Thursday, February 19, 2015

It's Chinese New Year -- What Year Is It In English?

Happy Chinese New Year!  Today begins the Year of the Sheep!  No, wait, it’s the Year of the Goat!  Er, no, it’s the Year of the Ram!   Um...which one is it, exactly???

Well, that depends on which language you are speaking.  In Chinese, it’s the Year of the Yáng.  The word yáng refers to all three of those animals and Chinese speakers differentiate among them by using qualifying words with yáng.  But English has three distinct words for each animal and that is how the confusion arises because yáng can be translated as sheep, goat or ram.

When I was newly-arrived in China, I found it very puzzling because some people would translate it one way into English and other people would translate it with a different word.  I didn’t understand what people meant until it was explicitly explained to me that yáng meant both sheep and goat.  Here’s an article in today’s New York Times about what people in China feel about the issue: A New Year With a Name That’s a Matter of Opinion.  You can also view this one-minute video from the BBC about it: Chinese Lunar New Year Confusion Over Sheep.

I don't really know what the fact that one word in Chinese means three words in English says about Chinese culture, but it’s useful and important for teachers to be aware that words in other languages do not always have clear translations into English.  Knowing that a word in a foreign language may have more than one translation may prevent confusion in the classroom when teaching ELLs who are not yet proficient enough to make such distinctions.

And if you are looking for some Chinese New Year-themed products, please check out the items below, which will be on sale for 50% off starting February 19th at 10:00am Mountain Standard Time through February 20th at 10:00am MST:
It's Chinese New Year -- What Year Is It In English?
Click HERE for more info; source: The ESL Nexus

It's Chinese New Year -- What Year Is It In English?
Click HERE for more info; source: The ESL Nexus
 Xīn Nián Kuài Le!  Which does mean Happy New Year in English!

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