Since you asked
[ 2007-04-10 16:09 ]

Gilbert writes in from Henan:
I am very happy to contact with you again.

Now I am a little disappointed that I CAN'T completely understand the articles written by Expats living in China. I mean I often encounter such problem when I read Beijing Review. I just can't understand what the comments from the American officials. What's the use of my English after I put a lot of heart in English over so many years? Please tell me how I can understand the articles written by Expats.

For example, how do you understand the following three sentences?

1. The rules of the market are simple and time-honored; no returns, no receipts, and often no respect.
2. Indeed, there is a perverse satisfaction in bargaining once you submit to its myriad idiosyncrasies.
3. While in Western eyes, haggling may seem low class and petty, it is a necessary, if paradoxical, fixture of the Chinese mindset. Without a doubt it is strange to see how fast traditionally venerated Chinese notions of modesty and trustworthiness go out the window when a sale is on the line.

My comments:
Gilbert, using the third sentence as an example, we see that the writings of an expatriate living in China tend to be long and winding with twists and turns, idiomatic (go out the window, on the line) and by and large good English as compared with works by Chinese nationals.

This is the reason you can't understand them "completely", borrowing your needless adverb. In other words, it's not Chinglish - this is the reason you're experiencing difficulties trying to get to grips with it.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but from our earlier correspondence, you gave me the impression that you read the likes of Beijing Review, China Daily instead of the Guardian, the New York Times, the Daily Mirror, etc. (these are all online, by the way - just so that you won't be able to say they are beyond your reach). That's the reason why you keep having problems with expats who are native speakers of the English tongue.

English is a devilish tongue, you see, one that takes lots of practice to get used to. So therefore, instead of scolding you for your disappointment in yourself, I want say that your disappointment is a good thing. It'll probably spur you on to reading more writings by native speakers.

So read more Expats (capital letter totally unnecessary, by the way) Gilbert. Read on. Your problems will go away in due course.

Ironic, I know, but do be happy with your disappointment.

Every once in a while, you know, I hear readers ask whether Beijing Review or China Daily is a good source for English study. I always say that they are if you have no alternatives. You see, Gilbert, the best writings - language-wise, of course - in the said publications are wire stories or those written by native speakers. Since that is more or less the case, why don't you read foreign publications in the first place?

In my eyes, you see, neither Beijing Review, which seems to be your favorite magazine, nor China Daily is the choicest material for English studies.

Oops! I hope you will not interpret this as something that may hurt their sales.

On second thought, I probably needn't worry because neither publication seems to have much in the way of sales to begin with, that is, to hurt.

Now, I don't even know which of these assessments might be interpreted as the more hurtful remark. But you know what, Gilbert, it's all your fault.

Since you asked.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

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