Blogs // Rob Williams

Chinese for EU

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I was walking down the main road near where I live in London and, in common with most main roads in London, buses whizz up and down it. Normally I don’t give the adverts on the buses a second glance, but one advert caught my eye recently. It was completely in Chinese. Not a word of English – just a white background and large black Chinese characters. I have no idea what it was advertising, and I will ask some of my Chinese colleagues at work when they are back off holiday. But really that’s not the point. The point is that this is the first time that I have ever seen an advertisement in such a public space entirely in a different language in London. Not even in Heathrow Airport, where you might expect multi-nationals to try to catch the eye of passing executives in transit, have I seen this. And – just to reiterate – it was totally in Chinese. Not French, which most of us have some knowledge of, or other languages closer to home. So the question is, who is this for? Has the Chinese community in London grown so large that companies feel it is worth buying advertising space on buses? Are there now so many Chinese tourists in London that they have become a separate target group for advertising campaigns? I would be surprised if this were so. In my travels I have seen advertising in English in countries where there is no Roman script. Here we have the opposite – what stronger evidence do we need that Chinese is becoming a world language? All the more reason to start learning…

Rob Williams

Rob is a principal lecturer in the Department of Modern and Applied Languages at the University of Westminster in London, where he runs an MA in International Liaison and Communication. He has visited China on a number of occasions and has worked with students from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs among others on the MA. He is also President of the ICC International Language Association, an NGO dedicated to enhancing the teaching and learning of languages to adults and in professional environments. His passions are travel, talking to people from everywhere in the world and making music.