As well as learning how to read menus, receipts, bank slips and store signs in Chinese, I'm also learning a bit about my own language and how we Americans actually speak. I'm tutoring this head of a software company named Michael that makes online games that are popular in Asia, but so far have no market in America. (He obviously wants to change this.) The lessons he wants are simple enough: American colloquial English and idiomatic phrases, and not to emulate us, but to understand the way we talk and think. Ultimately, he wants to do a lot of business with Americans.

English is required in Chinese schools, but many Chinese cannot speak English; they can only read with little sense of what anything means or answer grammar questions. There are only a few English language proficiency tests that even require spoken English and none that really focus on American/British culture. So, in turn, Chinese do not understand phrases like "Sorry, I didn't get around to it"or "They have a lot of sense, I'm gonna go with them" or "I'm about ready" and instead they're stuck with "How do you do?"and "I'd like to pay you a visit" or phraseology we no longer use. It's a difficult situation, since a lot of the colloquial English books on the market are woefully outdated or freely mix casual language from multiple eras and American sub-cultures, which offer no real context and are therefore useless.

Even though I've just started with Michael, he likes my lessons enough to bring up the idea of somehow marketing teaching English within a more cultural context. It seems like if you're tenacious, you could somehow make some money with Beijing's English teaching racket.


alesh said...

Holy crap -- Ross is going to revolutionize how english is taught in China!

You need to start writing all this stuff down, and who knows, maybe you're the one to write that textbook.

Dadkle said...

Last night I watched a television show about China. A young woman who was featured on this program decided to have major plastic surgery in order to "improve" her appearance. She an was average looking woman.
She stated that with so many qualified people available for every job in China competition for a promotion was extremely fierce. She was also one of the many "only child" Chinese, so there was a lot of pressure to succeed coming from her family. She had surgery to achieve a "classic Asian oval" face, and had eyelid folds inserted above her eyes. She said she wanted to look more like Barbie, because she was "so lovely". The scary thing was the results- I actually thought she looked good! I was really surprised by my reaction. I expected freakish results.
Perhaps a sort of plastic surgery/English language makeover would be a good money maker.
Are you listening Ross? :)
I think the colloquial English approach is a terrific...but don't you think a common version of colloquial English would need to be used? Native speakers can understand mumbled words, poor grammar and sentence structure because of personal experience with the language-we can "make sense of it". How can an inexperienced speaker do the same?