Native Speakers and the Equality Act

When applying for jobs, especially in languages, you often come across the words ‘native speaker’. Whether it’s for a language teacher, a translator, an interpreter or any other general roles that require you to speak another language. Some companies are direct and put in the job description ‘must be a XX native speaker’, which kind of makes sense when it’s a language teaching role, or translating – you should always translate from a foreign language to your native language, rather than vice-versa.

But then again, does it make sense? During secondary school, all the teachers in the language department were British, and that didn’t effect my grades or learning experiences. We had native language assistants who would come in a few days a week for conversation classes, cultural immersion and other things, but the majority of my Spanish was learnt from a British teacher.

So now, as I’m actively seeking a job where I can use my language skills – particularly my Mandarin skills, I do get disheartened and angry when I see employers demand native speakers. In some cases, native Chinese speakers’ native language isn’t even standard Mandarin, their native language is a Chinese dialect, and many dialects in China are incomprehensible to speakers of other dialects. Whereas my Chinese is so 标准 that native speakers are amazed at my almost textbook/newsreader style of correct pronunciation.

I know if I was invited for an interview, I could probably impress the employer with my Mandarin skills, but I’m often either dissuaded from making an application because they ask for a native speaker, or am rejected at the first stage (because I’m not a native speaker).

It seems some employers are aware of this possible breach of the Equality Act, so they sometimes include a line that says something like you must have terrifically great Chinese language skills, and have good English skills too.  This to me shouts ‘we want a native Chinese speaker but are too afraid to state it so directly’.

So, are employers breaking the Equality Act by requesting native speakers? I have studied Mandarin for over 5 years, including a year and a half studying at Chinese universities. I have passed the HSK Level 6 exam (HSK is the international standardised test for non-native Mandarin speakers). Level 6 is the highest, and the description says ‘…[HSK Level 6 holder’s] language application ability is close to that of a native speaker’s’. I often sit here thinking to myself, what more do I need to do to apply the skills I’ve spent so much time on acquiring in a suitable job? I have a university degree, an international qualification, firsthand experience of living in China and I am so passionate.

The UK Government is currently pushing for more people to apply to be language teachers, but from my experience, continuing languages at higher education has not reaped me the rewards I believed it would have so far. If the UK wants to encourage language learning, there should be opportunities for linguists to flourish in jobs that are challenging and rewarding, not restrictions imposed on us because we were born in Britain.

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British or international?

I’m proud to be British. At the same time, I’m very proud to be an international, global citizen. Lately I have found some people, (or maybe it’s British society itself?) that have an issue with these two words. They believe you must be one or the other – a Brit or a foreigner…you can’t be both.

I work with international students, and host events for international students. This in no way means I exclude all home students and British students from events. Once at a party, the bouncer tried to turn away a group of British people who had come with their Spanish friends, saying that this was an event for ‘international people only’. I know as a nation we voted for Brexit, but in no way do I see the word ‘international’ as an antonym to ‘British, English, local’ etc. How could he possibly turn people away from not being international enough?

I once went to a ‘Global Lounge’ at a church and although they didn’t turn me away, they certainly made me feel very unwelcome for trying to attend a ‘global’ event as a British person. They told me normal services are on Sundays, and this event wasn’t really designed with British people in mind. It was all very ironic, given that my first real contact and participation in a church was when I was living abroad, and I had never really read any Bible verses in English at that point. Why did they want to discourage someone who had only read and heard the Bible in Spanish from a ‘global lounge’? It really surprised me and I never went back there, not even on a Sunday for ‘normal service’, I was so disheartened.

When people ask me where I’m from, I have a similar issue…my passport is British, but over the past 6 years, I have spent almost half of that time out of the country, speaking totally different languages and spending a lot of time actively trying to avoid contact with the Brits (sorry).

