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A new tongue for old
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There has been much publicity about Beijing's effort to improve its English language environment lately.

The effort has been described by the Global Language Monitor as an attempt to eradicate Chinglish before the 2008 Games. The Austin, Texas-based company, however, predicts in its website article "that Chinglish will persist - and even thrive - far after the Games have ended."

Probably it is right. I have no intention to challenge its prediction and I personally know some working on this correction project. Do they want to eradicate Chinglish? No, that will be mission impossible. They do the job because they want the Chinese language not to be misunderstood. They want to help foreigners - to make their life in Beijing somewhat easier and their understanding of Beijing somewhat better.

By doing so they also want to help some 250 million Chinese who are currently studying English as a second, auxiliary or business language.

China Daily has been asked to help in this effort, too. For example, organizations' names need to be translated correctly to facilitate exchanges with the world. So we were asked by the Foreign Affairs Office of Beijing Municipal People's Government to help.

We obliged and helped. Since often we could not find exact English equivalents, we had to make up expressions such as "civic enhancement office" for the Chinese jingshen wenming bangongshi. Chinglish or not, it is true we are contributing new words to be added to this global language which will hit its millionth word on April 29, 2009.

* * *

At a recent English teaching forum, I heard several school principals speaking on cross-cultural education.

One school principal, Wu Xiaoli, said her students are aware of different meanings of flower gifts in different cultures thanks to their cross-cultural syllabi. As a journalist I couldn't help saluting those principals for better preparing their students for a more globalized world tomorrow.

My generation had little cross-cultural education in our school days. We suffered much cultural shock once we were exposed to the outside world, and I believe many people of my age still suffer from the lack of cross-cultural education. For example, they behave as they do at home and talk noisily while eating in foreign restaurants. Chinese culture takes noisy people as good company at parties.

I am sure the younger generation will be much wiser and behave accordingly while in different cultural settings thanks to their teachers' foresight and practical endeavor.

However, cross-cultural understanding should always be a two-way traffic. If East and West both work to improve the traffic, the future will indeed be harmonious.

* * *

Wall Street veteran Jack Perkowski wrote a book titled Managing the Dragon, in which he sums up his experiences in China and concludes that the key to doing business in China is to build a management team by hiring qualified locals.

So I guess dragon in his mind has positive connotation. I hope this is the case.

It reminds me of the dragon motif we used for the cover of our publication the Olympian, August 1 issue. People differ on whether it was a good choice of the editor since some Chinese scholars claim the dragon is a symbol of China's feudal system and monarchy, and as such the dragon motif was not a good choice.

Is the dragon image also negative in the West? As a terrifying, fire-breathing monster?

Beijing did not choose the dragon as a mascot for the 2008 Olympic Games although this supernatural symbol of power has remained special in our culture.

Chinese men still like to call themselves "sons of the dragon". The Chinese used to worship the dragon. Some people still do today, while others don't. Whether they do or don't, trouble is we cannot go back to have a consensus on the creature any more.

(China Daily August 15, 2008)

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