What We Say


As the trans-continental railroad stretched east from California, a flood of Chinese workers made the trip to America looking for work on the railroad and in the booming California economy.


Of the books that have survived from that time are Chinese-English translation books.  And the phrases they translate are very telling, as it were.

Translated for Chinese speakers are phrases such as….

  • Yes sir
  • I’m sorry
  • Thank you
  • Excuse me

Translated for English speakers are phrases such as….

  • Go away
  • You can’t have more money
  • Clean my clothes
  • And all sort of profanity and threats

And that got me to thinking….

If they listened to our conversations and wrote down the things we said most often, what would make it into the book?

  • I love you
  • I’m so proud of you
  • I can’t wait until I get home
  • You’re so good at that


  • Be quiet
  • Just a minute
  • Stop
  • No
  • Wait
  • Hush

What if someone listened to our conversations with our families….What kind of translation book would they make?