And when I do tell people I’m British they say in shock ‘really?? but where are you really from? you don’t look 100% British’ and all the rest of those questions that make words like ‘quarter, half, hybrid, fully’ come up. Sometimes it’s a cultural thing, in Chinese the dictionary definition of 混血 is given as hybrid, but come on, which mixed race person would ever call themself a hybrid?

Through socialising in the international crowd, I have discovered that asking ‘where are you from?’ is actually a really insensitive way to start a conversation with someone. It’s too generic and as someone who is asked this question a LOT, you never know if the person is asking

in which city were you born?
where did you spend your childhood?
which city have you spent most time living in?
what passport do you have?
which country do you feel most at home in?
where do your parents live?
where did your grandparents live?

I have met people who for each of the above questions could answer with a different city or country.

We live in an ever more intercultural and diverse world, so British people, I urge you… drop the British label, think bigger. Learn a language, watch a foreign film, do something to make yourself not only proud to be British, but proud to be a citizen of the world.

 

Keeping it up

You study abroad, you learn a language and you promise to yourself and all the friends you met that you will keep the language up when you get home. You look up when the local language exchanges are and start thinking who you know in your city that speaks Spanish/Chinese/French etc…but in reality

It’s REALLY HARD to keep up a language when you’re not surrounded by it 24 hours a day.

When I left China I sent lots of Chinese books and magazines home, I subscribed to lots of Wechat accounts that regularly post in Chinese and said to myself that I would maintain my Chinese blog, to keep up my essay writing. Have I?

Not really.

Keeping up a language is probably harder than learning a language in the first place…even though you know the language, can get by and communicate with people in that language, when you leave that country, it’s hard to even have the same conversations.

For example a common conversation in China would be when the Didi driver called to ask where I was. This meant I got good at giving directions, explaining which road to turn down and learning the names of roads, supermarkets and schools to guide the driver and tell him where I was (even though I would always be at the spot I selected on the map and he has the map on his phone in front of him).

Switch back to living in the UK, and if I go to a language exchange, directions will probably never come up in conversation, and I’ll never say 你到底在哪儿? (where exactly are you?) in the same way again. So that vocabulary will gradually disappear and get pushed to the back of my mind.

I have read some wechat articles, and have posted one new blog post since coming back, but it’s not enough and I really feel I should be investing more time in my language skills, both Spanish AND Chinese.

How do you maintain your level of language when you’re not living in that language environment?

Translating Books

After waking up at 6am on a rainy day in Qingdao, instead of running, I decided to watch some TED talks whilst waiting for my friend to wake up. I stumbled across a playlist of talks for thoughtful travellers and was amazed at some of the great things people are doing across the world. One of those people was Ann Morgan, in 2012 she set out to read one book from each country in the world, but as an English speaker, the language barrier became a big problem. Her talk can be found here.

But on her journey she found people who sourced and even translated books into English for her. This got me thinking… Not about reading 196 books in one year, but about translating books.

It’s very true that lots of the books in British book stores are in English, as they were written. There aren’t a lot of translations available, and even at university where language students have to take literature courses, the books are usually written in the original language, much to our disappointment, as reading books like Don Quixote* in ancient Spanish is not an easy feat.

This limits the British public, readers and book enthusiasts. And I’m not criticising British, American, Canadian writers, but it’s good to look at things from a different point of view and if you don’t know a second or third language, it’s impossible to surpass the language barrier.

Ann’s story has inspired me to start work on translating a Chinese book. Not the likes of 《红楼梦》or any of the other big four literary works of China, but the work of a young contemporary author, 方慧.

I’m reading her debut book at the moment called 《手机里的男朋友》, it’s a collection of short stories about how girls date in the 21st century, with instant messaging and social media. I think it’s a hilarious book, telling stories that even young Western women can relate to, things like being too shy to speak to the guy you like, getting an outbreak of acne, talking to a guy online and then realising he’s different when you talk in person etc. But there is still a lot of Chinese culture embedded in it, and some things that make me say ‘woah, that’s strange’, or ‘why did she say that?!’.

