A massive drive to correct the clumsy and often hilarious English translations in Chinese signboards has been launched in the national capital to make the city more foreigner-friendly ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Sign boards like “Slide carefully!” in a washroom which actually means “Caution wet floor!” or a sign asking people to “wait outside a rice noodle” – a literal translation from Chinese search for a yellow line or “one-meter line,” are a common site in Beijing.
But soon, they could be a thing of past as Beijing has launched a new campaign to correct such signs to make the city more foreigner-friendly ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics.
English translations of Chinese signs in Beijing’s public spaces and restaurants first came to the limelight as the city geared up for the 2008 Olympic Games. Since then, increased public awareness has helped remove many mistranslations of official signs.
Beijing’s foreign affairs office said it has vetted over two million Chinese characters on signs and notices that have English versions since a national standard on English translations in public service took effect on December 1, 2017.
Working with Chinese and foreign experts and volunteers, the city this year has run translation checks in the central business district (CBD), international hotels and other areas frequented by foreigners, as well as public venues like schools and hospitals, the office said.
“Translations of public signs not only help foreigners, but their quality also shapes the image of a city,” the state-run Xinhua news agency quoted Chen Mingming, executive vice president of the Translators Association of China and advisor to the correction campaign as saying on Monday.
Some mistranslations were a result of verbatim translations such as a shop sign that reads “name smoke name liquor” (branded cigarette and liquor) on Beijing’s shopping street Wangfujing, while some others stumbled at polysemantic Chinese words like an emergency exit whose English translation sign reads “export” (export and exit share the same word in Chinese).
The foreign affairs office said officials went searching for wrong translations in some of the city areas, but most mistakes were reported by the people on a website that offered rewards for providing information, since March.
Zhang Qian, vice head of the office, said signage of private businesses where owners often resort to the internet for quick solutions, have formed a new citadel for wrong translations.
She called for passing new regulations on such translations as the city prepares for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
The international winter multi-sport event is scheduled to take place from 4 to 20 February 2022 in Beijing and towns in the neighbouring Hebei province.