Liuzhou Laowai

Random thoughts on life in Liuzhou, Guangxi, China

China’s Language Learning and Laowai Lunatics

One of the perils of living in China over a long period is the number of completely unstable foreigners you meet. I have met many people here who were lovely, but I have also met more than my fair share of complete lunatics.

Here follows a tale of one of the minor examples.

Recently, in my travels around town, I bump into a fellow foreigner who informs me that he is here to reform the education system, particularly with regard to English teaching. He is also, he proudly tells me, going to open a teacher training college. In the meantime, he is working illegally on a tourist visa picking up odd teaching assignments in dodgy private “language schools.”

I have spent all my eight years in China working within the education system, so it takes me about 15 seconds to work out that the lunatic doesn’t know the first thing about it.

Nor does he know that there are two state teacher training colleges in town. (I work in one – my wife used to work in the other.) How he thinks the authorities are going to allow him to open a third (and who is going to pay for the training) is beyond me – and beyond him.

He tells me long stories about how he is going to go to all the local schools and advise them on curriculum changes, blissfully unaware that the curriculum is set nationally.

He tells me long stories about how dreadful English teaching is in China. He gladly lists the main problem areas, but misses the two most important (as recognised by everyone, including the Chinese education authorities).

I’m the first to agree that there are problems in the Chinese education system (mainly class sizes and the exam system), and that English is not taught ideally.

But hold on!

I live in a fairly small city in one of the poorer provinces. Every day, I meet people in all sorts of places (bars, supermarkets, taxis) who speak some English – ranging from very basic to excellent. I have travelled fairly extensively in China and usually meet someone who speaks English.

I ask him how many people in his home city or country speak Chinese? Or any other foreign language? He doesn’t know.

I think it is easy to forget that despite compulsory foreign language education (in the UK), very few people are actually able to hold a conversation in any language other than their own. The situation in the US is similar. China is doing pretty well, despite all the obstacles. And in many cases doing better than we are!

China welcomes input from foreign “experts” but arrogantly walking into a school and telling them that you are here to show them how to do it correctly (especially when your own country isn’t doing so well), isn’t going to work.

I advise him to go home and reform someone else.

Tags: , . This entry was posted on Thursday, April 28th, 2005 at 5:53 pm and is filed under About Liuzhou, Liuzhou Life, Stupidity. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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