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The front cover

As it’s a small collection of stories, I can work on the individually and I hope to have three completed by the end of this year (there are 15 in total, but I’ll be working soon, so don’t want to set my goal too high).

But I’ve already hit some hurdles before I’ve even began this task. Do I translate literally, or do I change some aspects to things that English speakers would relate to and understand? For example, the title of the book is also a title of one of the chapters, literally it’s ‘The boyfriend inside my phone’, but I don’t think that has a good ring to it. I’ve also thought about ‘Online boyfriend’, but a lot of the interactions in the book are done through mobile technology, not through a computer, as online may suggest. Then there’s other options, like ‘My mobile boyfriend’, ‘Guy: online’ and other creative one’s I’ve thought up.

Secondly, the first chapter of the book is called 《微博自杀记》Weibo suicide diary , but the majority of Westerners don’t know what Weibo is…do I replace it with Facebook, something that English speakers can relate more clearly to? But there are some specific Weibo features that Facebook doesn’t have, which would be lost if I changed it to Facebook.

I guess it is very difficult to translate a book, as you want to make the text accessible to your readers, but if you change it too much, it strays away from the original. If you keep some original elements (like Weibo), it becomes hard to read, messy, or the readers don’t know what these things are.

So that is my aim for this year. I will also try to get in contact with the author through Weibo, to let her know what I’m doing, and see if there could be any opportunity to publish my translation in the future (I’m not sure on copyright laws in China). Until then, I will continue reading the book and working on my 成语’s.

*Although there are English translations of Don Quixote, there are a lot of them, and no definite ‘best version’

Misheard Lyrics (Spanish)

A few weeks ago I posted about some of the misheard lyrics I’ve heard in Chinese. I also speak Spanish, so here are my best/worst examples of misheard Spanish lyrics.

‘Juan caramelo’

Me and my friend used to sing this in secondary school, as there was a cute language assistant at school called Juan. We thought the song said ‘Juan caramelo‘ (caramel Juan), but how wrong were we?! The song is actually ‘Guantanemera’ and it’s areally big Cuban song that is written about a girl from the city of Guantanemo, it’s been covered by lots of artists and this is one of my favourite versions.

‘El taxi’ ~ Osmnani Garcia ft Pitbull

If you’ve ever been with me at a Spanish party when this song comes on, you’ll know how much I love it! I thought the lyrics were yo yo yo me paré el taxi, yo yo yo yo yo me paré el taxi, (it was me, me me me who stopped the taxi…something to be proud of right?) but it’s actually cho cho chofer pare el taxi, cho cho cho cho chofer pare el taxi (driver driver diver, stop the taxi). And it’s not only me, there are loads of Spanish articles online about locals making this mistake too.

‘La polla amarilla’ ~ Chico Trujillo

Truly the best band I’ve ever seen live, this Chilean band is really great. Their song La Pollera Amarillla is inspired by Alexis Sanchez, pollera being the Chilean word for a shirt (the [wonder child] in the yellow [football] shirt). But I heard it as ‘la polla amarilla’, which if you know Spanish will be very funny – literal translation = the yellow hen, real life translation = the yellow p*nis.

Have you made any of these mistakes?

Misheard lyrics (China)

Chinese is a tonal language, but in songs, it’s incredibly hard to incorporate the tones. For example one pinyin word like ‘wo’ pronounced in a different tone can mean me, nest, hold, crouch or snail depending on the tone and the character – 窝 and 蜗 are both the first tone, but one means nest, the other means snail. Therefore, this can lead to a lot of misheard lyrics, especially for us language learners.

Here are some of my misheard lyrics, I won’t tell you how long it took me to find out their real meanings:

你是我心内的一首歌 – Selina/ 王力宏
Pinyin: haoxiang wen ni
I heard: 好想吻你; I really want to kiss you
Actual lyrics:好想问你; I really want to ask you

The next line of this song is 对我到底有没有动心 (if your feelings about me have changed at all), so looking at it in that way, it’s quite obvious that it’s a question.

