A Good Read: The Efficiency of “Chinglish”

By Mary Ann Zehr — July 08, 2008 1 min read
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Michael Erard suggests in Wired Magazine that the version of English that many Chinese speak, and that visitors to Beijing might hear during the summer Olympics, could have some advantages over the standard version that you and I may speak.

He writes: "’s possible Chinglish will be more efficient than our version, doing away with word endings and the articles a, an, and the. After all, if you can figure out ‘Environmental sanitation needs your conserve,’ maybe conservation isn’t so necessary.”

Anyway, I like this article because it contains a fresh perspective on how some versions of English serve a purpose rather than being simply wrong. It’s something to keep in mind when working with ELLs. Back in the mid-1980s, I was an English teacher in China for two years, and since I spoke only rudimentary Chinese, I was grateful when I encountered anyone who spoke English, regardless of the version.

I recall a story a friend told me about how a group of people from different countries involved in a World Bank project were sitting around chatting in English. The only person in the group that everyone had trouble understanding, she relayed, was one of the persons who spoke English as a first language, a Brit. The others spoke an international version of English devoid of idioms and witticisms that would be difficult for a second-language learner to understand.

(The Wired Magazine story came to me via This Week in Education by way of Joanne Jacobs.)

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.