Funny video: Pronouncing English with Chinese syllables

It’s fun when you can get a joke in another language, even if it is middle school potty humour. I’ve come across this joke before, and it’s a funny demonstration of the pronunciation differences between Chinese and English.

The dialogue in English and Chinese (with mouseover pinyin) is below the video clip:

Kid: [Mouth] 猫屎! Cat poo!
Teacher: ! Correct!
Kid: [Earth] 耳屎! Earwax!
Teacher: ! Good!
Kid: [Bees] 鼻屎! Snot!
Teacher: 最后一个! Last one!
Kid: [Last] 拉屎! Go poo!
Teacher: 之后……? All answered correctly! And after going poo…?
Kid: [Yes] 爷死! Grandpa dies!
Kid: [Nice] 奶死! Grandma dies!
Teacher: OK!
Kid: [Bus] 爸死! Dad dies!
Teacher: ! Oh, great!
Kid: [Knees] 你死! You die!
Teacher: Mmm-hmm.
Kid: [Was] 我死! I die!
Teacher:
Kid: [Does] 都死! All die!
Teacher: 之后? After everybody dies?
Kid: [One dollar] 完蛋了! (We’re) doomed! [lit. "The egg is done"; fig. "We're done for/doomed/finished/toast".]
Teacher: ! All answered correctly!

Chinese “compliments” — English student edition

Chinese ways of showing interest, care or concern for someone often take the form of unsolicited advice about things foreigners consider very personal, usually with humourous (if the foreigners are well-adjusted) or tearful (if they’re not) results. Here’s what one of my bald coworkers received in a Chinese Valentine’s Day card from one of our students:

I had an experience of touching your head. It was not slipped as I imagined. but it was nice. At last, I have a suggestion: lose some weight! You’ll more handsome, no the most handsome if you lose your weight!

Have a baby soon.

For more about this quirky (to us) Chinese way of showing interest, care or concern see:

Merry Chinese Christmas… text message style

It’s custom in China to send people wishes via text message on the biggest holidays, sort of like what Christmas cards used to be in North America. Here’s one I received on Christmas Day from a friend:

Joel! Merry Christmas to you and Jessica and Lilian! Including yours friends and your parents, brother sisters! Merry Christmas to every Americans and Canadians!

And, for the second day of Christmas, here’s a song of hope by Over the Rhine:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

See more about Christmas in China here:

Chinglish fun: transliteration disasters

You realize just how related the Chinese and English languages aren’t when you come across transliterated words. Using Chinese syllables to pronounce English words often results in something completely unrecognizable and counterintuitive to native English speakers; we could never guess what the original English word was, and, if we’ve studied any Chinese ourselves, we often feel we could come up with alternative transliterations that make much more sense.

“Qiáo ěr” (乔尔) is “Joel”, for example, but “zhōu ōu” is one of a couple alternatives that sound closer to me. “Obama” is “ào bā mǎ” (奥巴马, like “ow! bama”) even though in Chinese you could easily transliterate the vowels almost exactly (“ōu bā mǎ” / 欧巴马). The other day one of my students did this in reverse as a joke. He held up a sign for me to read that said: “Pieces war found.” To a Chinese ear it sounds like “pì shì wǒ fàngde” (屁是我放的), which basically means, “I’m the one who farted.” They thought it was funny and so did I, but only because it requires a really bad Chinese accent to make the connection between those English words and that Chinese sentence. I doubt that a native English who’s never studied Chinese would be able to connect those dots.

