Why is Chinglish so prevalent?

When I buy Chinese made products or travel to places in China, I see Chinglish written everywhere. Simple things are miss translated. There are basic grammar errors. Typos and spelling errors are common. Why don’t the companies hire native English speakers to proofread their manuals? Western companies never release foreign language document without clearing with at least one native speaker – and preferably a professional. Why do so many Chinese manufacturers – even many quite large & reputable ones – ship manuals with poorly written, and even downright confusing, English text?

For the best quality, a translator should be working from the foreign language into his native language. Even someone with exceeding good language skills will make errors when writing in the foreign language. I suspect this isn’t widely understood so people are hired for the wrong side of the translation.

In China, they are plenty of Chinese people who have studied English to a high level, so they can easily get some English document translated into good quality Chinese.

However, the reverse is not true. While there are lots of foreign-born teachers in China, few of them have studied Chinese to a high level. Myself for example. Even after ten-plus years in China, I could just about translate a restaurant menu but would have no chance of translating a technical manual. While I have excellent English skills and fluent in spoken Chinese, I lack in Chinese reading skills.

There are simply more people available to competently translate English into Chinese than out of Chinese into English.

Add to this the fact that Chinese companies export more than import. There is more demand for translation into English than the supply of translators.

Another factor is in the Chinese concept of face. They will not admit that they can’t do something. It seems strange to a western mind but people in China will save face by knowingly giving the wrong answer rather than admitting they don’t know or can’t. It is the reverse of the western concept of face where getting it wrong makes you look stupid but saying you don’t know is honest.

So, when an English language student is asked to do a job, they will make a half-arsed mess of it rather than recommend a more qualified person.

Another point may be found in the Chinese idea of cheating. Like the concept of face, they understand the concept of cheating differently from how a western person sees it. Thus they will take shortcuts that seem implausible.

Every year I get students hand in work that was clearly just copied off of Wikipedia or written in Chinese and machine translated on Google or Baidu Fanyi. These same students, on graduating university, go out and write your instruction manual the same way.

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