written on the signs

which was why we’ve Chinglish on our signs. I didn’t feel any better when I spotted a few more in western Beijing’s district of Mentougou (one of these folks I know who might be in charge of Chinglish is going to get a pretty stern warning from me soon), but rest assured — I’m here to get rid of the whole thing.

Don’t you feel much more at ease when you’re told to let passengers exit first instead of this random bit?… “After first under on, do riding with civility…”

Picture credit: Co-host Alison Zhou. I do radio programmes with her every Wednesday afternoon from 15:00-16:00 Beijing time. You can’t miss us; we’re also to be heard online at am774.com.

David’s English Lessons: DON’T CALL ME “TEACHER”!

Worse: DON’T CALL ME “DOCTOR FENG!”… I have not yet been “christened” a “Doctor” since I have still got to get my final dissertation done right… a la KFC (“We do chicken right!” and stuff like that)…

DON’T CALL ME “TEACHER”, EITHER! In China, every last soul calls a teacher — well, “teacher” (老師). That don’t work out fine for your David here. He prefers folks to straight-out address him as David. Buck naked, we are all the same: we can all eat, drink, go to the toilet and take time off in bed. We’re the same be our skins black, white or yellow. So I don’t for a split second buy the fact that “a teacher is ‘superior’ to a student”. I don’t buy it.

I look up very well to the Western world, where you call a teacher by his family name, plus “Mr” or “Ms”. I look up even better to the world of “personal communications” (so to speak in jargon-ese), where David Feng is just simply “David”. Hence my preference for my students to outright call me David. I don’t want for a second to be referred to as Doctor Feng. It just confines me to that Ivory Tower I never wanted to be in at all. It’s un-Mensch, as Guy Kawasaki might say. A Mensch of a teacher realizes he’s an equal amongst all the other students.

I sure hope my fellow students can nick away some knowledge he or she will put to use one of these days, but I hope even more that chez my lessons, students and teachers can act as equals. In this long stroll in the Edu Trail, it’s much better if the head of the team doesn’t put off airs and acts more like a guy in the midst of a group than an absolute dictator leading it. That’s just my way of doing lessons: I don’t do titles, I do outright human language