Last night a Chinese friend showed me Chinese blog post of unintentionally funny English translations on Chinese signage that included this worksheet of a naughty elementary student. Apparently someone’s harbouring some negative feelings toward his or her English homework:

Not only are they trying to pronounce English with Chinese syllables, but rather than just use meaningless rough phonetic equivalents they deliberately chose certain characters to turn the English words into a Chinese joke (or at least vent some homework frustrations?):

  1. bus (bà sǐ / 爸死 / “dad is dead”)
  2. yes (yé sǐ / 爷死 / “grandpa is dead”)
  3. girls (gē sǐ / 哥死 / “older brother is dead”)
  4. miss (mèi sǐ / 妹死 / “little sister is dead”)
  5. school (sǐ guāng / 死光 / “dead completely / die off”)
  6. pea (pì / 屁 / “fart”)
  7. yesterday (yē sǐ tā diē / 噎死他爹 / “Choke to death, his dad”)
  8. guess (gāi sǐ / 该死 / “should die” [This is how they usually translate swear words like "darn!" (but stronger) in movie subtitles.])
  9. dangerous (dān jiǎo lā shǐ / 单脚拉屎 / “stand on one foot, poop”)
  10. five (fèi wù / 废物 / “rubbish / useless (person)”)
  1. Hands,hands,two hands. I have two hands (hàn zǐ hàn zǐ, tōu hàn zǐ, ǎn hái lái tōu hàn zǐ / 汉子汉子偷汉子俺还来偷汉子 / “guy guy steal a guy [cheat on your husband], I’m still stealing a guy”)
  2. How are you. What is you name (hào ā yóu. wǒ sǐ yòu nèn / 耗啊油,我死又嫩)

The Chinese isn’t all correct and some is totally meaningless; he’s just cramming the characters into the English sounds. But you can see what he’s going for. Someone needs to give these kids a break, or a spanking…

Other Chinese education system stuff:

When it comes to Chinglish, fair is fair

One of my friends in particular loves to practice his Chinglish on me. I in turn refuse to reply in English, opting instead to inflict him with my own Chinglish. For example, he just sent me this text:

Great! man I will going to the shan xi road on this Sunday. I’ll waiting for you at entrance. Time is 10:20am. Don’t be late,man! By the way! Don’t forget one thing. I needs give your lilian add hers cloths. Winter already was coming! I’m a superman. I can’t feel cold. Haha! How interesting! I said. All right then! Good night! Man Wish your baby has a sweet dream! See you soon!

I have no doubt that my Chinese sounds like this sometimes often. It always helps to keep a little perspective!

(P.S. – Friends don’t let friends use Grand Theft Auto to study English.)


Related Posts:

What’s in a (Chinglish) name? I’ll tell you…

I like that Chinese people sometimes choose unusual English names or transliterate their names into English (when they can), not because we get to laugh at the occasionally odd results (though that is fun), but because a good Chinglish name often contains some self-expression while still being workable in English (Apple, Moon, Star, Rainbow, etc.); in perhaps an indirect or vague sort of way it expresses part of them and the fact that they’re Chinese and Chinese people do names differently than we do. Why shouldn’t they carve out their own space in the English name landscape? Of course other names, while nice in Chinese, are simply no good in English (Drizzle, Ripple); they’re too strange or silly to actually function as truly usable English names. I’ll let you decide for yourselves which of my current students’ names below have real potential. They’re listed in the order they came to mind:

  • AK (yes, like the gun, she picked it on purpose because she likes guns.)
  • Falcon (formerly Eagle: he had an annoying coworker named after some other kind of bird in Chinese, Sparrow I think, so for his English name he chose a bird that eats his coworker’s kind of bird.)
  • Gaga
  • Florra (She wanted to be different, but a bunch of other Chinese women who also wanted to be different already had the idea of using the Spanish word for flower, so she added an r.)
  • Enya
  • Eack (was supposed to be “Ike”, but somehow he spelled it wrong).
  • Kobe
  • Bryant
  • Carter (we knew a “Spippen” in Taibei).
  • Ray (don’t know why she picked this).
  • Cherry
  • Candy
  • Duke
  • Evian
  • Edword (because he likes words).
  • Win (I forget why she said she picked this)
  • Queena
  • Long (going for “dragon” ()? I don’t know.)
  • Sharpay
  • Coco

(This is exactly why it took me several months before finally settling on a Chinese name.)

Related Posts: