The Beauty of Chinese English (or Why the Chinese Desperately Need Editors)

Funny Chinese Sign

Many of us have seen the English marketing material published by Israeli companies that not only is unclear, but can also be embarrassing. Thankfully, many Israeli businesses are aware of the importance of quality content in a global market, and this awareness is spreading. As a result, Israeli companies are successfully positioning themselves against global competitors.

Now if only the Chinese were more concerned with the quality of their English content…

My Shiny New (and Mysterious) MP4 Player

I recently bought an MP4 player from an online store. I decided to buy the cheapest one I could find – with a one year warranty, I figured if it lasted a year I would have gotten my money’s worth. I take pride in not paying for brand names, i.e. iPods, and anyways, everything is made in China these days so why spend more for something that probably came out of the same factory as a name brand that costs ten times the price?

When my new player arrived in the mail, I opened the package with anticipation (email is great, but there’s nothing better than getting something fun in the mail, especially books or fun electronic toys). It came in this handy box with a magnetic lid, but when I read what it said on the lid, I knew I was in trouble:


This is one of those mysterious Chinese sentences that I’m sure many of you have seen on other Made in China products. I have no idea why they write these things, or what they’re trying to say, and no amount of deciphering by me or my family could come up with a reasonable meaning for the above sentence.

I opened the box and took out the MP4 player. It is a thin, shiny, sleek little thing. Very cute. Since I’ve never used one of these things before, and the only interface is this simple round dial that is supposed to do everything, I took out the instruction manual. But my suspicions based on the mysterious EARTH MUSIC WIND sentence proved to be more than right – I couldn’t understand a word of the manual.

First of all, it looked like it had been typed on a typewriter, and it was printed on this flimsy old-style paper, like something my Dad used to have in his office. But the text is just hopelessly hopeless. Here are some juicy excerpts:

“1.1. In general use function of product:

  • Support most 99 statures catalogues in one class are of music document and the recording document broadcast.
  • Support each catalogue most support 99 recording documents’ identify.


1.2 Fast function of the MENU key
1.2.1 At the MUSIC RECORD,VOICE, FM, TXT, IMAGE…in the SYSTEM, in addition to the special provision situation of the outside or special obsolescent, grow to press MENU key, is all to stop operate at present, return the main course list.

1.4 Trumpet
When insert the headphones, the trumpet (player) does not work…”

I kid you not.

8 Year Olds to the Rescue

I tried fiddling around with the player to figure it out, but kept getting stuck and couldn’t get back to the main menu. My 8 year old son, who was thrilled about the new addition to the family and wanted to start using it already (he was in denial about my insistence this was actually something that was for my use ONLY), helpfully invited over a few of his friends to show me how to use my new player. The boys gave me a brief tutorial, and now we’re in action.

The moral of the story: until the Chinese get their acts together on the English front, make sure you have some offspring or offspring-aged people around who can show you how to use your new toy.

For another example of the next generation outdoing us on the technical front, watch the following video:


Moreover, I advise that the genocide in Darfur must be stopped.