Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Chinese English (pt 1): Culture and Context

The questions of Chinese English have been on my mind a lot lately -- questions like "what is it?" and "does it exist?" and "what do people think it is?" and "how do people (Chinese and non-Chinese) interpret its use?" I'll be exploring it some more in the coming weeks, but for now, let me share with you a paragraph I recently read from a textbook written for Chinese elementary school students.

Why Can't You Drink Cold Water Right After Sport?

After you play some sport, you often feel thirsty. So you like to drink some water or some orange juice. But you mustn't drink anything cold. It is not good for your stomach. If you have a cold drink, you may be sick. Your parents will worry about you. And you can't go to school. You can't see your friends. You can't play outside.
Why can't you drink cold water right after sport?

Although I disagree with the premise of this paragraph, since I didn't grow up with the Chinese belief that cold drinks are bad for you, in some ways I'm heartened to see that English is being used to transmit Chinese cultural norms. Too often, English textbooks use "Western" examples and scenarios, which I think must be somewhat alienating. By now, learning English is not like learning a foreign language "just for fun" that you'll never use, and so the idea that it must be tied to learning American or British culture is beginning to become a bit less relevant. I'm always trying to tell my students that a language can be used by anyone, and that their goal is not to become like "Western" English speakers, but to develop their own use of English as individuals with a Chinese cultural identity. (Not in so many words, of course.)

1 comment:

monsterpants said...

Joel you are doing good work. It's great that there are people like you and Sarah teaching English, you have a great outlook on it and I'm really excited about what you guys are doing.