‘Your Chinese Is Too Formal’


“Your Chinese is Too Formal, Yin’.

That’s the comment I got after I gave a Chinese speech at Chinglish two weeks ago. And I agree.

I prepared that speech in English first – because most of the raw materials after my research is in English and there is a portion of the speech (role play and demo) to be delivered in English. But as with all other prepared speeches I deliver at Chinglish, it is mostly delivered in Chinese (this is my personal goal, not everyone at Chinglish does that, in case you are wondering). So I did a bit of ‘translation’ work in preparing the Chinese part of the speech – meaning I wrote down the text in Chinese after I had already an English draft in mind.

Funnily – or perhaps unsurprisingly – that’s what it turned out to be – a speech that tends to use a lot of ‘formal’ words, expressions and sentence structure in Chinese. While it might also be the case to some extent in English, the difference between written Chinese and spoken Chinese is apparently quite remarkable. Spoken Chinese tends to be informal, free-flowing, and ‘loose’ in grammer, even in a formal setting such as a prepared speech. A text that is written is not meant to be read out.

It also validates a conviction I have – a good speech (or writting for that matter) should never be a ‘translation’ work. It has to be developed and prepared entirely in the language that is going to be used in delivery. Only by doing that, the outcome will be natural and appropriate, and a pleasure to the ears.


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