Chinglish – adventures in new languages

Posted on May 27, 2011


English may well be considered the closest thing we’ve got to a “global language”, but anybody who thinks that our native-speaker status gives us a linguistic upper-hand is very mistaken.

Depending on which websites you visit and which newspapers you read, there are approximately 300 million English learners in China. According to a study by the British Council in 2009, China is churning out 20 million new English speakers a year. The simple message is this: whether you classify them as fluent speakers or not, there are a lot of people in China learning or speaking English.

Since I’ve been in Hangzhou I’ve been living at the Gateway Language Village, getting my qualification as a TEFL teacher (Teaching English as a Foreign Language). It’s been an amazing experience so far, largely because it is such a privilege to teach in a society where education is so highly valued.

The students here are excited about learning English, and they are prepared to work very hard to master the language. They are very well-behaved and it came as no surprise to me when I read the results of a pupil behaviour league table the other day – two Chinese cities (Shanghai and Hong Kong) are ranked in the top five for best behaviour.

In my very first class, I discovered that my primary school students could spell a word using phonemes! As a lover of the English language, I’ve got to admit that I still have to think twice about using an ‘æ’ or ‘ə’. And I doubt that I’m the only native English speaker with this problem!

The hours are long, but it’s a really worthwhile experience. While here, I’m also studying Mandarin, and so my mind is full of languages at the moment! I am constantly thinking about how I’m moving my mouth, or how the person beside me is rolling their tongue, or how this sound in Chinese makes me think of that word in English!

Last week I was given my Chinese name, which is Lín Yuè Rú, after a famous Chinese video game character-cum-soap star. Literally, the hanzi characters representing the name mean Forest, Moon, Jade:

How beautiful! And this is my namesake:

Posted in: Language, Travel