As a professional translator/project manager, I naturally take a wide interest in languages beyond my everyday work. I enjoy both the serious and the tongue-in-cheek articles we post here on the Global Connects blog and also the more important messages that underpin many of them, around (social) justice, the importance of languages to business, especially exports and tourism, and also the need to use professional interpreters and translators who understand nuance and tone, rather than rely on machine translation.
A recent article in the Guardian seemed to encapsulate some of these themes, in particular the importance of language to the tourism industry, and specifically how we communicate with the increasing numbers of Chinese tourists coming to the UK.
Chinese is not my language. However, I was fascinated to discover that in China it’s very common to give descriptive names to places and foods, and even to celebrities, which sum up how Chinese people perceive these things. For example, the actor Benedict Cumberbatch is known in China as ‘Curly Fu’.
With this in mind, VisitBritain has embarked on a venture to give Mandarin names to some of our country’s best-known buildings and landmarks. This demonstrates, in a very visible way, how and why languages are important to business. If this campaign helps the British and Chinese to engage and thus encourages more Chinese to come to the UK on holiday, that’s good for our economy, the Chinese economy and indeed the world economy (think of the money spent on flights, clothes and souvenirs which are made round the world, etc.). To put some financial flesh on this, the Guardian reported, “…a record number of tourists visited Britain in 2014. Nearly 20 million people visited the UK between January and July, a rise of 7% on the previous year and a new record – and they spent £11.3bn”. That’s a lot of money.
VisitBritain asked Chinese people, via social media, to come up with names for 101 of the UK’s most popular visitor attractions. Here are some of my favourites.
Stonehenge – Ju Shi Zhen (Huge stone clusters)
Big Ben – Da Ben Zhong
London Eye – Lun Dun Yan
Buckingham Palace – Bai Jin Han Gong (a white, gold and splendid palace, with similar pronunciation)
Shakespeare – Sha Weng (Mr Sha)
Mr Bean – Han Dou (Funny beans)
Oscar Wilde – Wang Er De
The Beatles – Pi Tou Shi (Gentlemen with long hair)
Fish & Chips – Zha Yu Shu Tiao
The Cerne Abbas Giant in Dorset – Bai Se Da Luo Ben (Big white streaker)
Stoke-on-Trent – Wan Bo Tao Ci (Diverse ceramics)
And of course…
The Loch Ness Monster – Ni Si Hu An Ying (The Loch Ness shadow)
The Highland Games – Qun Ying Hui (the strong-man skirt party)
However, one that is missing from the list above is Edinburgh. And given that Chinese people are increasingly travelling the world and visiting far-flung countries like Scotland, what is our country doing to ensure that these tourists are able to enjoy our history and culture when they arrive? More, in next week’s blog!
Emily Drummond, Translation Project Manager, Global Connects