Letters from China: Crazy English – The national scramble to learn a new language before the Olympics.

The other night, as I was waiting to meet up with a friend of mine for a drink at the Tied House in downtown Mountain View, I dropped by Books, Inc. and was browsing the magazine section when I came across the latest issue of The New Yorker, and came across this intriguing article titled, “Letters from China: Crazy English – The national scramble to learn a new language before the Olympics.” The article profiles a motivational English teacher Li Yang, and China’s efforts to teach the Beijing Olympic volunteers English in anticipation of foreigners attending the games. Yi has become the Anthony Robbins of teaching English in China:

“He is China’s Elvis of English, perhaps the world’s only language teacher known to bring students to tears of excitement. He has built an empire out of his country’s deepening devotion to a language it once derided as the tongue of barbarians and capitalists. His philosophy, captured by one of his many slogans, is flamboyantly patriotic: “Conquer English to Make China Stronger!”… China has been in the grip of “English fever,” as the phenomenon is known in Chinese, for more than a decade. A vast national appetite has elevated English to something more than a language: it is not simply a tool but a defining measure of life’s potential…English has become an ideology, a force strong enough to remake your résumé, attract a spouse, or catapult you out of a village. Linguists estimate the number of Chinese now studying or speaking English at between two hundred million and three hundred and fifty million, a figure that’s on the order of the population of the United States. English private schools, study gadgets, and high-priced tutors vie for pieces of that market. The largest English school system, New Oriental, is traded on the New York Stock Exchange.”

I remember when I was in Beijing last summer, I met a local Chinese woman who was interested in practicing her English with me. Additionally, walking around a Beijing mall, bookstore or in the subway, I certainly saw advertisements for English language schools and books on learning English.

It doesn’t surprise me that with the growth of the Chinese economy and China’s stature and influence internationally, along with the 2008 Beijing Olympics, that the popularity and importance of English as a foreign language is growing. For better or worse (especially for Americans), English is truly the international language of communications. However, French, along with English, are the two official languages of the Olympics – as the modern day Olympics was established through the efforts of a Frenchmen.

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About John

I'm a Taiwanese-American and was born & raised in Western Massachusetts, went to college in upstate New York, worked in Connecticut, went to grad school in North Carolina and then moved out to the Bay Area in 1999 and have been living here ever since - love the weather and almost everything about the area (except the high cost of housing...)
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