While living in Shijiazhuang, China, I was contacted by the dean of the Foreign Language department at Hebei Normal University, where I was teaching at the time. She wanted to know if I would be interested in doing some voice work for the city’s recently-announced metro system: The provincial media bureau wanted English announcements in addition to the standard Mandarin. Naturally, I was quite interested.
I received pages of the lines I was to record – everything from station announcements to emergency contingency instructions – and found that many of them used language conventions that, while grammatically correct, were clearly translated directly out of Chinese. They ranged from pretty close to funny to nearly incomprehensible, and I was legitimately concerned that reading them as-is would lead to confusion, distraction, or even serious accidents.
I approached my contact at the telecom bureau and explained my view of the situation, showing examples of some announcements that needed no changes, others that could be rephrased to be more standard, and others that would need to be completely rewritten. Fortunately, my contact was on my side and in full agreement, and we worked together to research international wording standards and edit the copy for voice, tone, and clarity.
I recorded the lines a few months later, returning several times over the following years as plans and station names changed. The metro opened in June 2017, and it was surreal to hear my voice echoing through subway cars in between each stop. My students frequently sent me recordings of myself when they ventured up to the subway.
Construction on the Shijiazhuang Metro continues, with new rail lines opening and expanding on a regular basis. As a result, even though I moved away from China nearly two years ago, my collaboration with them is ongoing, and I periodically revise and record new announcements for them.