Watch Out for Chinese English Mania!

Jay Walker

Jay Walker

Here’s an attitude I’ve seen, heard and which I know goes on a lot more often than I’ve ever heard it. It will sound stereotypical, but you know, it exists enough to be stereotyped, so I’m not going to apologize for it. Just try not to take it personally even though it’s written in second person for effect. Aside from the attitude, everything here applies to me just as much as any other native English speaker (or those to whom English is pretty much a first language now).

You’re going to be going out in the work force. You don’t have the best grades, but so what? That girl or guy from China, India or some other place where English is not the native language, who has the best mark won’t beat you for the job. After all, you’ve got them on the English.

Or maybe that’s only a few of them that have better marks than you and sufficient, if not better English, too. There are plenty of other jobs and similar people you’ve got an advantage on because English is your native tongue.

Well, get ready to suck that up, or at least tell your children to do so!

In the 4.567 minute TED.com talk below, Jay Walker talks about how the world is becoming obsessed with English because it is the language of opportunity.

Specifically, I want to draw attention to where he tells how it is now required by law in China that you start English in grade 3!

Think about that for a few seconds.

Required by law in China.

Have you any idea how many people that involves year in and year out? Then they have it through to high school where 25% of their marks is based on their English in the Gaokao (read “gow cow”). Is 25% of your marks based on English that you’ll work as hard to be as good at it as they will be? Don’t forget how competitive their school systems are, too! 80 million high school students have already taken it. I’ll let you do the math on what portion or multiple that is of the American and Canadian populations, respectively. That’s 80 million in the past few years you’re suddenly now up against which you didn’t see coming. And how many more to follow in just another decade?

And did you hear what they were screaming in learning their English?

I don’t want to let my parents down.
I don’t ever want to let my country down.
Most importantly …
I don’t want to let myself down.
Perfect! I want to speak perfect English!
I want to change my life!

Did you realize how reaffirming those sentences were? Do you say those things to yourself that frequently?

Think about something else for a few seconds.

You know those kids who’s at the top of the class in math and science cause they studied harder than you? Yes, I said studied harder. Not are more gifted or are naturally that way because they were Chinese, Japanese, Asian and such, but because they studied harder. Well, they can do the same to you in English!

Even the potential jobs you now have teaching English as a Second Language abroad, they’ll take those, too! I didn’t recall a Caucasian speaker shouting out those phrases in Jay’s video. In fact, knowing the average public grade reading level in North America to be about grade 9, I would consider betting they’ll be teaching you English to be a wise investment!

What will do you then? Your laurels will have soiled and rotted from having been rested on under your ass so long you won’t even be able to give them away!

Now, you might ask, what will English from grade 3 do for someone? You still had an 8 year head start from birth of hearing and learning and speaking (for fewer but very important developmental years).

Well, I came to Canada at the age of 8, in grade 3, knowing no English. A teacher had the audacity to fail me for fear my English wouldn’t develop quickly enough despite me having the best report card that year! Today, you’d never know I was Asian from how I talk or write. And let’s just say if anybody ever makes a passing comment their English is better than mine probably because English wasn’t my first language, I’ll make sure they know it’s inferior, preferably in front of others. I might be wrong one day, but I know how much the odds are stacked with me given the many test scores, awards and other English related accolades I have to my name.

Worse, there is bad news about all this. I’m nothing special. But many among all those Chinese students now required to take English by law will be many!

I got this way with my English working a little harder at it, more methodically at it, just like most non-native English speakers have to in learning English. For all the racial comments I encountered in my youth, the ones that bothered me most were probably intended as compliments. Some people thought I was naturally gifted in school, especially math and science, because I was Asian. It was as if I didn’t have to work for it. Of course, by that train of thought, I was also geeky because it was “natural” to me.

But for the record, I realized in my adolescence that I wasn’t naturally gifted at anything. I accepted that and took on life with the attitude I was going to have to work for everything. I was going to have to earn everything in my life. And you know what?

I still think that way!

And I wouldn’t want it any other way!

So get ready for the Chinese English mania, with the rest of the world not far behind them!

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Reading Level: 5.7

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