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Kenny同志

China’s English-Language Newspapers

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Kenny同志

Do you read China Daily, Global Times, Shanghai Daily, and Ecns.com? How often?

I have noticed that many of their editors do not speak English as their mother tongue. This really makes me curious about whether the English they use is up to standards.

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skylee

Why? One does not have to be a native English speaker to be good at English. (I confess I don't read those papers. But I note that outside of Mainland China, there are / were also others whose mother tongues are not English who work(ed) as editors of English languge newspapers, e.g Victor Fung.)

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wushijiao

Personally, I'm not terribly picky about small language mistakes. The main reasons I would or would not read those papers is due to their content.

I think the China Daily used to be terrible propaganda (say 5-10 years ago), and just reading it would make my blood boil at the bias. Now, however, while it is still essentially propaganda (or, viewing the world from a CCP lens) it does often often a considerable amount of interesting news. So, I would say that the China Daily has improved over the years in terms of more objective content and overall presentation.

The Global Times English seems to have a bit of leeway to print some fairly daring articles (under the current context), and thus it's also worth scanning.

I suppose the main way I "read" them is by following them on Twitter, and clicking on the stories that look promising.

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Kenny同志

Skylee, I am not saying that all non-native speakers of English are bad editors. There are a small number of them who can speak, and write superb English, for example, 林语堂, 杨宪益, and 葛传槼. :) But English is so difficult a language that I don’t really think there are so many of us who can acquire the fluency of a seasoned, professional writer whose mother tongue is English.

As a serious newspaper, which is generally regarded by the public as almost linguistically flawless, it should live up to its expectations. If such a newspaper makes two or more mistakes/segments of Chingish/bad sentences in a single article, it fails.

It seems like this newspaper doesn’t live up to my expectations.

Thank you for your comment, Wushijiao. :)

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Kenny同志

I couldn't find any English writing by Victor Fung. I learned through here that he was editor-in-chief of the Chinese edition of Reader’s Digest. Of course, it's possible that he's bilingual, but not many of us are.

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Kenny同志

Don’t get me wrong, Skylee. As I said, a non-native isn’t necessarily a bad editor. Over the years, owing the glaring mistakes I spotted in those newspapers, I have developed a tendency to turn to a dictionary whenever I doubt a word might be misused while reading them. I don’t visit their websites often; I tend to prefer the New York Times and other media where I can learn about issues unreported in their Chinese counterparts and where I find the writing more enjoyable.

Thank you very much for your links.

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skylee

I have no strong view on this matter. As I said, I don't read the papers you mentioned, and I don't know any of the editors or their works. But you have made a connection between the editors being non-native speakers of English and the English standard of the papers. And what I wanted to say was that there is not necessarily a causal relationship between the two.

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wushijiao

Kenny, rather than using wrong words, more often than not the biggest problem is that they use words and, especially phrases, in a fairly inaccurate or awkward manner. Many times I'll see phrases in Chinese English-language newspapers and think, "no one says that anymore", or perhaps I have a vague recollection of my grandparents using it.

My diagnosis of this problem is that some Chinese writers buy books of "English expressions/colloquialisms/idioms" and they view them in the same light as Chinese chengyu. However, English phrase and idioms certainly aren't used in the same manner as chengyu, and that's the problem.

Again, with papers like the China Daily, I think their usage has become better over the years, but they still have these problems from time to time.

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Kenny同志

I appreciate your feedback, Wushijiao. It has always been my view that, to make the English presentable, our English-language newspapers have to have each of their articles proofread by an American or British professional before publication. Unfortunately, the myth is promoted far and wide in China that anyone who majored in English in university can write good English.

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skylee
It has always been my view that, to make the English presentable, our English-language newspapers have to have each of their articles proofread by an American or British professional before publication.

I disagree with your view. But we don't have to agree on everything. :)

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roddy

It's often a matter of style and focus rather than actual problems with the English as such. Grabbing a random sentence off the China Daily:

China will launch the unmanned spacecraft Shenzhou-8 at 5:58 am Tuesday and will invite foreign officials and experts to observe the launch.

and a matching one from a UK paper

China will launch an unmanned spacecraft later on Monday, taking its next step towards the goal of building its first space station by 2020.

Reading the China Daily you'd think the most important things are the name of the spaceship, the precise time, and who's going to be watching.

I daresay the China Daily is a lot better than it used to be.

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Kenny同志

Roddy, thank you very much.

Style is so important that, in extreme cases, it may spoil the whole article. Take a look at this.

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roddy

Actually if you're interested in that kind of stuff it's not too hard to find house styles online - here's (pdf) the BBC's, but I'm pretty sure I've seen Guardian and Economist ones available too.

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Kenny同志

Awesome, Roddy! This is a great book. Thank you!

I will get myself a Kindle DX before the Spring Festival, haha. It would be nice to read the book on it. :mrgreen:

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roddy

To be honest that GT ad is more about picking up errors. Style is something different - the use of 'sees' in headlines instead of expects eg, or 'inked' for 'signed' in business news, etc.

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realmayo

Roddy's post about the space launch is interesting: I guess the China Daily is perfectly happy with their style there -- their job is different from that of a commercial newspaper in the UK. I'd also point out that you can be an editor of an English newspaper even if your English isn't great -- it's the sub-editors who need to be good!

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