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Foreigners strolling along riverbanks in China may do more than stumble when they see signs warning: "Take care to fall into water".

Fall into the water? And carefully? Not exactly.

And at a large store along Shanghai's bustling Nanjing Road, customers walking on a wet floor are told to "Slip Carefully".

It's against just such mistranslations that language experts have declared war.

"A number of the English translations in public areas are quite baffling, others are simply awkward," said Xue Mingyang, director of Shanghai Education Commission.

"Shanghai is actively developing into an international metropolis. We urgently need to change this," he said.

With about 3.5 million foreign tourists coming to the city during next year's World Expo, the stakes are even higher for accurate English translations.

In response, a new rulebook regulating English translation was launched by the language affairs and quality technology supervision departments from Shanghai, Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces yesterday.

"We hope that through the guidelines English mistranslations will no longer be found by next year's World Expo," Xue said.

Last year, the Shanghai language affairs commission in a citywide inspection found 331 instances of incorrect English translation in public places, accounting for 10.5 percent of signs. Most of them are the misuse of English by Chinese known as "Chinglish".

So far, there is no national standard on English translation on public signs, but many cities, including Shanghai, launched previous campaigns to clean up mistranslations and establish standards.

"But some of the standards are 'culture-bound' and there is no consistency. We want a consistent standard of English translation to promote development in the Yangtze River area," Xue said.

Translation standard offices have also been set up for the public, so citizens who spot mistranslations can notify related authorities.

(China Daily August 25, 2009)

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