Friday, November 21, 2008

Emergency English

It's quite impressive to see that the staff who work at the Silk Market are multilingual.

Many try to lure customers with "You want bags?", "Lookie here, I give you good price", or "How about silk? You want silk?"

Some can say a smattering of words in French, Russian and Spanish.

And foreigners are big targets. The Silk Market salespeople, mostly women, try to entice foreign men to buy purses for their wives. OK if they're not married, then their girlfriends.

With foreign women, it's, "You want Koo-chi? L-V?"

The English is not bad, but apparently staff who work at another market called Lady Street or Nu Ren Jie are told they must spruce up their English skills in the next three months by passing an exam or they may lose their job.

It's the latest directive by Beijing authorities to get salespeople to speak better English because with the faltering economy, they need the foreigners to spend more money here, not that they have much left anymore with stocks going down the drain.

Nevertheless, sales staff at Nu Ren Jie have been given pamphlets with 18 common English phrases written in Chinese characters to sound like the expressions.

So something like "Welcome" may sound like "Wai Er Keng Mu".


It's "emergency English" to teach mostly uneducated staff to learn a few words to communicate with foreigners in order to boost sales.

But some salespeople have found the strange words even frighten potential customers away because their "emergency English" sounds so weird.

Some law types protest the fact that market administrators have no right to terminate contracts with vendors because of their language proficiency.

Language instructors also think forcing people to learn English is not the way either.

While it is better to have more sales staff speak English, if someone wants to buy something, both sides will find a way to communicate.

It's called a calculator and pointing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

on a recent visit to silk street i was also impressed by the language skill of the salesladies. also by the p.a. system announcing their ware in different languages. well that is the way to maake a buck.