Monday, 1 March 2010

Young Chinese lose their mother tongue in ‘English’ seduction

It strains credulity that a Chinese university would require an applicant to be tested in English, but not Chinese, to demonstrate knowledge of the humanities.

1 comment:

Guanyu 道 said...

It strains credulity that a Chinese university would require an applicant to be tested in English, but not Chinese, to demonstrate knowledge of the humanities.

However, four universities in Shanghai were criticized by the public in January for doing just that - using English-language tests about humanities - Western and Chinese alike.

Western countries are recognizing the importance of Chinese culture by encouraging China to set up Confucius Institutes around the world, teaching both language and culture.

By contrast, some Chinese seem to be unmooring themselves from their own language - as evidenced, in part, by the swelling interest in English. If foreigners are taking so much interest in Chinese, then it should be needless to say that Chinese people should take more interest.

Much of the responsibility for this lapse and skewed perception lies with education authorities, who argue that grasping English concepts leads to greater opportunities in finding an occupation.

This reasoning is flawed. Not all jobs or professions require a strong command of English. Some careers, such as traditional Chinese medicine or journalism in Chinese, depend on Chinese language and concepts, far more than English.


This fallacy is reinforced by educational authorities who make English mandatory from kindergarten through studies for a bachelor’s degree.

What makes this situation even more preposterous is that after a certain level, studying Chinese is often optional.

This results in a situation in which students lose focus on Chinese, and thus their grip on Chinese is significantly loosened. At the same time, a common method of “quick” English learning requires memorizing a sea of vocabulary that stymies creative and critical thinking.

Many Chinese students do not undertake English studies holistically; their speaking ability is often poor, which leads to the apt expression “deaf English.”

This overwhelming focus on English, to the neglect of Chinese, ends up robbing Chinese people of their own culture. It produces Chinese college students who have been so immersed in English or scientific fields that they cannot even express themselves properly in Chinese.

We must ask the question: what kind of Chinese person embraces Western culture (often in a superficial way) when he or she hasn’t built a solid foundation of Chinese?

An article published in Wenhui Daily on February 24 says satirically that many Chinese students don’t even know the proper Chinese name of Confucius or Mencius. While Confucius should be translated into kong zi, many Chinese students translate it into kang fu she si. What a joke!

Chinese students in the past were expected to memorize at least 300 Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) poems and enormous amounts of classical texts. They were required to understand ancient Chinese culture in a very detailed manner.


However, influenced by modernization and Westernization, most modern-day Chinese school children (rather, their parents) place more emphasis on English, business math and the sciences.

Western things appear to replace Chinese customs and values that are supposed to run in their own blood. This invasion of English has seeped into employment requirements as well, where certificates of English proficiency are required for most jobs that have no need for English.

This shouldn’t be the case.

Chinese language is a rich expression of culture. Many characters take the shape of the real objects that it describes and it has a continuous history of more than 5,000 years. It’s still evolving. Chinese is an unrivalled language.

Busy people should take time from their hectic work life and family demands to study Chinese language and make it part of their schedule.

Knowing Chinese well enough to recite famous classical poems should be a basic moral obligation for all Chinese because it determines their identity.

(The author is a student from Sydney who now studies in Shanghai.)