Chinese for English Pronunciation (Shanghai World Expo Edition)

This certainly isn’t the first time that Chinese characters have been used as a guide for pronunciation of English words, but it’s the most recent example I’ve seen, related to Shanghai’s World Expo. Here’s the “世博双语指南” (World Expo Bilingual Guide):

Shanghai World Expo English

And here’s a text transcription of the content:

> 欢迎光临
welcome to our store! (维尔抗姆突奥窝思道)

> 早上好!下午好!晚上好!
Good morning! (古的猫宁)
Good afternoon! (古的阿夫特怒)
Good evening! (古的衣服宁)

> 有什么需要帮助您的吗?
Can I help you? (坎埃海尔扑油?)

> 对不起,我只能讲简单的英语。
I’m sorry, I can only speak a little English.

> 请您稍等!
Just a moment, please. (杰丝特哞闷特,普立斯!)

> 我叫我同事来帮助您!
I’ll find our colleague for help.

> 再见!
Bye Bye! (白白!)

And just in case all those “nonsense characters” were too much for you, here are some randomly selected pinyin transliterations. See if you can figure out the English original:

– Āi wěio fánde āwō kǎolìgè fǒu hǎiěrpū!
– Gǔde āfūtènù
– Wéiěrkàngmǔ tū àowō sīdào
– Ǎnme sāoruì, āi kǎn wēnglèi sībíkē é lèitōu Yīnggèlìshǐ.
– Kǎn āi hǎiěrpū yóu?

Fun stuff.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Nice one John! When I was forced to learn survival Italian after being sent there for several months I left Shanghai with a Chinese-Italian dictionary. As I learned how to pronounce Italian words, I used Hanyu pinyin and characters instead of the roman alphabet. It helped me to differentiate the pronunciation mentally. This seemed to help me to avoid processing the roman letter in English pronunciation. Does that make any sense?

  2. That is utterly horrible and I plan to forget it as quickly as possible so that I don’t have nightmares tonight.

    However, I can’t help noticing the “bye bye”, which is actually a pretty common loan word used in China. I only remember seeing it written as “拜拜” before, though, so I’m surprised to see it written here as 白白.

  3. That’s very… um, creative.

  4. I feel like I have marbles in my mouth. I love seeing old Chinese women and men pronounce their English like this. This should be a game show on TV. Hilarious.

  5. I’m not sure an English speaker would understand a Chinese person speaking like this. We need audio clips of native Chinese reading these “Engzi” to test it out!

  6. hahaha…….this made me smile. Thanks for the post

  7. hobielover Says: January 5, 2010 at 9:18 am

    Ugh! I’ve seen it with other dialects mixed in to help better approximate the sound on a variety show. They used it to sing in English. It wasn’t very good, but it was closer than what I could imagine based on this. (“Welcome” with 4 syllables is bad!)

  8. I suppose it’s no more bizarre than using the Roman alphabet in pinyin to approximate the pronunciation of Chinese characters. Why don’t we say Ci Xi as ‘kicksy’?

  9. Yikes! I would have thought this sort of ‘English’ would be for the masses from outside Shanghai and elderly, who often can’t read pinyin and don’t know much/any English. But these expressions are for service staff. Hopefully it’s only linked to the Expo for promotional purposes. I would think most of the Expo staff will be young, smart, and decently fluent in English… not having learned to speak by this method.

  10. Heilong79 Says: January 7, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    And this is why Japanese peoples English is sometimes bad, They learn english trough Japanese words, at least China does not use this system in Schools.

  11. Power to the people, yeah!! Haha.. I can just imagine running into someone who’s only English has come from such an article. It’s really quite a step back in terms of English learning.

    And why… why I ask you, must everyone be speaking English anyway??? It is China afterall, not some small island in the middle of the pacific. The people who matter at the tech show are all going to be multi-lingual anyway.. So I really don’t see the point of this latest attempt to make Shanghai into a western country state for the duration of the show.

    Another example of this is the (attempted) cleaning up of all the street markets by those “unmarked” vans with the cameras and dark tinted windows..

    Shanghai is Shanghai. People love China because it is Chinese!!

  12. […] This would still be really funny even if it wasn’t actually being used for the Shanghai World Expo. ~ Discuss (0) ~ […]

  13. colleenandy Says: March 3, 2010 at 1:26 am

    …i think the translation is horrible…like “bye bye”and”good morning”.i prefer”莫”to”猫”at least.

  14. Kenneth Jones Says: March 13, 2010 at 10:30 pm

    It makes a surprising amount of sense to me, but I have to keep from trying to understand it first; too much brain-work sometimes impedes progress. I’ll ask my friend in SH to start the recorder before she sees the wording, then pronounce the sentences with no study. What an interesting exercise this will be! I have a feeling the result will be much better than our (my) own attempts at pronouncing her language when I see it written in English, not in pīnyīn.

  15. Hi, I am trying to crack my mind on the same type of pronounciation in chinese for English text for some projects that I am doing.
    Is there some kind of online help eg, dictionary for such prounciation help for all english words?

    Hope to hear from you real soon.
    This is very urgent.

    Thank you

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