送你一首吉祥的歌 – 乌兰图雅
Pinyin: lailailai heipengyoumen
I heard: 来来来,黑朋友们; come here, black friends!
Actual lyrics: 来来来,嘿朋友们; come here, hey friends!

The ‘hey’ in this song is a Chinglish word, they used the English word ‘hey’, and the Chinese word for black is also hei. It sounds pretty similar. Other lyrics in the song also say ‘it doesn’t matter where you come from, we’re all friends’, so my interpretation 真有道理!

我的蒙古马 – 乌兰图雅
Pinyin: wo de menggu ma
I heard: 我的蒙古man; my Mongolian man
Actual lyrics: 我的蒙古马; my Mongolian horse

Wulantuya is my current favourite artist, so it’s only likely she’s on this list. She usually sings about the grasslands and she has some songs about a guy she likes, so I thought she was revealing that she liked a Mongolian man, and added the English word ‘man’ in, just because it’s cool to mix languages in songs. But I should have listened more carefully, actually, the first sound you hear when you play this song is a horse’s whinny, and yeah, the video is full of horses.

http://player.youku.com/player.php/sid/XNjM2NDU3OTI0/v.swf

时间都去哪儿了?- 王铮亮
Pinyin: yibeizi
I heard: 一杯子 (a cup)、亿倍次 (a million times)、一被子 (a quilt)
Actual lyrics: 一辈子; a lifetime

This song is about time passing fast and his parent’s relationship, but 一辈子 is a word I hear in a lot of Chinese songs. I first thought it meant a cup, like sharing a glass of wine or a nice drink together. The previous lyrics are 生儿养女: bearing and bringing up children, so maybe a million times would be suitable, meaning that his parents would do it all over again and again. Then I thought, as I’d heard yibeizi in plenty of love songs, it meant a quilt, like moving in with someone and sharing a quilt with them, cos that’s romantic right? All of those times I was wrong, and it was infact 一辈子,the Chinese word for ‘a lifetime’.

What songs have you misheard in Chinese or any other language? Did you make any of the same mistakes as I did?

Let me look that up

I’ve been studying languages for a long time (over 20 years in fact, because I’m still learning my native language English) so I’m pretty used to using dictionaries. I’ve had lots of foreign language dictionaries in the past and still do, from school learners dictionaries, to picture dictionaries, pocket dictionaries and native language dictionaries. So I always have a lot of choices when I meet a new word.

As now I’m focusing on Chinese language, I usually turn to Pleco when I don’t know a word. It’s a very useful app, where if you don’t know how to type the Chinese character, you can draw it and the app will recognise it. Pleco is a very useful tool for all Mandarin learners, and it has some pretty good translations of Chinese idioms too.

Lately, my vocabulary book has gone into overdrive and the words are colour-coded according to which text book they came from: comprehensive, listening, oral, reading and writing.

A few of my teachers have seen me looking up vocabulary on Pleco, and have told me that now I’m at an advanced level, I should be looking up unknown vocabulary in Chinese, not in English because the translations aren’t always right and there are some subtle differences with some words: for example, in English referee and judge are two different words, but in Chinese, 裁判 can be used to describe both of these. It’s also true that some things just don’t have a handy translation, try telling me what 辛苦你了 translates as!

Baidu dictionary app
Baidu dictionary app

This is not the first time this has happened. In our final year of university, in our Spanish translation classes, we were not allowed to use Spanish-English dictionaries, and instead were all made to download the RAE dictionary (the Spanish equivalent of the Oxford dictionary). We all reluctantly did this, but secretly would go home and check Wordreference when completing our homework.

Our teachers are right, looking up a word in an English- foreign language dictionary is a bit lazy. We just look at the first or second word and take it as it is, without question, but when we look up a word in a native language dictionary, it gives us a better understanding of the word and using our brain to figure out the meaning is better than just remembering what it seems like in our own language.

