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Lack of English language skill costs China high-speed contract

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esperantisto  Identity Verified
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Just another reason… Jan 6, 2015

…to adopt a neutral international language. As this example shows, use of a national language, especially such ambiguous (and thus hard!) as English, leads to inequality and results in wrong choices distorting international trade. Vivu Esperanto!

[Edited at 2015-01-06 08:49 GMT]


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
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Italian to English
Ha ha Jan 6, 2015

Quote "The Chinese for 'window wiper' was translated into English as 'dust cloth' ".

One more reason for not choosing the **cheapest** translator but the **best**.

This news story demonstrates yet again that the translator plays a key role in international business.

[Edited at 2015-01-06 08:59 GMT]


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esperantisto  Identity Verified
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Errare humanum est! Jan 6, 2015

Tom in London wrote:

One more reason for not choosing the **cheapest** translator but the **best**.


I really doubt that they have chosen a cheapest translator. And even the best ones can make mistakes. Just out of curiousity: are you an absolutely error-free translator? I’m not.

[Edited at 2015-01-06 09:09 GMT]


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
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Yes Jan 6, 2015

esperantisto wrote:

are you an absolutely error-free translator?


Yes. I work hard to ensure that there are no errors in my finished translations. My reputation depends on it.

Example: I would never write "curiousity".

[Edited at 2015-01-06 11:03 GMT]


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Peter Simon  Identity Verified
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different reasons Jan 6, 2015

No, esperantisto, that's no reason for any 'neutral' international language. Castrating languages would lead to the castration of all cultural content in translations from all other languages I suppose. Besides, English more difficult than others? It depends where you're looking at it from. For learners with the Hungarian mother tongue, German, French, Russian, Spanish and a lot of others are just as difficult. For the Dutch, it's one of the easiest languages - for Italians, Spanish would be easy, and for the Polish, Russian or Czech may be also a lot easier.

But such mistakes as mentioned are not of cultural nature. It was a serious mistake at a wrong time by at least 2 translators as we have to suppose all translations are reviewed by another translator, and the second one should have seen the problem. Also, there must have been a lot more, perhaps less serious, mistakes in the translations, who knows, and that leaves a bad impression. I believe they tried to get good translators, but what's a good translator in China? One with good connections? One widely appreciated by foreign clients as well as local? Or something else as well? Did they also employ translators with a huge experience abroad, or were they so confident in local ones? We know too little to judge.

The problem is perhaps social, perhaps educational, perhaps individual. I taught E in Ch for 3 years, also held a workshop at the 3rd Nat. Language Conference in Beijing (not the exact name perhaps) in 2004, where I talked to other teachers and received the videos from the previous national E speech contest for secondary school students. From those experiences I can conclude that at least until that period of time (right pre-Olympic), Chinese education was still struggling with methodological shortcomings on a very large scale. Even the best performers on the nat. competition were short of real language abilities as most of what they performed was swapped. They poured a lot of time and money into E education (often 6-8 E lessons per week), but the teachers themselves had hardly met or talked to proper speakers of E before exposing their students to mistakes and rote learning. Translation is done on the basis of mechanical use of mediocre dictionaries (my copy of Oxford Chinese D. is hard to use and full of various mistakes which provide next to no context, and some local dictionaries too) and even the best learners are weak speakers. If we look at the highest results of linguists of the country, we may get top quality. In Beijing and Shanghai and Hong Kong, probably. But do they translate technical texts into English? Are they trained in any of the industries? Those who are could have a lot less expertise of the language.

But let's not forget that all these go back to a geographical, historical, linguistic, pedagogic and ideological distance from E. As a result, China as a country had had almost no exposure to E speakers until the 80's. A vast majority of Chinese people have never met a foreigner even until today. There may be 70 mill. foreign tourists to China per year and millions of foreign people live in China - in usually close proximity to e/o in a country of 1.3 billion people. They need time, a lot of it, not yet another language with even a lot less exposure than that of E. As I felt the eagerness of young people in the streets of bigger cities to communicate in English, I know they'll succeed. They need time, methodology and patience, which they do not seem to have. Educational success comes a lot more slowly than the economic kind, and for a while, this is going to hamper them a bit. Perfection? Hardly. Life.


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John Fossey  Identity Verified
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Checking before sending Jan 6, 2015

Why on earth did the Chinese firm leave it up to their prospective customer to proofread their plan? Why didn't they find the errors before sending the translation? That's what translation teams, consisting of a reviser and proofreader, in addition to the original translator, are for.

