Qing dynasty textbook shows how Chinese people tried to learn English 150 years ago

If you think learning Chinese is hard now, how about mastering English pronunciation via Chinese characters in the mid-19th century?

Last week, a Chinese collector living in Chengdu showed off an old textbook that was apparently used to teach Chinese people to speak English during the late Qing dynasty (1644-1911). A note printed on the book reads, “Emperor Xianfeng’s 10th year of reign,” which would be 1860, Chengdu Business Daily reported.

The book contains helpful phrases such as, “You want cheap go buy other man,” “Tomorrow I give you answer” and “Very much this silk.”

Along with words of wisdom like, “Don’t stop half way and fail” and “Don’t answer at random.”

Above the English phrase is its meaning written in Chinese characters, meanwhile below the phrase is a series of nonsense characters that were apparently meant to help students phonetically pronounce the words above in English.

Obviously, China has come a long in way in 150 years. Earlier this summer, the city of Hangzhou published a pronunciation guide ahead of the G20 summit to help allow residents to greet foreign visitors. The “English made easy” booklet included 100 English phrases along with Chinese words accompanying each sentence which attempted to imitate the sound of the original English.

For instance, “Welcome to Hangzhou” became “wai-kan-mu tu Hang Zhou” and “Hangzhou, the most beautiful city in China” became “Hangzhou, mou-si-te, bu-you-te-fu si-ti yin qian-a.)


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