There are some difficulties in looking up words in a native language dictionary: synonyms. Imagine you don’t know the word ‘enormous’, you look it up and the definition says ‘huge’, but you realise you don’t know what ‘huge’ means either. You turn to , find huge only to find that the definition is ‘enormous’ – what do you do then? This is a problem I’ve found when looking things up in my 现代汉语词典. I’m trying though, and as I’m learning over 250 new words each week (yes I’m keeping track this semester), as my vocabulary expands, I’ll be able to use the Chinese – Chinese dictionary better than I am doing now.

What do you think about looking up unknown words? Do you prefer to use your own language to understand, or do you use a native speaker’s dictionary?

Who put the 松 in 马拉松?

Chinese is a pretty ancient language, with some characters* still resembling the original drawings that people made thousands of years ago. But often, new inventions or words are invented, that weren’t in any previous Chinese dictionaries. Some of these words are Anglicisms – words that sound like the English words, but have been spelt out in Chinese characters. Here are a few to get you warmed up, let’s see if you can guess them (answers at the bottom)

  • 沙发 shafa
  • 可口可乐 kekoukele
  • 比萨 bisa
  • 伦敦 lundun

Another one is 马拉松, the Chinese word for marathon. As you can see, there are three characters, and each one has it’s own meaning:

  1. 马 ma
  2. 拉 la  and
  3. 松 song

So when you put them together, they sound like marathon – malasong. Do you hear it? So let’s look closer at the characters and their meanings:

  1. 马 means horse, which I think is fair, considering the distance in a marathon
  2. 拉 means pull, tug, transport, moving, play (string instruments) etc, which is also ok, considering you have to move yourself a long way to the finish line and it involves energy
  3. 松 however, is different. it means pine tree (which is fair if there are pine trees on the route), but it also means loose, relaxed, slack, untied which are not words I would associate with a marathon.

I just completed my first half marathon yesterday, it was in China, so I thought about this during the race. Who put the 松 in 马拉松? because there were points (especially after my dreaded 17km stage) were my muscles were definitely not loose and relaxed, I wasn’t relaxed, and I didn’t want my shoelaces to be untied either!

Do you have any idea where this came from? Do you think it’s funny?

Here’s a video to the Running Man tv show, the lyrics to the chorus are: brothers, let’s run together GO GO GO GO, run, run, run. People played it aloud on their phones during the race, it definitely got in my head and is kinda catchy.

*by characters, I mean the Chinese symbols they use as letters

Answers to the test: 沙发 shafa (sofa),可口可乐 kekoukele (coke), 比萨 bisa (pizza), 伦敦 lundun (London)

Is the pen dead? Mine definitely isn’t.

I recently read an article about how pens, paper and handwriting are all dead in British society, at least. The figures are shocking, reading about how few young people have written a letter, but even with the increase of technology, this isn’t true for me. Maybe I’m a special case, but I can’t see me putting my pens down anytime soon (neither can these hard working students in the library).

At the library
At the library

As I study Chinese, it’s incredibly important for me to keep on top of my handwriting, not only for the weekly dictation spelling tests we have, but also for character recognition and ingraining new characters into my memory. There are many characters that look similar 人 and 入, which look alike but also ones like 休/体, 偷/愉 and semi symmetrical ones like 部/陪, Then there are the really complicated characters like 藏 or 囊,which are usually traditional characters that even China hasn’t been able to simplify.

I find the most effective method of remembering them is by writing them, from 1-10 times on neat squared paper. As I’m on a 20hr/week intensive language course, I have over 100 new pieces of vocabulary to learn a week, some of which are Chinese idioms (成语) which consist of four characters. That’s not even including my homework, notes in class and writing my diary. It’s safe to say,I use a lot of pens and paper here in China.

