Tagged language

Japanese Quick Reference Guide

When I moved to Japan in 2013 I spent the first six months taking intensive Japanese classes at a language school in Tokyo. During that time I got frustrated with the quality of the teaching materials and in particular the explanation of grammar rules which I found over-complicated things for the average student who just wanted to get a hang of the basics. Read more

Why Japanese Web Design Is So… Different

In the mind’s eye of many people Japan is a land of tranquil Zen gardens, serene temples, and exquisite tea ceremonies. Both traditional and contemporary Japanese architecture, books and magazines are the envy of designers worldwide. Yet for some reason practically none of this mastery has been translated into digital products, in particular websites, most of which look like they hail from around 1998.

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Randomwire Moves To Tokyo

Usually at the beginning of each year I write a ‘new years resolutions’ post, but not in 2013 because the latter half of 2012 had been very stressful and I still wasn’t sure what the best way forward was. Now that the situation is clearer I’m happy to announce an exciting new chapter for Randomwire… Read more

The Worlds Hardest Languages

If you assumed that Asian languages were the hardest to learn then you’d be right. Based on research done by the Foreign Service Institute of the U.S. Department of State, Voxy has compiled a nice infographic breaking down different languages by the amount of time it takes a native English speaker to achieve speaking and reading proficiency. Read more

How To Tell The Difference Between Asian Languages

To the untrained eye or ear, Asian languages can appear completely incomprehensible and indistinguishable from each other. The written characters may as well be hieroglyphs and unlike some other languages, listening in on a conversation isn’t going to give you much to go on. The guide below it intended to provide a simple quick start for telling apart Chinese, Japanese and Korean. You’ll soon find it’s really rather simple! Read more

Life Without Language

Undoubtedly one of, if not the, hardest things about living in a foreign country is dealing with the language barrier. Unless you’re a natural linguist then life suddenly becomes a blur of indistinguishable sounds which can be quite disorienting at first. In the past I’ve equated this with going deaf but this is a poor analogy since tone and volume can also be valuable indicators of what someone is trying to express. Read more

Green Hat a No-No

Green Hat

Here’s a little tip for men in China hoping to avoid public castigation: don’t wear a green hat. Unfortunately this advice came a little late for me, but first a little background as to why it’s a cultural faux pas over here:

In China “wearing a green hat” (戴绿帽子 or dài lǜ mào zǐ) is an expression that Chinese use when a woman cheats on her husband or boyfriend because the phrase sounds similar to the word for cuckold. This apparently dates back to the Yuan dynasty when the relatives of prostitutes were forced to wear green hats.

If you’re given a green hat by your significant other then the news is probably not good. To wear one is to be a bit of a dim idiot! In addition giving someone shoes or a watch is also a no-no as it signifies that your relationship is coming to an end.

These are just a few examples of how language and symbolism are closely intertwined in China. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told to watch my pronunciation because a certain word sounds like the meaning of something else undesirable. I’d be interested to see if anyone has a list of the most common ones. Would certainly come in handy for hapless travellers and expats alike 🙂

Chinese Culture 101 | Part 2 – Language

This post is part of a series exploring Chinese culture. See the links at the bottom of this page for more.


Photo by My Hobo Soul

It has often been said that you cannot fully understand a country’s culture without knowing its language as language is the verbal expression of culture. The same can be said of Chinese which is the most widely spoken language in the world as well as one of the most impenetrable for foreigners. There are many regional dialects of Chinese although the most widely spoken is Mandarin (the official language, spoken on the mainland) and Cantonese (used in Hong Kong and parts of the south).

人 = rén = people
Photo by nocas

Written Chinese characters evolved over time from earlier forms of hieroglyphs. Whilst the original characters were pictorial (e.g. human – 人) they have evolved over time and today most characters contain phonetic parts which indicate pronunciation as well as meaning. Chinese contains over 40,000 characters but a well-educated person can recognize around 6,000 characters; some 3,000 are required to read a newspaper.


Photo by SubZeroConsciousness

The pictorial nature of the characters also affects the way Chinese think as they often view things intuitively in terms of the big picture rather than in the west where analytical logic is more prevalent.

Spoken Chinese is equally complex with four possible tones used in Mandarin to pronounce each syllable (Cantonese has nine!). Mis-pronouncing the tone can give the word a completely different meaning making conversations for beginners accident prone! You may notice Chinese pay more attention to the way things are said rather than what is being said as the subtle subtext is often more important than the actual content itself (although this is slowly changing).

Next time we focus on how religion, family, and how the concept of harmondy influences Chinese society and culture.
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Chinglish Shop Signs

In China the English language is a fickle thing where the normal rules of grammar, punctuation and general comprehensible sentence structure do not seem to apply. So prolific is this phenomenon that they even have a name for it: Chinglish. Today’s post is a homage to this most wonderful of Frankenstein languages which keeps foreigners chuckling all day long and undoubtedly has sign makers busy when hapless proprietors realise their English faux pas (or not as the case is usually).

The following collection of shop sign shots were taken around the Haiya area of Nanshan District, Shenzhen nearby where I live:

No Right Just Suitable

No Right Just Suitable – a clothes shop where you’ll never find exactly what you’re looking for but it’ll be suitable nevertheless.

Hot Enticement

Hot Enticement – selling all manner of spicy foods to entice you into its fiery lair. Very reasonable prices too!

A Slight Fever

A Slight Fever – just what this is supposed to mean I don’t know. Is that a dog? A place to catch Swine Flu? Confusing.

Dolci & Vita

Dolci & Vita – not content with getting the spelling wrong the use of “&” also seems rather unnecessary but when you’re living the sweet life who cares (it’s a cake shop).

More after the break…
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