Translating the signage of Beijing into English

Beijing hosted the 2022 Winter Olympics, and translation played an incredibly important role in the city’s preparations. On March 27, 2018, the city’s government launched the “2018 Online Correction of Erroneous Public Sign Translations,” a kind of call to action to citizens of the world to help improve the accuracy of public signs that are translated into English. 

It is an interesting initiative if you think about it – how many times have you been travelling only to notice that easy, simple translations are misspelt or translated completely incorrectly? 

Well, the city of Beijing has figured out that it is worth it to invest in getting signs right the first time around. While some of the erroneous translations are admittedly hilarious, it doesn’t go well with a government when they can’t get the most basic English translations correct. 

So how does the system work? Participants can submit photos of signs they notice with poorly written English to the official WeChat account, beijingqianlong. Then, prizes will be given to the best, most efficiently provided translations.

street with beijing signage

Image source

Funny Sign Translations

English is increasingly important in Beijing. And as the Chinese like doing things right, the effort to clean up some of the hilarious English signage is a great one. Some funny examples of signage that was not translated correctly are

  • “No Watching When Walking”
  • “Racist Park”
  • “Don’t Bother”
  • “To Take Notice of Safe the Slippery Are Very Crafty”
  • “Shoplifters Will be Prostituted”

The list really is endless.

China spends billions of dollars annually on English language learning, yet continuously ranks at the bottom of the list of countries with enhanced English proficiency, both internationally and in Asia. 

While decades ago, the booming Chinese population may have been a cause for worry about the world’s next lingua franca, English has held strong as the international language of commerce and remains a crucial component for economic growth

Initiatives like Beijing’s sign-changing context show the Chinese government’s awareness regarding the importance of English for its population. In China, the English language is a required subject in schools throughout the country. 

Measures like the sign initiative are just some of the ways that China is engaging its population and helping mobilize their interest in improving language skills overall, while at the same time serving as a more hospitable environment for foreign visitors.