Tue Jun 07, 2011
|Teaching Chinglish. English is a glocal language, global in scope and local in application. China adopted it as its second language, and at the current rate of University attendance, the Middle Realm will become the largest English speaking country in two decades, even probably in one.
The purist amongst us wants Sino students to speak their English the way ANZ, Britain and America uses it, constantly correcting students in their use of Chinglish that follows thought patterns tailored to the balancing and relational yin-yang of the Putunghua than the iterative objective-reflective-interpretive-decisional continuum of dialectical thought. Put simply, English thinks words have a one-on-one correlation with objective reality, aspires for precision of facts and clarity of truth, while the language of the Han is more focused on nuances and the intentional avoidance of conflict and discord, fact being subservient to accord in communications. One never gets “No” to answer a question.
Mao Ze%*$!'s oft-quoted saying to students, hao hao xue xi, tian tian xiang shang, translated as “good good study, day day up,” in the order of “first come, first serve,” is not altogether incomprehensible. It is often derided and denigrated as a bad example of Chinglish. I see it differently.
Spelling Bee champ Sukanya Roy recalled cymotrichous (wavy hair) to continue the fourth consecutive triumph of a South Indian American in English spelling. This week being the onset of Pentecost in my tradition, we use perichoresis as a description of the triune god “dancing around” like Sufi swirling Dervis. It is most unlikely that Sukanya will ever use her term again, and it has been 40 years since I used mine.
So I tell my students to use Chinglish especially since their study of ESL began at the writing and reading end rather than the natural listening, repeating, and speaking beginning we all start with in acculturating to native tongue. We teach Oral English at Shenyang Aerospace U and it is clear that students do not need more sessions about the subject, rather, that they have a chance to converse and discourse the vocabulary they previously learned, regardless of syntax that mirrors their thought patterns.
Crisis of confidence is, however, the first obstacle in the learning process. The tyranny of “face” is honed in the giving of right answers to questions posed, a trait learned in studying for tests since first grade. Chinese children play and frolic, learn by experience until they are seven. Then they are ushered to first grade where they are told to sit down, hands on their back when teacher is talking, or on the desk when reading or writing, and admonished neither to talk back nor question the expertise of the teacher. Conceptual terms crowd memory. I tell students to leave “face” outside of the door. If classmates laugh, that's their problem, not the student's, and thus, can be ignored. Speak out of experience, not fancy concepts, I say.
The second hurdle is the notion that questions have right answers; open-ended questions throw students in a tizzy. They ask their neighbor for assistance (the know-it-all class monitor make it his/her business to intervene when a student is unable to respond), and again, individual learning is trumped by the desire to maintain a good face not only for the individual but for the class itself.
I took my elderly Mom once to a grocery store in Honolulu to get her food supplies. She needed patis, the Philippine fish sauce, which I found in the Viet aisle labeled sauce de poisson in French. My Mom quietly returned it and located a more expensive but recognizably fish sauce bottle. She explained to me later that she did not like the one from Vietnam because it has poison; it says so on the label!
Usage, not vocabulary, communicates. Nor does syntax rule. I begin where students are, and to my delight, they listen to Guns n' Roses, Michael Jackson, Westlife, Toni Paxton, Lady Gaga, Maria Arredondo, et al, while the University p.a. system pipes lyrics from oldies like the Carpenters, Mamas and the Papas, and classic tunes like Vandelis' Chariot of Fire. New Chinese singers sing Chinglish versions of their songs (e.g., Mouse loves rice, Butterfly, Betrayal). That helps. I take liberties with popular tunes (if Brahms Lullaby can host 'baa, baa black sheep,' and 'twinkle, twinkle little star,' it can accommodate 'mein chow, mein chow' and 'voom, voom, astronaut' as well. Walla. Viola. We have singing classes at SAU!
To our funny pilot/economist Ed Stephens and his readers, download one of Teresa Tang's (Deng Lijun) album and mimic her Yue liang dai biao wo de xin ('the Moon represents my heart,' am partial to her 'pearly shells'), and you will find Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur a breeze, if not unnecessary. (Am with Pimsleur on this one. Putunghua is tonal, best learned heard than read!) Also, when forced to kampei a glass of bi jou, and one karaokes the song after the obligatory dinner, that pretty much seals any future business transaction that follows.
The utility and meaning of a word in any language is not innate in its origin but rather defined in its use, and being organic, English grows. Sino syntax is at the royal Queen' door. My favorite Chinglish: xie xie very much!
By Jaime R. Vergara
Special to the Saipan Tribune