One can only assume that an organisation that doesn't ensure their proposal is error-free before submitting it is also likely to miss errors in their product before delivery. Thank goodness it was only the contract that went off the rails!


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Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
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China made a grave error in using English Jan 6, 2015

Neither is China an English-speaking country, nor are the clients where it was trying to sell its train technology - India and Northern Europe. So why was it using English to market its plans? It should have translated them into Hindi, or the Northern European languages. China is in a unique position to challenge the hegemony of the English language, and it should use its position to challenge English.

With the recent change of government in India, the language scene has drastically changed in India, too. The colonial legacy where English reigned supreme is weakening and Hindi is becoming the preferred language of governance and business in India. The new Prime Minister's most proficient languages are Hindi and Gujarati. While he understands English, he is not very articulate in it, and never uses it in any public forum in India and abroad, preferring Hindi instead. With the landslide victory of his party in the last general election and the continuing electoral victories in the subsequent state elections, India is witnessing a unique language shift from English to Hindi. The earlier English-speaking decision-makers, bureaucrats, politicians, experts and think-tanks are being systematically replaced at every level by Hindi-speaking ones. So very soon businesses operating or planning to operate in India, will face a stiff language barrier if they persist with English and fail to upgrade their language strategies to Hindi.

It would be highly beneficial for businesses to take note of this tectonic linguistic shift in India. Their earlier assumptions of treating India on par with English-speaking nations and using English in all their communications and negotiations in India will no longer work, and they will need to adjust their language strategy to account for this new reality.

Translators, particularly Hindi translators, can play a key role in helping them reformulate their language policies and strategies.

[Edited at 2015-01-06 14:51 GMT]


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alex suhoy  Identity Verified
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*** Jan 6, 2015

Interesting to know.

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Peter Simon  Identity Verified
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interesting, but!!! Jan 6, 2015

Dear Mr. Balasubramaniam,

I'm sure you are more familiar with the situation in India than I am. However, let me remind you of the fact that not only is India as huge (population-vise) as China, it is a lot more multi-glottic as well. Even if the "tectonic shift" away from E is taking place, it isn't going to lead to a single-language country nearly comparable to Mandarin-based China within the next half century simply because however hard a government tries to implement changes in language education, it needs at least that length of time. China was always linguistically a relatively level field with 'only' local variations to be overcome besides Cantonese, but almost all unified by a single writing system.

On the other hand, India has hundreds of independent languages, about 10 of which have over a 100 million speakers (data from 20 years ago, which can't have changed dramatically since then). A lot of those speakers will harshly resist the new influence of Hindi in their daily lives and education. An effort to raise Hindi above all is going to lead to chaos, not to unity first.

Besides, if the Chine can't even have good E linguist from the last 30 years, how do you imagine they could have Hindi linguists and translators just like that? Or Hindi linguists starting to translate from or into Chinese just like that? On a massive scale?

What you've said has (probably symbolic) relevance for the dreams of a new ruling elite, not for the population in general within many decades. And besides, E is still here to stay in all walks of life and business. Japan is still a major economic power, Germany as well, like Russia was before, yet, comparably few took up Japanese, German, or Russian to seriously threaten the importance of E in the international economic etc. life. That has a solid enough basis for a few more decades. If the many millions of Chinese all over the world haven't been enough to make Chinese a major international player, how could Hindi/Gujarati/Marati/Bengali/Punjabi/Malayalam/Tamil/Telugu/Assamese with a lot less foreign influence make one of those languages outstanding within our generation even within India, let alone in the economic world?

[Edited at 2015-01-06 23:10 GMT]


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jyuan_us  Identity Verified
United States
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Be careful when using assumptions Jan 7, 2015

[quote]John Fossey wrote:

Why on earth did the Chinese firm leave it up to their prospective customer to proofread their plan? Why didn't they find the errors before sending the translation? That's what translation teams, consisting of a reviser and proofreader, in addition to the original translator, are for.]

How did you know they didn't use a proofreader?

[Edited at 2015-01-07 02:25 GMT]


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jyuan_us  Identity Verified
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That's an over-generalization. Jan 7, 2015

John Fossey wrote:
One can only assume that an organisation that doesn't ensure their proposal is error-free before submitting it is also likely to miss errors in their product before delivery.


