Posted on Jun 30 2011

I had written about Chinglish previously, that amazing and mystifying version of English emerging from the thought patterns of Zhonggou ren in the eastern part of the Asian continent. There is reluctance among English learners to speak due to a history of mimicking what it sounds like in London and Boston, Sydney and Auckland, and Glasgow and, yes, even Moscow, and being embarrassed when it does not come out “foreignly” spoken. Doubly so having been schooled in always giving the right answer provided by the expert teacher, they would rather be told than pushed to extemporaneously dip into the encyclopedic vocabulary that already exists in their neural system.

Promoting Chinglish is my way of affirming what people already speak, spoken in Shanghai and Beijing, Guangzhou and Chengdu, Taipei and Singapore, and yes, Vancouver and San Francisco, also in English-translated Chinese songs.

The African-American Ebonics is studied at UC Berkeley. I propose that Chinglish be allowed the same academic treatment. To lift “Chinglish” from the stigma of derision, it is often referred to as ‘Ch-English” by associates; am too lazy to tap the extra dash, so I am settling for ChEnglish! Ola! Shenyang ChEnglish is born!

The province of Liaoning does not require listening as part of the university entrance exam, unlike other provinces. Consequently, we have local students who could not string an English sentence together if their jiao zi (dumpling) depended on it. My OE class students from outside the province tend to be better speakers than the locals.

OE is an elective and students sometimes take it because they have it easy with foreigners who teach the course. Since the class is often conducted as a course about Oral English, it is just another exercise in memorizing what is provided and giving it back during exam.

We decided a different route. Extempo-speaking was high on our method; from day one, we queried about what they remember of their weekends, or describe an event in their day at their dorms in the last 24 hours. Writing a ri ji (diary) for 15 minutes was recommended to allow one to speak English once a day, if only to one’s self. The style follows our four levels of consciousness epistemology of describing experience (see, hear, taste, smell, touch), expressing feelings (e.g., likes and dislikes), articulating thoughts (e.g., clear and/or meaningful ideas), and deciding the decisional “therefore,” if any. Deeds are pushed further to answer to the 6w/h, of “what, when, where, who, how, and why.”

There are no right or wrong answers, there are only answers, some made up, others, real. That seems to be the hardest requirement of all since the students have been drilled and the modern world concurs that they know the right answer for every question rather than dig out of their own experience and critical reflection an authentic response.

During introductions, one student began with the Beatles’ “There are places I remember, all my life, and I will always remember Shenyang where I was born.” The song served him well, so why not find out what English songs the students sang, or would like to learn to sing, and there began the shape of my OE lesson plans. Learning an English song became a prerequisite to passing the course.

Our last class day was a songfest as students stepped up front to sing their songs, solo or joint configs, and the voices from outside Liaoning were louder and clearer than the homegrown.

Sichuan Hai Jinchi (Jean) belted out Norwegian Maria Arredondo’s Burning, an affirmation of passion not common in Sino discourse since it is considered private (but not surprising from the Chile-grown chanteuse of the fiesta girl from Ipanema tradition!). Local Beatle song quoter Fu Pingzhang (Waving Flag!) pronounced all his words well in admonishing us to wear a flower in our hair were we to go to San Francisco! He still could not speak a straight English sentence. He Jiaqi’s (Brileam—I guess, from “brilliant dream”) plaintive anti-war 21 Guns of Green Day came as a surprise. He sings with a band on occasion, enunciates clearer, and has a larger vocabulary than most.

Ding Hao (Jasoon) of Hubei who earlier gave a stirring speech on “Motherland” joined Fang Han (Jenny) in a Beauty and the Beast rendition. The coup d’grace was Sichuan Wu huali (Iris) who came out with an Irish song that would delight my daughter’s Irish husband and in-laws. In a clear sweet voice, she sang Yeat’s Down by the Salley Garden, and I was stunned in awe and wonder as I imaginally heard the Uilleann pipes from afar.

With Premier Wen Jiabao currently giving speeches in Europe saying things like “the future China will be one that fully achieves democracy, the rule of law, fairness and justice,” at the same time acknowledging that corruption, uneven income distribution and “other sorts of ills that harm people’s rights and interests” still exist in the nation. A new China is evolving.

If my OE students’ ChEnglish is any indication, the current generation of learners is finding its voice in a language of objective description, expressive feelings, articulated ideas, and intentional deeds. Look out world, ChEnglish is on its way!

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