Chinglish traced back to Chinglish-speaking teacher

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By TIANTIAN XIANGSHANG
Education Correspondent

Benvolio's image was once used to sell everything from Western-style cutlery to hair perming kits

BEIJING (China Daily Show) – The mystery behind the spread of “Chinglish” – an Asian version of English that commonly includes weird and wonderful verbal contortions – appears to have finally been solved.

The bizarre alternative language has been conclusively traced to Mario Benvolio, an illiterate Spanish-American teacher who emigrated to China in 1981, where he quickly became its foremost authority on English teaching.

At the height of his fame, Benvolio, the illegitimate son of an itinerant blonde hippie and a Chilean dictator’s son, was China’s top-selling author. In 1983, his Easy Learning is English series outsold Quotations from Chairman Mao by sixteen to one.

Benvolio regularly taught rallies of up to 50,000 students where his catchphrase –  “Now is time for punching the English books!” – became a national rallying cry.

Yet today, little is known of the millionaire linguist.

Documents seen by China Daily Show demonstrate that the man who would one day come to be known as “Big Nose Teacher” spent his formative years in a Mexican detention centre, where he learnt English from Spanish-language TV.

“It was his dearest wish to some day become a teacher,” said ‘Pablo,’ one of his former cell guards. “Probably because he never had one himself.”

Benvolio originally came to China to learn guitar, with the apparent hope of forming a Uighur prog-rock group. He ended up changing his plans, however, after being mistaken at the border for a Turkmenistani rebel leader and badly beaten.

“At this time, China was opening up and looking for foreign experts to come over and aid in their development, of which English learning was critical,” said Sir William Buckfast, a noted expert on China affairs. “But this was thirty-odd years ago, so they were accepting anyone. The teaching environment remains much the same today, in fact.”

On being released from jail, Benvolio agreed to teach English at Beijing’s top Communist Party School, where his fame quickly spread.

“I love English, in China is good, but also the applauding. Whereas, so happy now, it makes me smell,” he was quoted as saying in a 1984 copy of People’s Daily – by which time he was making upwards of 5,000 yuan a week in book royalties.

The linguistically-challenged pedagogue went on to marry four times, sire seven children and was interviewed in some of China’s most influential and respected publications.

“Now a days to learn English, it is necessary for the every people,” Benvolio told That’s Lanzhou magazine in his last interview, explaining  the popularity of his English-teaching textbooks. “Most of people use the English in foreigner. And as China is a ‘developer country,’ it also increases the life standing.”

After 1992, though, Benvolio gradually receded from public view, and was replaced by a succession of similarly inept teachers from developed countries such as the US, UK and Sudan. But the legacy of his teaching lives on in menus, street signs and posters across the nation.

As for Benvolio himself, the once-iconic English teacher has not been seen in China for over a year, having decided to return to the US to support Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.

The Republican nominee’s standing has since declined in the polls. Benvolio, meanwhile, has been detained indefinitely under the Patriot Act.

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Advice and tips from Easy Learning is English (1981)

Food: “In the USA, it is fine to eat with just the knife and the fork with the spoon, and maybe it is the pizza restaurant or a Japanese place or any restaurant is fine.”

Filial piety: “It is most important you to study hard learn English for futuring times, but also lovemaking with your father and the mother all the day.”

Studying: “Doing the examining when you are go to college. Please to say one day hope you speaking English as best as me!”

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Benvolio personally oversaw the English-translation work on much of China's modern urban signage

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