Thursday, November 22, 2007

Chinese English (pt 2): "I have right to speak English in this way."

After my students read Amy Tan's "Mother Tongue" (yes, I realize this is utterly unoriginal in terms of comp class readings), I asked them this question:

Amy Tan believes that there is not only one way to speak English, but many different “Englishes.” Do you agree or disagree? We know about “American English” and “British English,” but can you describe “Chinese English?”

I expected that I'd get a lot of answers telling me the Chinese English (or "Chinglish," as some call it) is sub-standard and that students should work hard to improve their English. Why did I expect this? Because a lot of times, students like to give the answers they think we want to hear. I've read a ton of freewrites that end with something like "I know I must be a good student and study harder."

Actually, though, about 90% of the responses concluded the following basic points (my paraphrase):

1. Chinese English is as valid as any other English.
2. Chinese people can understand each other when they use Chinese English, so what's the problem?
3. As long as the basic meaning comes across, it's not necessary to use "correct" English grammar.

some even added:
4. Chinese English will eventually become known as a standard English*.

One of my favorite responses reads, in part:

"Sometime we use the wrong tense that American cannot understand what we say but we think we do the good work. And most of us pronunciation is not correct. It is easy misunderstanding. But I have right to speak English in this way."

Some responses indicated a pretty sophisticated understanding of language (as in, who decides what is the right way to speak English anyway?), while some were more nationalistic. One thing's clear: these students have no problem with Chinese English. What does this mean for me as a teacher of "academic English writing" in China? I don't know yet...

* I'll also mention here that almost all of my students, when unscientifically polled, believe in the inevitability of Chinese replacing English as the "international language" in the future.

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