the heart of amusement world

Indeed, I have already obtained some measure of amusement from the new East Point shopping center.  It’s an innovative kind of bad Georgian English – almost Palinesque in its placement of imagery over grammar, evocative of a poorly translated Chinese menu read by Shalva Natelashvili (youtube).

Okay, maybe that’s a bit harsh (although I’m not exactly sure to whom), but go and read it.  Or if you’re reading this in some dystopian future where the East Point website has been competently edited, have a gander at this screenshot:

East Point English

I kept rereading that second sentence looking for a predicate until I realized there wasn’t one.  Georgian English is usually big on comma splices, but I’ve never noticed a sentence fragment before – certainly not one this big.

It’s sad, because this is actually decent writing.  The copywriter has made some bold choices – like capitalizing “Shop, Dine, and Have Fun” – which suggest more than a passing familiarity with idiomatic English, slogans, and ad copy.  Since Georgian doesn’t have capital letters, this is an unusual area of focus in Georgian English style.

If I were proofreading this it would be easy: swap around some articles and hyphens, perhaps fix some of the fragments and splices (this fragment might even be okay if it started with “An open-concept” – fragments certainly aren’t unheard of in ad copy), and maybe fix a few word choice problems further down the page.  Aside from figuring out how to rephrase “heart of amusement world”, I would barely be earning my fee if I were proofreading this.

And yet, I’m not proofreading this – and neither is any other native speaker of English – because apparently someone decided that the exclusively English-language landing page of their 85,000 square meter real estate and business development project did not need to actually be written in proper English.

It can’t be about money.  If you can afford a web designer to build you a Bootstrap page you can afford the eight bucks it would cost to pay an English major to proofread four paragraphs.

No, this is clearly a case of neglect, but the question is, whose, and for what reason?  Someone was responsible for producing English text for this website, and that person either thought that this was correct English or thought that having your English be correct didn’t matter.

How does this happen?  My current theory is that someone was hired to be an interpreter or customer service representative, or something, and got this task foisted on them through no fault of their own.  This person would have had to say either “I cannot write English at the native level” – something you wouldn’t want to admit if you’ve taken a job based on a claim to know English – or just go ahead and do their best.  Presumably this person did not think of consulting a native speaker themselves.  Perhaps this person even thought that he or she *could* write English at the native level.  In any case, I think we should have sympathy for this person.  The job market is tough in Georgia and the education system categorically fails to teach proper English, so what is a person to do if they want to feed their family and all they have is a degree in tourism or marketing and a B2 command of English?

So let’s not blame individuals.  Systemically, the institutions in this country generally fail to realize their employees’ inadequacy as English translators, copywriters, and proofreaders.

English teachers in Georgia are often asked to translate materials into English as (unpaid but mandatory) side work at their schools.  A teacher who is qualified to teach students at the A1 or A2 or B1 level (beginner through intermediate, say) is not necessarily qualified to translate academic or professional texts – a C-level task.  No one in Georgian schools speaks C-level English unless they’ve lived abroad or had some kind of extraordinary circumstance (like the ten-year-old girl I once taught who watched hours of English television a day and could speak flawlessly in not one but a variety of American accents), and even they might not be able to produce professional written texts.

Teaching skills are different from writing skills, and the basic communication taught in high school EFL is insufficient for either teaching or professional writing.  None of this is a dig on Georgian education.  I wouldn’t hire an American to write or proofread professional copy in a foreign language if they had only encountered that language in school.  If they hadn’t lived among native speakers of that language for at least a year I just wouldn’t trust them to have a native’s ear for the language, no matter what their diploma said.  And even then, I’d still prefer a native speaker for the job.

So really, what needs to happen is that firms (corporations and government agencies) have to decide, at the highest levels, to take accountability for the quality of English texts they produce, and hire qualified and competent proofreaders accordingly.  Until that becomes standard practice, the production of professional Georgian English will remain a laughingstock and an embarrassment.

And yes, I know Georgia has worse problems.  Still, if my business was trying to lure rich Tbilisians out to the airport highway to shop at stores most of which already exist all over the rest of the city, I’d make damned sure I spent eight of my marketing dollars to get the website copy proofed by a native speaker.

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