Speak Chenglish or Get Out!

Something really interesting happens when speakers of one language try to learn another.  They make mistakes.

There is a theory that says a person must make one million mistakes to speak a language fluently.  I proved that theory wrong last week when I hit one million and one. When I first arrived in China I tried to tell the girl at Pizza Hut that I wanted my order to go (Wo yao da bao).  She looked at me funny when I said “Wo yao dao gao” or “I want to pray.”  I recently told my landlord that I needed to go because my plane was leaving in two weeks.  I routinely call taxi drivers dead chickens (see Chinese Taxi Drivers and Fat Foreign Girls) and I once called the front desk of my hotel to ask for a blanket and promptly received a coffee cup.  This list goes on and on for several years.  Being one of the chiefest of language fumblers you might think that I would know better than to laugh at other people who make mistakes as well.  Not so.  I now laugh even harder.  What has changed is my haughty arrogance when I laugh (see Loffing at the Chinese).  I’ve surrendered all rights to look down on anyone because they fumble my language. We are one, them and me.  Card carrying members of a club whose only rule is that you mess up . . . daily . . . a lot.  I’m thinking of running for club President 
. . . or Emperor. 

Translations from Chinese to English often get bumbled and the results can be quite humorous.  There are a number of factors from honest mistakes and difficult grammar to knockoff brand names and cheap electronic translators but it’s always good for a chuckle.  So start by taking a humbling dose of “how’s my Chinese?”  Then enjoy these pictures.

*Originally Posted in our other wildly famous but now retired blog:  “Keeping Up With the Joneses”

Classic example of your basic grammar translation issue.
Sounds funny but you still get the point.  I understood perfectly
at “Snake!”
Notice this one and the next one have the exact same Chinese
Characters (don’t hurt yourself).  This one however, seems to be
translated by an extreme workaholic who feels the need to throw
in the extra step of UN – recycling.
And this one was obviously translated by a pessimist.
Sidenote:  Puma (Pamu) seems to be one of the top three
mistranslated brand names in sporting apparel.  Next to
Nuke (above) and Abibas of course. 
Warning signs are almost always humorous.  I’ve also
seen, “Carefully Fall Into River” and “Slowly Walk
Into It”


  1. Thanks Michelle – Just glad someone is reading it. Having fun.

  2. Hey I found your blog through Jamie the VWM, when I saw language topic I knew I would enjoy it. I’m learning German and secretly love that the Germans can’t say “th” because there’s a few sounds that I defiantly have problems with in German. So as hard as Chinese is, it’s nice to know that English isn’t that easy for them either. 🙂


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