"Though the Chinese characters are the same, this chukou
(export) does not mean that chukou (exit)."
That was the message a team of volunteers to correct
Chinese-English translation mistakes gave the manager of a
supermarket recently in Xi'an, the capital of Northwest China's
Above the door of the supermarket was a sign with the word
"export," which should be "exit."
As a hot tourism destination, Xi'an is paying more attention to
the English translations on shop signs, street names and other
things. Students, teachers and residents all volunteers are going
around the area, looking for and correcting such mistakes.
Another example: "de," which means "moral," and "xin," which
means "honest." But they're the same characters used for "Germany"
and "letter" (the thing sent by post).
It's not unusual for a building in China to be named for noble
concepts, but the name has no bearing on what the building is used
for. Even so, to call it the German Letter Building in English was
"This is a typical mistake in English-Chinese translation which
translates the Chinese characters word by word with their surface
meaning," said Zhao Jing, a middle school English teacher and a
On the first day of the mission, the team found 45 mistakes
around Xi'an some small ("park," which should have been "parking"),
some misplaced letters ("China store," which should have been
"chain store") and some way off ("wine building," which should have
Some curiosities arose because of the differences between
British and American English. Adele Edgeworth, a British tourist,
said that when she saw the sign "subway to visit the Bell Tower,"
she expected the American interpretation, meaning an underground
train to the site. Instead, it was merely an underground walkway,
which is the British usage.
"Idiomatic English translation is very important to Xi'an, a
city with tourism as its major industry, which not only provides
foreign visitors with convenience, but also gives them a better
understanding of local cultures and customs," said Ma Zhenwu, a
professor and English expert at Shaanxi Technology University.
Ma, who is also the secretary-general of a local translation
group, said it has been working on improving translations of
streets, buildings and tourism spots, but his association is not a
government agency and can't require anyone to correct the
Zhou Junwen, an official with the city's civil affairs bureau,
said that his bureau, in cooperation with the appropriate urban
service department, will check road signs for translation mistakes
and will adopt mandatory measures to correct them.
He said it's important to maintain a high language standard to
reflect the city's image.
(China Daily March 7, 2007)