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Dariush Robertson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
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Short term gains - high five! Jan 7, 2015

I'm in regular contact with a lot of China based agencies, but only do regular work for a few. This is just another example of how short-term oriented most Chinese agencies are. The PMs will look for the cheapest translators they can find. They don't really want expensive/free-thinking/clumsy foreigners working on important cases, so they'll hire a native speaker of Chinese with 差不多 (more or less/kind of/it'll do) good English, who will work for about 1/4 of the price of a qualified native speaker of English. Result: save some money - high fives all round! If the agency in question is quite forward thinking, perhaps they'll "even" hire a "proofreader" to fix everything that's wrong with the translation (which goes far beyond simple grammar and punctuation). They may even, for a fraction of a second, consider hiring native speakers of English, but then they'll think that such a price would be far greater than anything a native speaker of Chinese (in China) would charge, and so they hire another native speaker of Chinese to do the proofreading. Result: save even more money - high fives, and the boss will be pleased by how thorough the PMs have been - even more high fives!

This doesn't always happen, but it happens a lot. I've argued with many China based agencies after they've rejected my quotes (which are within the average ranges of my language pair - based on the ProZ.com figures). I've tried to explain that unless an agency pays for quality at some point, whether it be the translation or the review (or even better - both), then they will lose clients or get into trouble. They normally hit back with comments like "you're price is too high, I've worked in Europe, US, Canada etc. no translators get that much" (this is a lie - I easily get the average rates from Europe and the US), and then they start with the sob stories "China is so poor, we have no money"...

So, that's why I only work with a small quantity of Chinese agencies, and most of them are run by westerners.


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jyuan_us  Identity Verified
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Some native Chinese translators can do a good job too Jan 7, 2015

Dariush Robertson wrote:

I'm in regular contact with a lot of China based agencies, but only do regular work for a few. This is just another example of how short-term oriented most Chinese agencies are. The PMs will look for the cheapest translators they can find. They don't really want expensive/free-thinking/clumsy foreigners working on important cases, so they'll hire a native speaker of Chinese with 差不多 (more or less/kind of/it'll do) good English, who will work for about 1/4 of the price of a qualified native speaker of English. Result: save some money - high fives all round! If the agency in question is quite forward thinking, perhaps they'll "even" hire a "proofreader" to fix everything that's wrong with the translation (which goes far beyond simple grammar and punctuation). They may even, for a fraction of a second, consider hiring native speakers of English, but then they'll think that such a price would be far greater than anything a native speaker of Chinese (in China) would charge, and so they hire another native speaker of Chinese to do the proofreading. Result: save even more money - high fives, and the boss will be pleased by how thorough the PMs have been - even more high fives!

This doesn't always happen, but it happens a lot. I've argued with many China based agencies after they've rejected my quotes (which are within the average ranges of my language pair - based on the ProZ.com figures). I've tried to explain that unless an agency pays for quality at some point, whether it be the translation or the review (or even better - both), then they will lose clients or get into trouble. They normally hit back with comments like "you're price is too high, I've worked in Europe, US, Canada etc. no translators get that much" (this is a lie - I easily get the average rates from Europe and the US), and then they start with the sob stories "China is so poor, we have no money"...

So, that's why I only work with a small quantity of Chinese agencies, and most of them are run by westerners.


I have several decent clients in Europe who always use native Chinese speakers to translate from Chinese to English. And they assigned me to work as a proofreader, although I told them firmly that I'm not native in English. In most cases the translation drafts I proofread are full of Chinglish expressions and I need to fix virtually every sentence. But I do occasionally see shining translations, which don't need a lot of changes.

Trust me, these agencies didn't pay the translators whose native tongue is Chinese much lower than they did the native English translators.


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Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
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The ruling class is changing in India Jan 7, 2015

Peter Simon wrote:

Dear Mr. Balasubramaniam,

I'm sure you are more familiar with the situation in India than I am. However, let me remind you of the fact that not only is India as huge (population-vise) as China, it is a lot more multi-glottic as well. Even if the "tectonic shift" away from E is taking place, it isn't going to lead to a single-language country nearly comparable to Mandarin-based China within the next half century simply because however hard a government tries to implement changes in language education, it needs at least that length of time. China was always linguistically a relatively level field with 'only' local variations to be overcome besides Cantonese, but almost all unified by a single writing system.

On the other hand, India has hundreds of independent languages, about 10 of which have over a 100 million speakers (data from 20 years ago, which can't have changed dramatically since then). A lot of those speakers will harshly resist the new influence of Hindi in their daily lives and education. An effort to raise Hindi above all is going to lead to chaos, not to unity first.

Besides, if the Chine can't even have good E linguist from the last 30 years, how do you imagine they could have Hindi linguists and translators just like that? Or Hindi linguists starting to translate from or into Chinese just like that? On a massive scale?

