By Matthew Yglesias
You hear a fair amount about “Chinglish”—hilarious inapt translations of Chinese phrases into English—and thought I haven’t actually seen a ton of it, I did find this book title at an airport bookshop to be pretty amusing:
Lurking behind the Chinglish phenomenon is the reality of a rapidly developing country of 1.3 billion people that’s making a rather intensive effort to learn English. The trouble here is that not only is it hard for Chinese speakers to learn English and vice versa (in the sense that the languages are much more different than English and French or English and German) but that there are some rather basic capacity bottlenecks that make mass-instruction in a foreign language hard to pull off. We had a tour guide today at the forbidden city who spoke English very well but had a very strange accent. Initially I thought that he must have been taught English by an Australian or perhaps studied abroad there. But it turned that he’d learned English from a native Chinese speaker who himself had learned from a native Chinese speaker who in turn had learned from a guy from Leeds in the UK. So I was listening, essentially, to a very capable individual doing a copy of a copy of a northern English accent.
In principle, there’s probably a huge opportunity for China to import actual native speakers of English from the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, Ireland, and New Zealand to teach China’s more advanced students and help them obtain a greater level of fluency. But more broadly as China continues to develop it seems to me that we’ll probably see some erosion of English’s current status as a global lingua franca.