The FT doesn’t usually publish total nonsense, but there’s a story today which made me choke on my cup of tea.
According to a new study by the British Council, China is supposed to have more English speakers than India.
David Graddol, the author, puts the number of English speakers in India at five per cent, or 55 million, and says China is turning out 20 million new English speakers each year.
The FT says if this is true, India has lost one of its “clear economic advantages” over China and will find it harder to compete, given China has superior infrastructure and a more flexible supply of labour.
Anyone who has been to both countries, however, can see that this survey is bogus. Barely anyone in China speaks English.
By contrast, almost every Indian has a basic English vocabulary. And the Indian middle class, the politicians, businessmen and intellectuals, are all fluent.
Students in China are forced to rote-learn English in school, sometimes for years, but it is a rare person who can actually speak the language. Even the foreign sales managers of export businesses, who depend on business from American and English companies, are often oddly tongue-tied.
It is easier to rub by in Beijing and Shanghai, which are both fairly touristy, but simple things, like taking a taxi, remain nearly impossible without a bit of Mandarin. And I always worry about the tourists who backpack around China. If they cannot speak Chinese, I imagine they have an intensely lonely, difficult and unpleasant time.
China, because of its size and its centuries of isolation, rivals the US and the UK as a nation of monoglots.
Unlike the US and the UK, however, China does have a grand ambition to transform itself, and mastering English is part of the plan. There is a great piece here, from the New Yorker, about the drills in English before the Olympics last year.
Meanwhile, my favourite story about learning English comes from Factory Girls, by Leslie Chang. At the “Assembly Line Learning Machines” school in Dongguan, one of China’s biggest factory cities, students paid 600 yuan (£52) a month to sit in front of oval metal machines. As the students look at the machines, they rotate a series of words past their eyes.
张墀言写道：“一栏单词从我眼前闪过。CLEAN, RUDE, PIZZA, CREEP.”
Mrs Chang writes: “A column of words floated past me. CLEAN, RUDE, PIZZA, CREEP.”
She explains: “The guiding principle was that treating people like machines was the key to mastering English. After learning the alphabet and the phonetic sounds of the language, a student sat at a machine while columns of English words rotated past. The student read aloud each word and wrote it down without knowing what it meant, week after week, until he attained the highest speed. He then proceeded to another machine that showed Chinese definitions of words; next he advanced to short sentences. When a student achieved the top speed – able to write six hundred English sentences in one hour – he graduated to basic grammar. Only then did he learn the meaning of the words, phrases and sentences he had been repeating for months.”
She goes on to speak to the inventor, Mr Wu. “‘On the assembly line, people can sit and work for eight or ten hours without rest,’ he said. ‘If only we could learn that way, how good it would be!’”. Needless to say, Mr Wu didn’t prosper.
2009-11-22 20:14 编辑：kuaileyingyu
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