Linguist Olympics

olympic-englishFor a short time before the Beijing Olympics in 2008, I taught at a language center in Shenzhen. It wasn’t entirely legal as the company couldn’t get me a residence permit and had me apply for business visas for which I was labelled a consultant. Fortunately, while stories circulated about visa crackdowns across China, I was never even asked to show my passport.

One of the classes I had to teach at the language center was for the local police. There were 40 English-speaking police officers who were required to show up and learn from the official Olympic Security English handbook that was put together by an officer in Beijing and clearly not edited by a native speaker. In one instance, the translation for an international apartment complex came out as “apartments for aliens.” There’s also a wonderful conversation in which a foreigner calls another person a “rascal”–I told the police in class to call me immediately if they ever met someone who used that word.

Here’s a excerpt from a lesson on “Dissuading Foreigners from Excessive Drinking.”

Security Guard: You’ve drunk too much. Excessive drinking in public is banned because it disturbs others.

Foreigner: So what? Waitress! I want a girl to drink with me!

Guard: Mind your manners! You are drunk, you should leave. Take my advice, or I’ll call the police.

Foreigner: Oh! Please don’t call the police! I don’t drink any more. I’m sorry.

Somehow I doubt a conversation with a drunk would be so clear and logical. I found this short lesson funny because excessive drinking is quite common in China. It’s also fairly common in London.

As in most chapters in the book, the foreigner gives up very easily. Some of the other entertaining chapters deal with “illegal news coverage” and “frighting” (that was fighting misspelled twice in two lessons).

Makes me wonder how the London police will handle drunk foreigners. Or whether they’ve received any language training. At least China made the attempt to improve communication beyond the blank stares I usually got when I needed something from the police, like a foreign resident registration form.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: