Engrish: Good Intentions with Bad Translations

“Translation is at best an echo.” – George Borrow, Lavengro

To make life a little easier for foreigners in Taiwan, a great deal of effort has gone into English signage. But with the complexity of translating Chinese into English and the imprecision of mechanical translators, the results are sometimes difficult to understand. 

With a lot of Taiwanese food being unique to the country, some dishes don’t have adequate English names. It took me a long time to make peace with the fact that cōng yóubǐng is correctly translated as “Green Onion Pancake”.

Apparently, the writers of these English menus had the same difficulty accepting the true translations:

While it is very important to have warning signs translated so that they can be understood by foreigners, it is difficult to take the warning itself seriously when it is mistranslated.

Taken near Guguan Hot Springs, Taichung

Taken in Kenting National Park

To appeal to the foreign market, some Taiwanese companies have branded their products in English.

Flurbi Pap DS! Not to be confused with Nintendo DS, this is a muscle-relaxant pad.

English signage, even with incorrect translation, can still help a great deal. While I enjoyed the Engrish that Taiwan had to offer, I do not pretend to be a linguistic expert. My attempts at learning Chinese were far more futile than any mistranslated English signs.  While Paul Jennings couldn’t decide “…whether translators are heroes or fools …” they will always be heroes to me.

Below: Where there is (no) English



  1. Very entertaining article…(-: Also thanks for stopping by my blog!…Sherry

    • Kash

      Thank you! BTW, your artwork is great!


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