March 12, 2009

English words used in Chinese, or, Toward a Chinglish lexicon

While listening to a couple of presentations yesterday, I recorded the words that were spoken in English. The class was in Chinese, but the presentation material (PowerPoint) was in English. Here I have listed the English words used and added some comments about their usage in Chinese.

case - This word has been used in Chinese for so long, it should be included in Chinese dictionaries. But I don't know of any Chinese dictionaries that include English words (although there might be English acronyms in some Chinese dictionaries).

catch - This is a very popular term. It is used for the sense "grasp" or "comprehend". Instead of saying, "I don't understand" it is common to say "I don't catch you meaning."

challenge, highlight - These are both popular and are always used in a negative sense, and they are usually used without an object. "Challenge" is used in the sense of demanding an explanation for a problem, e.g. "I was challenge[d] by the customer". "Highlight" is used in the sense of pointing out a problem.

close - The speaker used this word multiple times and I don't understand why. It's such a simple word that you don't look any smarter for using it. This was used to describe a close relationship.(他們的關係很close)

contact window - This is popular. It sounds like Chinglish to me, but I don't know whether it originated in Chinese or English.

cover - Another popular term. Used in the sense of including or addressing.

co-work - This is used as a verb, meaning to work together, e.g. "You and KC should co-work." There is a Chinese word with this meaning (共事), but I don't hear it used at work.

information - This was used repeatedly by the speaker. The speaker may have liked this word because its meaning is broader than any of the Chinese equivalents.

logo - There is no Chinese term completely equivalent to "logo", but the English word "logo" has a broader meaning in Chinese than in English.

maybe - This word is popular with a lot of Chinese speakers. I don't see any advantages it has over the Chinese equivalent (也許).

methodology - Managers love this term. Methods are mundane so whenever possible they like to replace methods with methodologies.

milestone - There is a direct translation of this term in Chinese (里程碑), but the English term is generally preferred.

notebook - Used to describe notebook (laptop) computers. There is a Chinese equivalent, but "notebook" is shorter. I omitted technical terms from this list, but notebooks are so common they don't qualify as a technical term anymore.

presentation, trade-off - I don't think there are precise equivalents in Chinese so these terms seem fairly useful to me. On the other hand, when do you really need to say trade-off? Isn't almost everything a trade-off, something with positives and negatives?

promote - There is not an exact Chinese equivalent for this word, but 宣傳 seems like a close enough match to me.

soft - This was used to describe a customer ("The customer was soft."). This could mean "easily influenced" but I don't think that is what the speaker meant. It might have something to do with soft power.

step-by-step - There is a perfectly equivalent term in Chinese, but I occasionally hear this English term used instead.

struggle - I've heard this one a number of times, but I'm not sure why it is popular in Chinese.

surprise - This was used to say, "I was extremely surprise[d]!" (我非常的surprise!) The motivation to use an English word here baffles me.

Some more English words used during the presentations:

between, boost, business strategy, contact, customer, data, deliver, department, early stage, error, first, hint, image, improve, index, internal, lesson, marketing, message, promote, quick learning, thinking, timing

I tried to eliminate words that were used only because the speaker was using English PowerPoint slides. I also tried to eliminate English words that were not on the slides but were triggered by the use of English on the slides.

It would be great to expand this into a Chinglish dictionary. I searched for a Chinglish lexicon, but I couldn't find any of the type I am interested in. I am interested in the words Chinese-speakers habitually use when they are speaking Chinese to other Chinese speakers, and especially the non-technical terms. These vary with city, company, and with the individual, so it would take a lot of surveying to determine the extent of use for each term.



  • Notebook isn't necessarily shorter than say 筆電; I also here people say NB a lot.

    Where are you in school? MBA program?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at March 15, 2009 3:44 AM  

  • Good point about 筆電. NB sounds silly to me.

    I heard this stuff at a class at work, not school.

    By Blogger Taiwanonymous, at March 15, 2009 6:31 PM  

  • Many times English words are spoken because it's a sign of professionalism, but it's not advantageous from a communication or cultural standpoints. Try to be "cool" and be hip like the oversea immigrant is probably the sole motivation. I would argue in most cases there are probably Chinese equivalents, just that they seldom cross people's mind. (I'm a native Taiwanese)

    I can think of these:

    Case 案例
    trade-off 取捨
    presentation 簡報 (or is it not good enough?)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at March 23, 2009 1:57 PM  

  • I can see how it looks good to use fancy English words (like methodology), but I don't understand what advantage there is to using simple words like "close", "sad" or "nice". Does it really seem cool to use words like that?

    Those translations are good. I use the word 簡報 a lot, but other people don't use it so much.

    By Blogger Taiwanonymous, at March 24, 2009 7:12 PM  

  • Fascinating post. I too would love to see something like a "Chinglish lexicon" developed as the ongoing effects of English as a global language is a phenomenon that is being observed not only in Chinese but in virtually every language in the world. Thus it is of particular interest to everyone, from Chinese learners to academics, translators, linguists, et al.

    That being said, the only English word I can think of off the top of my head that is used in a Chinese context is "high" with the approximate meaning of happy or excited, or in some limited contexts, intoxicated (i.e. "high on drugs"). That, and BT, which can mean either BitTorrent or can stand in for the Chinese word 变态.

    Keep up the fantastic work! Cheers.

    By Blogger Carl, at April 01, 2009 4:29 PM  

  • Interesting that you saw quite so many of these in one presentation.

    Something I've heard frequently in social situations is "care," e.g. "Ta zhen de he CARE zhe jian shi qing"

    The verb is always in the infinitive, similar to how "surprise" doesn't change in the example you use to "surprised"

    By Blogger Andrew, at November 11, 2009 7:39 AM  

  • Great post, did you have any personal opinions on this issue? I see lots of Taiwanese people do this, on TV, at work, in social places, and all I can think of is that they should just speak Chinese like normal people. Adding these few English words into their sentences, and erroneously at that, only makes them look ignorant. The latest of these words that manages to piss me off is the word "feel", which by the way they spell "FU" (pronounced "phew"), that apparently seems to denote that the person has a certain emotional response to some event. All this pretentiousness just makes me sick.

    By Anonymous Eddie, at December 22, 2009 5:27 PM  

  • I heard about 40 words not on your list in today's meeting...no kidding

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at March 30, 2015 4:27 PM  

  • More commonly, contact window would refer to a time window where the contact person will be available. But, in Taiwan, the phrase 'contact window' is used to indicate a 'contact person'. The question asked is 'who is the contact window'. Ideally, I would have expected this to hear ' Who is the contact person and what is the contact window?'

    By Blogger ShreeHarsha Balan, at June 03, 2015 2:52 PM  

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