Young and mobile’d


There are 1.39 billion folks in China. There are 1.11 billion mobile phone subscribers. China is definitely into the mobile communication world. Though the mobile phone itself has more than 50 years of history, Japan touted the first type of mobile cellphones familiar today. The first hit the market in 1997, the 3G in 2005 and the 4G in 2009. We are seeing the first generation of people that grew up with the mobile cellphone used like a fashion accessory.

One of three telecom giants in China is China Mobile. It is currently one of the two leading mobile phone service providers. The users on a typical bus ride numbers about 7 out of 10; in the subway, since HK provided repeater technology underground, it is easily 9 out of 10. China is a nation wired. (Some may consider it weird, too, but that would be a rushed bias rather than a balanced subjective opinion.)

That they are young is without question. With the cellphone only 16 years old, and the smartphone only yesterday’s marriage of the PDA, Internet, phone, and the pad, the technology and its global users are very young. They have also spawned a new form of cultural behavior.

One of the stated rules in the classroom at Shenyang Aerospace University was the prohibition of the use of a cellphone by anyone including the professor. Right. Try telling that to the PLA.

One of the reasons I arranged my room like a collegium room (collegium is Latin for conversation) was from visual experiences of other classes where the front row had the teacher’s attention, but anywhere behind were either students texting on their cellphones, or reading an entertaining material, usually a comic book, or when at the extreme back, had their heads down on the desk asleep.

Of the sleepy heads, they tended to be the studious ones who spent hours into the night preparing for tests, primarily on standardized ones that, if passed, would get them certificated to qualify either in an advance course or a higher level of academic attainment like graduate school. Getting students to shift their study from tests to learning was one of the hardest things to do.

The collegium setup was doable at under-30 students with the sizes of the rooms we had, and allowed for an acceptable tone from teachers who could not afford to be loud, a socially unacceptable trait. The enterprising ones brought their own amplified head mikes, which sometimes aggravated the situation as the students were dispersed in the room and the teacher, thinking that all he really needed was to be heard, did not care. In the larger classes equipped with audio-visual equipment, the conscientious teachers spoke through mikes. Since I taught Oral English, and I wanted my students to listen directly to a human voice as well as observe the facial and hand gestures, and other body language, rather than just the sound from an electronically amplified one, I created space where I could establish eye contact and be able to move around. Besides, one of the exercises in class was for students to speak, and I wanted them to listen to each other’s discourse.

To counter the necessity of having the cellphone available to receive important messages, I asked them to turn their cellphones off and retrieve their messages during the break times. Each session lasted 45 minutes before a break so it was reasonable to let them turn their cellphones off.

The other rationale expressed was their access to a dictionary like the one provided by a server like, or built in to the cellphone memory. This was harder to counter since other classes allowed them this option. So I returned to the short course of why they never learned to speak well, compared to their reading and writing aptitude, since they learned English by seeing, like they did in memorizing the idiograms and pictographs of Putunghua, rather than listening to a phonetic language where their ears needed to be trained to recognize sounds and tones. As the Hanyu Pinyin of Putunghua gets into more use, accenting the phonetic nature of the language, students are beginning to understand why the listening part of learning English is crucial.

Meanwhile, almost all of China’s young are mobile’d. It is almost as if one is without dress if not fingering a cellphone. Walking on the street or riding public transportation, the ubiquitous cellphone is present.

This is not just in China. Of the Western tourists I encountered in Hong Kong over New Year’s, parents all the way to the children had their own cellphone. Even the grandma beside me on the bus was texting.

The very telling trend among upscale coffee shops was the sign: “We do not have WiFi; talk to each other.”

Jaime R. Vergara | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Jaime Vergara previously taught at SVES in the CNMI. A peripatetic pedagogue, he last taught in China but makes Honolulu, Shenyang, and Saipan home. He can be reached at

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