Subway sign translations to Chinese knocked

Transit activist Shanni Liang, right, translates a sign

Transit activist Shanni Liang, right, translates a sign in Chinese at at the uptown N and R Canal Station translates as "End of the Train Area" instead of Waiting Area, which is what it says in English. (June 5, 2012) (Credit: Newsday/Charles Eckert)

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Navigating subway diversions is hard enough, but poorly translated signs in Chinese neighborhoods make getting around even more difficult for non-English speakers, a new report says.

The study, conducted by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee, blasted the agency for its infrequent posting of signs in other languages and said that those that are put up are riddled with incorrect, confusing translations.

"Finding translated signs is very rare," said the report's author, Shanni Liang, who is fluent in Chinese. "If there is a sign, it's usually mistranslated."

Among the errors:

One sign posted this winter used the Chinese characters meaning "building or living area" instead of "uptown."

On the Canal Street R platform, a "waiting area" sign translates to "end of the train car." City Council member Margaret Chin, whose district includes Chinatown, said she wrote to the MTA last year, asking it to address "poor conditions" at the Canal Street stop.

"This report raises a number of concerns [about] . . . public transportation in majority Asian neighborhoods," Chin said in an email. "These neighborhoods rely heavily on buses and subways, and we must ensure that the MTA is meeting the service needs of ethnic communities throughout our city."Elizabeth OuYang, president of the New York Organization of Chinese Americans, acknowledged "it's not an easy job" for the MTA to translate signs from English to Chinese, but said "if they're going to do it, they should do it right."

"It's an issue of willingness to be inclusive," OuYang said, adding that a bad translation "fuels confusion when it was designed supposedly to eliminate confusion."

The report suggested the MTA create its own computer software to make translated signs, which it said would save the agency money over time.

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