Wednesday, April 01, 2009

War on Chinglish (6)

Will they never learn?

My new Chinese commenter 'Kirby' seems to be quite a fan of this series. A little while ago, in a comment on the last of these posts, I was prompted to write this to him, and I think it bears repeating in a post of its own:

Second language mistakes distinctive of people with a particular first language are a common problem with all language-combinations, but I do think that Chinese mistakes in English seem to be particularly numerous and particularly obtrusive.

It's not just down to the very different structures of the languages (what linguists call 'first language interference'), I think, but also the poor quality of teaching and of educational publishing in China for so many years. The refusal (even today!) to consult native speakers in preparing teaching materials is continuing to entrench these sorts of mistakes in China's English-speaking culture.

Furthermore, I think there's a problem with reading English here. My Chinese students never read enough. When they do read, they read far too slowly (because they're worried about trying to identify every single word, rather than using guessing strategies, and/or being satisfied with understanding only the gist), which obstructs overall comprehension (and hence, enjoyment; and hence, motivation for further reading).

And I think they're not usually very self-aware in their reading: they don't "notice" and remember new structures, idioms, collocations, etc. (I suspect it's because the Chinese teaching style seems to emphasise almost exclusively 'active learning' via the rote memorization of lists, rather than the 'passive learning' of acquiring more language through repeated exposure to it.)

If the Chinese read more English, and read in a more attentive way, they would surely start to notice that many of the phrases in this 'War on Chinglish' series of mine either NEVER occur in native-speaker English, or occur only very rarely, or are written slightly differently, or are used in a rather different way, etc. But NO - once these errors have been learned from a Chinese textbook or a Chinese teacher, they are never corrected.

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