After spending 20p on each gel ink pen, that I would finish in a couple of weeks, I decided this was quite expensive. I saw refill ink cartridges in the stationary shop which were 10p each, or a box of 20 for £1.60, At first I thought I doubted I would use a whole 20 pens worth of ink, but then I realised I probably would use all of them, so bought the box. Who said the pen was dead?

Another one of my goals for this time in China is to learn some 练笔,joined up handwriting – in Chinese. At the moment, I write like a 7 year old Chinese student, clearly marking each stroke of the character, but this takes time and my Chinese friends don’t write like this. Sometimes my teachers comments are also in cursive Chinese, so I want to learn how to write it in order to read it too. It will save me time when writing down points in listening class and hopefully not affect the beauty of my printed characters.

Cursive Chinese
At the library

How often do you write with a pen and paper?

Ridiculous Texts

I’ve been studying Chinese for over four years now, and have used a variety of text books. Some of the texts are really interesting and give us students a real insight into Chinese culture and history – one of my favourites was about 武则天, an evil empress from China’s history. But today I want to talk about three texts which have just been ridiculous, texts that I probably will never forget. I’ve ranked them in order of ridiculousness, and am sorry if I ruin the surprise for any of you currently studying Chinese.

3. God’s punishment for the golf playing Rabbi

This text is from an oral text book and it tells the story of how one day, there is a Rabbi, who love to play golf. One Sabbath*, all he wants to do is play golf, and he thinks that as it’s the Sabbath, nobody will know if he goes to play 9 holes (*Jews are supposed to rest at home on the Sabbath). He goes out, and of course, nobody is on the golf course to catch him out, except suddenly on the third hole, an angel spots him and goes to God to tell on him. God says he will punish the Rabbi, so for the remaining holes, the Rabbi plays excellently, nearly all his shots are holes in one, so he plays another 9 holes to complete the course. The angel goes back to God and asks what kind of punishment is this? He’s getting great results. Then God says to the angel, “Aha, he won’t be able to tell anybody about his excellent round of golf because they’ll know he’s broken the rules by going to play on the Sabbath. Not being able to share your happiness with other people is a punishment”

I like this anecdote, but I just think it’s a bit out of place in a Chinese text book, since religions aren’t practiced the same way as they are in other countries, and I don’t think there is a big Jewish community in China, nor many golf courses.

2. Buying a banana apple

This story was from my first year and was a very simple dialogue about a Canadian student 林娜, buying fruit in a market in China. She asked for a kilo of bananas, half a kilo of apples and a kilo of banana apples. Wait, what, banana apples yes, you read correct. We were told that in China, there is a fruit called “banana apple”, which looks like an apple but tastes like a banana. I’ve been in China for over 6 months in total now, and have yet to find one. When I searched on Baidu (the Chinese Google), apart from photos of apples and bananas beside each other, I found pictures showing yellowish apples as below. Until I eat one, I refuse to acknowledge that they actually exist!

Banana Apple
Banana Apple

1. Is that really our daughter?

This by far must be the most ridiculous text I’ve come across so far. It’s from a text book I used last time I was in China. A couple with straight, blonde hair, small (one lidded) eyes and white skin have a baby. They take the baby girl home, and one day, the Mum says to the baby “are you really our daughter? You have such dark skin, black curly hair and big (double lidded) eyes”. The Mum isn’t convinced, so goes back to the hospital to check. She meets the nurse who delivered the baby, who realises that on that day, there were two baby no. 6’s born. She gives the white couple the address of the other couple who’s baby was no.6. They go to this family’s home and a black lady with curly black hair opens the door, holding a small white, blond baby girl. They realise that their babies have been switched at birth, so meet another day and swap toys, clothes and babies.

I like the variation of our texts, as sometimes learning Chinese, you find yourself always talking about Chinese food and being a foreigner in China (as well as the basic “where are you from, what do you study, WOW your Chinese is so good, how long have you been in China). But sometimes, the texts are a bit strange. Have you had any strange texts in your Chinese text books, or do you remember reading any of these texts yourself?