Monday, December 31, 2007

Silly or idiot?

A friend's little girl played with my daughter. Both are about 11 years old. One called the other an idiot and caused some unpleasant reaction. I always thought "silly" would be a word used in joking and "idiot" is clearly used in an offensive context, like "You silly boy!", "That's a f!@#$ idiot!"

I did some research. I agree with the last message in this thread:

or directly at

I've been reading newsgroups for 10 years. My impression is that "idiot" is often used in flames (argument beyond technical content), but "silly" is not, at least in newsgroups. I remember watching a Japanese movie on the airplane. The teenage girl chased her singer model all the way from Tokyo to New York and back to Tokyo. She finally got his affectionate attention, when she grew up, mentally. In the last scene, the guy ran to the airport seeing her off, from outside the security check-in, calling her. She smiled and said (sounds like) ba-da. The English caption is "You idiot!" The context is clearly not about her resentment against the guy. It's quite the opposite actually. So I think the word "idiot" is very wrong here. I don't know Japanese. But I guess the translation should be something like "You silly boy!"

English translation: 碰到问题

> 如果你碰到这个问题,你的思路是什么?

碰到 is meet only if you 碰到 a person. It's NOT meet when you 碰到 a problem. This is a very common mistake the Chinese people make in writing English.

Encounter is the correct word here. But it's too formal. You can always work around it by saying something like "What's your thought when you have this problem [or when this happens to you]?"

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

English translation: 介绍信

> “介绍信”用英文怎么说?

Reference letter. Some say recommendation letter.

> 想知道正宗中国特色的介绍信,就是以前(好象现在有时候还需要)那种单位开的到别的机构/单位办事的介绍信怎么说

I see what you mean. I was thinking of the letter a job seeker is using.

OK. 正宗中国特色的介绍信 is something English speaking countries don't use. So there's no corresponding word or phrase in English. You may want to say "authorization letter" or "proof of identity letter". If you do, you must explain in a few sentences what it means and why it's needed.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Wrong English translation for "What do you think you are worth to us?"

> What do you think you are worth to us?
> (你怎么认为你对我们有价值呢?)

Looks like many Chinese web sites have that wrong translation (search on Google and you'll know). The sentence means How much do you think you're worth? Or how much do you think your expected salary is? The Chinese translation, if translated back to English, is Why do you think you're valuable to us?, which is a legitimate but totally different question.

English translation: 我正在办理护照

> 我正在办理护照
> 主要是这个办理,感觉prepare不太对

办理 or 办 is an interesting word in Chinese. It's used in so many places. I think in most (but not all) cases it's equivalent to "apply for".

English translation help (请帮忙翻译这句话)

> 展望未来我们仍然不断完善自我,提升各方面的素质,更恳请您的指导与支持,
> 我们将继续竭诚与广大客户携手合作,与时俱进,共创未来

That was something quite fancy, literary... Let me try. It won't be a literal translation though. It sounds like advertisement words anyway.

Looking into the future, we'll strive for better quality and improve overall performance. Your suggestions and support are highly appreciated. We'll continue to work closely with our valuable customers in pursuit of a bright future.

English translation: 汉族

> Han nation
> 好象不对

Since many years ago, China Daily or even Beijing Review (two English publications published by Chinese) used the word nationality to mean 族, so shaoshu minzu is minority nationality, and so on. I don't think that's correct. "Nationality" means citizenship as in:

A: What's your nationality?
B: French.

族 in Chinese is rather ethnicity or race. So I would say "the Han ethnic group" is a good answer to your question.

English study: Comments on How-to

> 作为非母语学习,是永远也不可能完全达到母语水平比如用英文写诗歌和小说的

That applies to many people, but not to all.

> Jonathan现象,再一次证明了语言输出的能力不依赖输出的练习。“说”的能力是并不需要大量“说” 的练习的,所以不要再误认为学外语必须要“多说”,关键是先要会听和会思考。

I disagree. The ability to speak is not the same as the ability to speak well. That is, you may be able to speak (1) very slowly and (2) with heavy accent. But that's not nearly the ideal you want to achieve. Being fluent in a foreign language (as well as speaking with correct pronunciation) is just as important as being able to speak. And to achieve the goal of fluency needs a lot of practice. (Having good pronunciation needs practice too but to a less extent.)

> 自己对着墙练说或自言自语也可以

A very good idea if you don't have a chance to speak to a good (possibly native) speaker. The biggest advantage is that you have lots of time to do so. The disadvantage, however, is not to be discounted: (1) not knowing or knowing well whether you would be understood; (2) not knowing or knowing well if your pronunciation is correct.

> 写作是输出的有效手段,原理上跟“说”相似

Good point. I often tell my friends to chat with me in messengers. Messenger-chat is even closer to actual speaking than writing on your own because of its interactive nature. Again, there's clear disadvantage, i.e. the second (2) one above for speaking to yourself, pronunciation.

English translation: 瘦 and 胖

> 瘦可以用skinny来说,如果胖用什么呢?

Fat is a bad word, unless you want to make a joke of your very good friend, or somebody completely unrelated to you in your everyday life.

To be courteous, you can say chubby if you refer to his/her face. If you talk about the body, big may be an OK word. But big may also imply tall. If you have to say fat but short, how about stout? Plump may be OK too. Another way to circumvent this embarrassing comment is to use a negative sentence, like "She's not skinny". People will understand you.

English translation: 怕冷 or 怕热

> 我比较瘦,怕冷不怕热

I don't have a Chinese-English dictionary with me. I wonder what they translate the word 怕 to. You can't say fear or be "afraid of". A proper word may be "be sensitive to". So here's my translation:

"I'm skinny. I'm sensitive to cold (or cold weather). But I'm OK when I'm hot [or when it's hot]."

But that may be too literal. You could simply say "I don't like cold weather", or "I don't feel comfortable when it's cold", "I feel cold when it's cold".

Yong Huang