Chinglish 101


Chinglish is my Third Language.

Chinglish is the second most popular language in Shanghai.  First is Manderin Chinese, of course.  Second is Chinglish.  Coming in a close third is English.  After that there is a huge variety such as German, French, Spanish etc…  But Chinglish is my favorite.  It is seemingly spoken by everyone. Native Chinese  born and foreigners alike.

Many of you may know some Spanglish.   This is a popular variety of the Chinglish style spoken in many parts  of the U.S.  The brain works in mysterious ways and when I can’t think of a word in Chinese I come up with the Spanish word and sometimes come out with the strangest sentences.  For instance ‘yo’ in Spanish means ‘I’ but ‘yo’ in Chinese means ‘to have’.  I get all garbled up and say ‘yo yo’.  I’m not sure if I am saying I have something, naming a toy, or sounding like a rap star.  In the end nobody can understand me 😦

The real beauty of Chinglish, as compared to Spanglish, is that the Chinese and western cultures can be so completely different in their outlook on a situation that the resulting attempts to communicate are truly hysterical.

There are the attempts by the foreigners to speak Chinese but because of the challenge of tones we often say things that we really don’t mean.  My friend J.  got stranded in a boat on a small touristy lake when the motor gave out.  Several boats were passing and she called for help in the best Manderin she could muster.  But they just kept going.  Perhaps they didn’t hear her.  Feeling pretty confident  she tried again with the next passing boat.  She continued to get strange looks.  Finally a boat operator saw her adrift and towed her in.  When she checked with her Chinese friends later she found out that she had been calling out “Please, my table is broken – throw me a melon!”  I am sure the Chinese natives looked at her like she was a crazy tourist 🙂

Then there are the attempts by the Chinese to speak or to translate their signs into English for tourists.  We have had lots of good belly laughs over these signs.  I told S2 that he should work really hard on learning Manderin and he could have a very full career just going around the country correcting all the signs!  Here are a few examples:


7 responses »

  1. Make a face of yourself… have your picture taken?

    At least a warning sign that babies on the ‘road’ makes more sense that babies are on ‘board’… as if, in that split second that I’m losing control of my car and I’m going to crash, I’ll steer the other way and crash into the car with the old man rather than the car with the babies!

    Thanks for the laughs!

  2. At least it is “quality” body ordering. I wouldn’t want to order just any body. I might get the Rosanne Barr one when I really want the Angelia Jolie one.

  3. These are really funny.
    BTW, when I sent you the email, I had no real idea what you meant about the ‘firewall’ until I read the blog. Unbelievable.

    Of course, we lawyers have another kind of Chinese wall….

  4. Pingback: Chinglish-some funny literal translations English-Chinese | Street Talk Savvy

    • Thanks so much for citing my blog! I am so glad you enjoyed it. My family loves language and travel and there is never any shortage of crazy crossed connections 🙂 I enjoyed reading your blog. Keep up your good work too.

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