"The whole movement of life is learning" (Krishnamurti). "To be an act of knowing, then, the adult literacy process must engage the learners in the constant problematizing of their existential situations" (Freire). "Once you learn to read, you will be forever free" (Douglass). "I can learn anything I have the desire to learn" (White, S.G.).

Sunday, April 7, 2013

English in China

Thank you Susan for upgrading our blog! It's even fancier now ~~~You are so good!

The reading this week is so interesting. It is definitely one of my top three favorites through out the semester.  I can connect with it so much, and it makes me reflect on my own experience. The status of English in China has also been a controversial topic for a long time. Different from the two cases discussed in the readings, English is neither an official language nor a national language, but it cannot be over emphasized in the educational system.

In the first piece, there is an idea that the pride of learning English is not laid in the language itself, but the information one can get via English. I never though in this way before, but it makes me ponder the reason why we spend so much time and energy in learning English in China. Generally, I think there are three reasons for it. First one is about self-actualization. For example, personally, I like English a lot, and chose it as my major. I feel good about myself when I can speak fluently and be understood. It is an skill set which makes me feel competent, just as being able to swim or to cook well. It adds to my personal identity and helps shape who I am. I may not use it often, but I can choose to use it when I want to. Having this choice is very empowering. In this perspective, learning English is not about how others see me, but about my value and how I see myself. 

Honestly, not everyone likes English as much as I do and is willing to devote to it. For these people, there are more practical reasons for learning English, one of which is to access information in English. China has participated in the global market for three decades. There is an incredible amount of information available only in English. To be the first one to get those original information is to have the greatest opportunity to win in the competition. In this case, the significance of English lays in the importance of the information. English is more a tool to obtain the value than the value itself. This is very similar to the situation described in our reading, where the brothers read in English only when the information is not available in their mother tongue. 

There is another reason for learning English in China which I didn't see in the first piece, but in the second one. Because of educational and economic policies, English has been promoted as a label of the elite class. In the article, parents send their children to private school to learn English so that they will have a bigger chance to succeed. In China, many elementary students are learning English, which are not compulsory until the middle school, to build a solid foundation for the English class later. For these children, the competency of English is a source of respect. They will be highly valued and preferred by their teachers and peers because they are good at English. Also, being able to use English is a sign of the well educated. Celebrities choose themselves English names and put them in their online profiles. Companies create their logos in English. No matter how wrong the grammar is, using English seems to bring a product to a higher level. 

With the increasing popularity of English, it has begun to influence Chinese and become a vent for the new generation to voice their questions to the social problems. In the recent decade, a number of new words are created by combining Chinese with English. For example, in Chinese, there is a word “Gei Li" which means "powerful" or "successful". With English suffix"-able", it is transformed into "geilivable". Also, the word "Niu Bi", which means "competent" or "impressive", is transformed into "Nuibility". Some others words are transformed in a more sarcastic way, which indicates the anger and helplessness of the people toward the problematic political system. "Citizen" becomes "Shitizen". "Freedom" becomes "Freedamn". "Democracy" becomes "Democrazy". "Internet" becomes "Innernet". Although none of these words has not been officially acknowledged, they are widely used on the Internet. 

Although these linguistic phenomenon can be regarded as a cry for political reform, some people believe that it polluts the purity of Chinese. There are reasons for their concern. The emphasis on English has heavily threatened and undermined the inheritance of the traditional Chinese literacy and culture, just as what it has done to many other languages and cultures. Then to what degree should we embrace English? How to balance the states of our own language and English? How to maintain our own culture while learn the essence of the western culture? These are questions that all the non-English-Speaking countries need to think about in the process of globalization.  There is a piece of TED Talk about the mania of learning English. I am not sure if I agree with the speaker’s opinion, but it is definitely an interesting one. Hope you will like it.


  1. Thank you for sharing and teaching me Annie. I enjoyed the video too. Your post gave the story of the brothers life by making it more universal.

  2. This blog resonates with deep insight, Annie. Your honesty -- in terms of your contingent and evolving relationship with English and the English movement -- allows us to gain a more embodied, vivid, even 'disturbing' understanding, as Lisa suggests.

    Of the three motivations in your argument (competency, content, status) competency is the one I had least thought of. I wonder for learners who do not possess your level of "Nuibility", how much more problematic this process must be. My guess is, that a lack of competence must bring with it less status and less access to content as well....Thank you for this gem, and for the eye-opening TED Talk.


Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this post. Diverse opinions are welcomed.