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China’s quirky English affair

world Updated: Oct 04, 2009 01:09 IST
Reshma Patil
Reshma Patil
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Until she was 18, Alice never left the village where she goes fishing and hill climbing, to visit Beijing. “People in the village say this is China, please don’t speak English!’’ Alice, the first English-speaker in her family, told

HT

.

Alice is the English avataar of Cui Yingge, 22, who participated in 10 English-speaking contests since school and plans a career teaching English. She escapes from her Beijing hostel every weekend to her village reachable by a ‘big bus for three hours, then a small bus for two hours’.

http://www.hindustantimes.com/images/edstoryimg/storypix_china.jpgOfficials ensure that the contests foster patriotism. Last year on television, Alice spoke for three minutes on her contribution to the Beijing Olympics. "When foreigners come to Beijing, many people can’t open their mouths to speak,’’ she said.

In a rural suburb, Wong Wei, 22, recites 10 English proverbs — ‘health is better than wealth’ — every day on her college teacher’s instructions. Then Wong, also called Vivian, prepares speeches on 100 topics for a national spoken English television contest starting October 10.

English is still coming of age in the world’s fastest-growing economy that turned 60 this week. Last month in Beijing, English teachers began prowling the streets to correct Chinglish signboards in a cleanup that alarmed fans as the death of English mixed up with quirky Chinese grammar.

Chinglish translation
Wash clothing store: laundry

No nearing: stay back

People mountain people sea:crowded
Give you some colour to see:punishment

Step back: massage parlour

I like your smile but unlike you put your shoes on my face:Keep off the grass

Wash after relief
They looked for warnings that the ‘slippery are very crafty’ and ‘loose bones’ outside massage parlours. The corrections were authorised by the Beijing Speaks Foreign Language Office that explained the campaign like this: Standardised signage is the symbolisation of civilisation’’.

About 200-300 million Chinese students study English —analysts here say the number is ahead of the US. But the system

is based on rote learning and discourages fluency.

In India, reportedly the second-largest nation of fluent English speakers after the US, the English-speaking skilled workforce remains an edge over China where thousands of institutions are trying to build ‘international’ Chinese generations, with mixed results.

In October, China Central Television or CCTV will launch the eighth spoken-English cup with 3,300 competitors nationwide. Alice reached the quarterfinals last year. “The viewership and English-level of the participants is rising year by year,’’ Wang Feizhou, assistant controller of CCTV International, told HT. He said the contest also promotes ‘world peace’.

Mainland netizens still prefer to surf Chinese websites and read Chinese newspapers. Educated waiters often look baffled if customers order from English menus. But thousands throng the Crazy English sessions of Li Yang who claims to have trained several million Chinese through rousing sermons on grounds.

In June, the first Chinese monks to learn English at a Shanghai university completed an eight-month course launched after monks competed in an English-speaking contest in Shanghai last year.

As construction signs in China proclaim, people are ‘working in progress’.