Wed, Apr 25, 2018 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Native English copy editors needed

This weekend, a blog post about the questionable use of English by one of the Tourism Bureau’s official Twitter accounts set the Internet on fire.

The examples are pretty atrocious — from poor word choices to blatant spelling mistakes (Kavalan “wishkey,” anyone?) to lazy use of images and outright lack of understanding of certain connotations and nuances in the English language (eating chocolate bread makes one “dirty”).

It is not just the English. The blog Tricky Taipei points out that the bureau’s account even gets facts wrong (for the last time, Jiufen (九份) was not the inspiration for the animated movie Spirited Away) and strangely promotes products from other nations — the “dirty” bread is a South Korean invention and has nothing to do with Taiwan.

After the news spread and the story was picked up by a number of media outlets, including the Chinese-language Apple Daily, the social media administrators deleted all the posts in question. What is left on the account, as well as its new posts, are much better — clearly still not proofread by a native English speaker — but at least they are no longer downright embarrassing.

This shows that with a little effort, wrongs can be righted. However, it should not take a scandal to correct each thing that is wrong with certain government initiatives.

While the blog post garnered much attention because of the sheer outrageousness of the situation, this is nothing new in Taiwan.

Yes, we cannot expect all English to be perfect in Taiwan when it is not the native language, but this is the government’s Tourism Bureau. With its resources and funds, it should be setting an example for tourist attractions on how to promote themselves.

Outside of tourism, a particularly egregious example is the Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office’s English translation of its Top 10 Financial Fraud Investigation Records, which had bad grammar from beginning to end and even spelled the office’s own name wrong in one paragraph.

The sad thing is that the original is an interesting and well-written book. However, this is an example of how important proper use of language is — not hiring a good copy editor can sabotage even the greatest masterpiece written by the greatest writer.

On the other hand, praise must be given to the Tainan Literature Museum, which not only has excellent displays, but impeccable and lively English — due to the simple fact that it hired a native English speaker to proofread all the text.

Why is it that government organizations can never seem to find that elusive creature — a native English speaker? Or do they even try?

In this case, it seems that the bureau simply hired a New York-based company to run the account and other sites — which makes things even worse, as the government spent taxpayer dollars to pay a US-based company, owned by Taiwanese, it seems, to write poor English.

Taiwan has plenty of well-known travel and food writers, bloggers, photographers and videographers who are fluent in English and are able to manage their own sites without much of a hitch. Why not hire one of them? These people already know what they are doing, and they already have the results to show for it. Why reach across the world when talent is on our doorstep? With the government so concerned about brain drain, this makes no sense.

Finally, and most importantly, when cutting costs on any project that involves English texts, do not leave out the native English copy editor.

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