The Art of Chinglish: Balancing Translation and Transcreation


The Art of Chinglish: Balancing Translation and Transcreation


They call it ‘Chinglish’, the charming hodgepodge of English words and Chinese phrasing. You see it all around our humble home of Hong Kong: on city-wide street signs and in official documents, on restaurant menus and in major adverts.

Entire books and websites are dedicated to it (mostly for laughs), but if a new plan from Beijing higher-ups has anything to do with it, Chinglish might be on its way out.

As outlined by this article from Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, Mainland China has dubbed Chinglish harmful to Hong Kong’s future, with the ‘language’ potentially damaging the greater international image of China, as well as its many multinational relations.

The whole issue has caused a minor uproar among Hong Kong’s populace – but for once, our up-north leaders might be right.

Chinglish, and its Long-Term Effects


It’s hard to say where Chinglish derives from, but its roots and ongoing usage most likely stem from local Hong Kong schools. Teachers employing English as a second-language are passing on rule-heavy textbook knowledge to unaware students.

It’s a cyclical problem, and one that’s contributing greatly to the decline of Hong Kong’s English standard. But it’s not that the Chinglish is always wrong. It’s just the particular tongue often emphasises the study-heavy exactitude of local schools, causing bizarre translations.

That’s especially embarrassing considering Hong Kong was once a former British colony, and if our populace can’t properly utilise an official city language, it places us in a negative light.

Why Beijing is Right


Hong Kong is at an important crossroads. Political disputes, coupled with the city’s longstanding history as a gateway to China, mean we’ll either become just another part of the mainland, or we’ll evolve into an important global hub. Chinglish might a major contributor to that evolution.

Enforcing strict guidelines, setting standards, employing official translators who are fluent in both English and Chinese – these are all incredibly important factors, and will be vital as our city transitions into a key international metropolis.

But more important, is the idea of transcreation. The term ‘transcreation’ is a fairly new, but its idea is centuries-old. It involves adapting a message from one language to another, while ensuring the context and intent are preserved.

In short, it’s an open form of translation, where the overall style is changed to suit another language.

From Translation to Transcreation


As a copywriting and content agency in Hong Kong, Writers.HK has been part of numerous projects to successfully employ transcreation.

Emphasising the correct use of language is vital to us, and everyone from major brands to Hong Kong government departments, start-up companies to prominent universities have called us in for our local copywriting and translation expertise.

A key example was T-Park, a government-run project that we oversaw alongside the Environmental Protection Department. Selling the concept of a sludge treatment facility that also doubled as a community centre was no easy task, especially given that much of the Chinese copy already existed.

But through transcreation, we successfully employed various branding techniques, including punchy slogans, effective taglines and succinct content, to push the waste-to-energy angle and how it tied into a greener future.

The final product was incredibly effective, and now stands as an example of how Hong Kong is leading the charge in educating the public, while transforming traditional municipal facilities.

The Future of Transcreation


A large part of the T-Park website’s success was due to the ever-evolving, open nature of the English language. Until now, Chinglish has largely been for laughs and the preservation of its obviously incorrect usage shouldn’t be condoned.

Instead, we should consider adaptation through transcreation: taking poor translations and modifying them in light of the final language.