I am always fascinated by announcements made or signs written in different languages, because despite sounding or looking different from one another, they often carry with them messages of the same meanings. If I understand the different languages presented, I would scrutinize and compare to see how each message is translated from one language to another, and perhaps seeing how the grammar works differently with different languages. If I don’t understand the languages presented, I would enjoy the visual or audio aesthetics differences in which two messages of the same meanings can be presented in such different ways (be it in terms of the characters written, or the sounds and rhythms unique to a certain language).

In Singapore, all announcements at train stations are generally made in the four official languages- English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil. I can only comprehend well the first two languages, whereas the Malay and Tamil versions of the  announcements are merely music to the ear. However, if you listen carefully, you could sometimes catch and interprete some parts of the seemingly incomprehensible language. For example, there is an announcement that warns people to be aware of suspicious looking bags lying around the station that could contain bombs, and at the end of the announcement, it prompts people to call the police at 999 if one sees any of those. Even if you do not understand any other word in the announcement in Malay nor Tamil, you could always catch the part where three identical words are repeated. Logically thinking, it would represent (in the English version), “nine nine nine”.

I went to Taiwan in March last year and I was surprised to hear train announcements made in four languages and dialects as well- Mandarin, English, the Taiwanese dialect and the Hakka dialect. On the same trip, I left Taiwan after a five-day stay and headed off to England. I was on a train in England, on my way to Heathrow Airport, when I heard announcements made in four languages- English, Spanish, French and German (not sure of the order). I guess it is only natural for announcements to get more internationalized when it comes to places with more foreigners (like a train heading towards the airport). I knew English, Spanish and French, though I could hardly catch any complete phrases in Spanish and French. Still, it was interesting for me to hear how an announcement would be made in those languages, and how they address passengers differently, as in “Ladies and Gentlemen”, “Mesdames et messieurs”, and “Señoras y señores”.

I was in Korea just last week, and the “multilingual” announcements in the Korean subway just caught my attention. The multilingual announcements at airports were perfectly fine and well translated into four languages- Korean, English, Japanese and Chinese, but there were a few that really tickled me everytime I heard them.

Let me give you an example. There is this subway interchange station in Seoul called “고속터미널”, an intersection between lines 3, 7 and 9. 고속터미널 literally means Express Terminal, but it actually refers to the Express Bus Terminal. So the announcements go like this:

“다음 역은 고속터미널, 고속터미널입니다.

The next station is Express Bus Terminal, Express Bus Terminal.”

The first two are totally fine and comprehensible, but I had to stifle a giggle when I heard the next two (in Japanese and Chinese).

“次の停車駅は”고속터미널”、”고속터미널”です。

前方到站是”고속터미널”,”고속터미널”。”

In other words, the name of the station (Express Bus Terminal) was only translated into English, whereas the original phrase in Korean (고속터미널) was used for the Japanese and Chinese announcements!!

I can imagine how the Japanese and Chinese tourists would panic after listening to the announcements and frantically trying to locate 고속터미널 on their subway maps, but to no avail, because on the multilingual subway maps, the names of the stations are all translated properly into the respective languages!

I wonder how train announcements work in other countries?

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