What you've said has (probably symbolic) relevance for the dreams of a new ruling elite, not for the population in general within many decades. And besides, E is still here to stay in all walks of life and business. Japan is still a major economic power, Germany as well, like Russia was before, yet, comparably few took up Japanese, German, or Russian to seriously threaten the importance of E in the international economic etc. life. That has a solid enough basis for a few more decades. If the many millions of Chinese all over the world haven't been enough to make Chinese a major international player, how could Hindi/Gujarati/Marati/Bengali/Punjabi/Malayalam/Tamil/Telugu/Assamese with a lot less foreign influence make one of those languages outstanding within our generation even within India, let alone in the economic world?

[Edited at 2015-01-06 23:10 GMT]


The point of my post was that the ruling class in India is changing (or has changed) with the new government in place. This is the culmination of a process that has been ongoing several decades now and is not a flash in the pan kind of change. It is irreversible. The English ruling class has been firmly and completely replaced by the Hindi-speaking ruling class.

This has happened several times in the long history of India and every time the language (of business and governance) has changed in India. It happened at the height of the Mugal empire when Persian replaced Sanskrit as the court language and the language of governance and business. Persian remained supreme for three hundred years until in 1857, the British empire became the paramount political force in India and it replaced Persian with English. Now a historical change of similar magnitude is underway in India with a new ruling class, represented by the current political ruling party and its various affiliates, supplanting the Imperial elites which inherited power from the British at the time of Independence in 1947. The language of the new dispensation is Hindi - not for any chauvinistic reason but for the simple reason that it is the only language it knows properly.

The new ruling elite's competency in English has been steadily declining over the years. A graphic proof of this is the English proficiency of the various scions of the Nehru dynasty starting with Nehru himself, who was the finest orator and prose writer of English, surpassing even the die-hard Imperials and colonials like his contemporary Winston Churchill in his English abilities. Nehru was a product of Oxford and Cambridge. His successors, Indira his daughter, Rajiv his grandson, and Rahul his great grandson, show progressively diminishing English abilities. Rahul is practically incoherent in English (or any language for the matter!). The same is the case with other families of the ruling elite in India.

All along, India continued (and continues) to be a thriving multi-lingual, multi-cultural country with many languages and cultures. Hindi has always been the dominant link language of India since ancient times. The Bhakti poets of medieval times used it. It was the language of the Mugal army in a version known as Urdu. Today it links the various regional languages and provides cohesion to the Indian republic. In fact it links all the countries of South Asia including Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and also the middle-east where all Hindi is widely spoken and understood.

It will be fatal for foreign businesses to not understand this changing linguistic realities in India if they want to succeed in India.

[Edited at 2015-01-07 06:46 GMT]


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Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
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China and India had extensive linguistic exchanges in the past Jan 7, 2015

Peter Simon wrote:
Besides, if the Chine can't even have good E linguist from the last 30 years, how do you imagine they could have Hindi linguists and translators just like that? Or Hindi linguists starting to translate from or into Chinese just like that? On a massive scale?


Don't forget that India and China are very ancient civilizations which have coexisted for millennia and have carried on cultural and linguistic exchanges on a massive scale. How else would you explain the spread of Buddhism, which originated in India, not only into China but also beyond it all the way up to Japan?

In ancient times, the universities of Taxila (located somewhere in the Afghanistan of now) and Nalanda (in the Bihar state of India) were much sought after institutions of higher learning round the globe, much like the Harvard and Massachusetts universities of today, which attracted students from all over the world, especially China. Chinese scholars visited these and other learning centres and studied Indian subjects and languages and later translated Indian texts into Chinese and Tibetan. Many lost Sanskrit texts have been found in their Chinese and Tibetan translations in the seminaries of Tibet and China.

Coming to modern times, China is the largest trading partner of India and many Indian businessmen have established presence in major Chinese cities like Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou. I am sure many of them would have picked of Chinese or would be employing Chinese to Hindi translators.

Also, many official organs of the Chinese government like Xinxua News and China Radio have broadcasts in Hindi.

When I was briefly in Shanghai a couple of years ago, I was astonished to see Hindi soaps dubbed into Chinese being broadcast over the Chinese television channels.

So it is not such an impossible thing for China or India to find translators in each other's languages.

In fact, China's exposure to Indian languages is much more through than its exposure to English. The latter started just a few decades ago, but the former has been going on for thousands of years.

[Edited at 2015-01-07 06:50 GMT]


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