Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

English in China

By Aussiegirl

My oh my, the French must be in a state of high dudgeon upon learning about the Chinese obsession with learning English!

The language business in China | English beginning to be spoken here | Economist.com

Today the Chinese are obsessed with English. Anything up to a fifth of the population is learning the language. As Gordon Brown, the British finance minister, observed on a trip to China last year, in two decades China's English speakers will already outnumber native English speakers in the rest of the world. This is fuelling a market that comprises everything from books, teaching materials and tests to teacher training and language schools themselves. At $60 billion a year, China is already the world's largest market for English-language services, estimates Mari Pearlman at ETS, an American group that developed TOEFL, a well-known test of English-language proficiency.
The Chinese government is not entirely comfortable with western teaching methods. China has no government drive to welcome native English speakers, unlike Japan, where the ministry of education runs the 19-year-old JET programme, which puts thousands of foreign teachers to work in state schools. Indeed, until a few years ago, private language schools in China could be fined for hiring foreign English teachers.

[...] Although China's passion for English is palpable, it will become a lucrative and open market only if China's Communist Party allows it to. It is reluctant because, along with English textbooks and teachers come western ways of learning and thinking—ways that might one day threaten the party's authority.


At 5:43 PM, Anonymous Niels Hovmöller said...

A propos "English in China": I pulled some strings to get an opportunity to teach English och (to teach the teaching of English) in China through my brother who is married to a Chinese woman, but found to my dismay that they only wanted native speakers. Their loss is greater than mine is my consolation. I have taught English in Sweden for over 30 years, have published books and a collection of exercises, produced language software and am involved in the construction of Swedish national tests of English. When I visited China a few years ago I was first amused, then bemused and finally appalled by the low standard of English in public contexts like information signs or posters. Our guides had mastered a lot of sentences about whatever they were assigned to show us, but as soon as we ventured outside the expected they were stumped. It will be interesting to see if the Chinese enthusiasm for English will be matched by a more modern and functional approach to learning and teaching.

I also enjoyed your blog about the size of the English vocabulary, although it all hinges on the definition of "word" and "have": what is a word (as opposed to a nonce word, a chemical compound, a Latin name, a number, a place-name etc. etc.; and how does one calculate where a word is part of the vocabulary or just a quotation, a grunt, an obsolete word (that may be resurrected) a highly technical term that nobody used or an abbreviation etc. etc.?
Hope you didn't find this response too long!
Niels Hovmöller, Sweden
PS Why Aussiegirl - you are not Autralian, are you?

At 12:40 PM, Blogger Aussiegirl said...

Thank you Niels, for your marvelous comment. I shall post it on the main board for others to enjoy. Please feel free to leave any other comments you wish, or even submit an article on a subject of your choosing. Your background sounds fascinating. As for English, yes, as the world's official technical and scientific language, English unquestionably contains many of those kinds of words, but I do think that English has a larger vocabulary, even in general usage, than most other languages. And I speak Ukrainian fluently and also some Russian and Spanish and Italian (very little of the latter two). For instance -- in English we can say -- fast, speedy, quick, rapid, fleet, rushing, breakneck, and probably many I can't bring to mind at the moment, while in Ukrainian we have one word "shvidko" -- and in French - "vite". It's perhaps because English has such a propensity to simply adopt words from all languages, and perhaps it also owes something to English colonialism, where the language picked up many African and Indian and other words and made them common parlance -- words such as ketchup, pajamas, bungalow, etc.

I'm fascinated by your experiences and would welcome any contributions to Ultima Thule based on your many travels and knowledge.

I am Ukrainian by origin - as my profile states my parents escaped from the Soviet Union during WWII -- but we lived for a time in Australia after the war. I should perhaps add this fact to the profile to explain my nom de cyber!


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