English is Hard

When we decided to move to China, a lot of people asked about my level of Chinese language ability and then commented something along the lines of "boy, Chinese sure seems hard." After spending some time here now working with smart people who speak English as a second language, I think I can assert that English is hard too.

Sure, there are lots of funny and sometimes incomprehensible "Chinglish" signs where I can't figure out how the person writing it could possibly have constructed such sentences, for example:

Chinese sign saying (in English) "Prohibit playing Kongming latent we are all safe".

Badly translated menu with lines like "Purple air comes from east - a propitious omen"

But, there are a bunch of common mistakes I see my colleagues and others make that demonstrate how whimsical and arbitrary English can be. One big class of mistake is correctly deciding when to add an "s" to the end of a word. I see sentences like "We need to hire more talents" or "We collected a lot of feedbacks." It's very difficult to explain to someone why a person can have a lot of talents, but a team looking for people hires talent. It's similarly difficult to explain why you can't have two feedbacks. Of course, there's no good rule for determining a priori whether a word is an enumerable unit with singular and plural or a category/group word with no plural. It's even more confusing when the same word like talent can be used in both ways.

Even the China Daily got this wrong in today's paper.

China Daily website saying "Call for Overseas Talents"

So, my hats off to the billions of people around the world learning English and even more kudos to my colleagues and everyone else who actually do business or go to school using English as a second language. It's a hard language.

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Kathleen Reply

Have you found a wikipedia (type of mushroom) on a menu yet? They are yummy!

Tony Reply

@Kathleen: Not yet, but I have heard of the near-mythical wikipedia mushroom and am on the hunt.

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