Brian's Blogs

Problematic Language

I used to think, before coming to work in China, that I would have a hard time coming to grips with the Chinese language. Not just were the sounds so very different to anything I was used to in Europe, but one had to account for the different tones too, not to mention the fact that the language was written in ideograms.

What I certainly had not been expecting, however, was having to relearn – or at least re-think - the English language that I had grown up with and which, in my ignorance, I had assumed I was pretty OK with.

The problem arises from the fact that the majority of Chinese people who studied my language have actually learned American-style English from teachers with American accents. And so it is hardly surprising that they speak like a “Yank” and have difficulty understanding the Queen’s English.

As if that isn’t bad enough, I find myself practically every day learning new “English” words and expressions, thanks to my Chinese work colleagues who are surprised to find I don’t understand some of the expressions they regard as normal.

Things aren’t made any easier when I am left wondering whether a passage in English has been translated from its original Chinese using Google translate (or some other computer-generated translation) rather than using a new Americanism I have not yet come across.

England and America may well be “two countries separated by a common language”, but I worry that the addition of Chinese-American-English may well be a step too far for my poor addled brain.

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