When I think of the popular American attitude towards people who don’t speak English, I get a little ashamed here in China. I don’t think I’ve yet come across a Chinese person who can’t at least say ‘hello’ in English. Most of them like to try a hello out on a foreigner, even if just for the novelty. How many Americans know how to say ‘hello’ in a language outside of English or Spanish? Just that one word, ‘hello’. It’s a single word after all.
Chinese people are, by and large, very shy. Still, a lot of them will try to strike up a conversation in English, red-faced but perseverant, obviously feeling plenty embarrassed, with me. You’ve got to admire that.
I have never, and I mean ever, seen a Chinese person get angry with a foreigner because that foreigner couldn’t speak Chinese. Usually they will try what little English they know, smiling, or use body language.
More times than I can remember, a Chinese mother will want me to say hello to her child, or try out some simple conversation in English, and of course I do, every time.
These things happen every day, and it always gets me thinking to that banal American non-complaint of ‘Why do I have to press one for English?’ Many answers come into my head when I hear this, although I’ve never spoken them.
1. Because it’s a big world, jackass, and not everyone was born of the same parents.
2. Learning a language takes time, jackass. Just because you don’t speak a language fluently doesn’t mean you’re not working to get there.
3. Is pushing a button difficult?
I could take a lot more stock in the xenophobic stand-off if Americans knew a second language. But it really makes me ashamed that, not only are they not trying to learn another language, they have no empathy for anyone that is. Even their own language.
I’ve studied Chinese for two and a half years now. I’m by no means fluent. If you really want to know how hard it is for Chinese people, with no alphabet, to learn English, try writing a Chinese sentence. Just one sentence. Try this one – ‘Press one for Chinese.’
Most foreign teachers here don’t, even after years, speak any Chinese. Still, they are welcomed and treated well. I can’t imagine the hell on Earth that would follow a Chinese teacher in America that didn’t speak fluent English upon landing.
If you speak even a little Chinese, most Chinese people will love you for it. They are grateful that you are interested in their culture and trying, no matter how bad you might be failing. I wish I could say the same about America.
Tags:Expat Rants & Advice Expat Tales
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It is wrong for foreigners to come to china and complain that they do not speak english. Chinese people do not speak english because they do not need to. They have all the systems working for them in their language. When we visit their country, we should try to learn their language rather than the other way around. I have some of my colleagues who have lived in China for more than 5 years but they can not speak or understand a single word beyond "ni hao". why should chinese people try to learn englis? They are not in an english speaking country. We, on the other hand, land up in china and instead of trying to learn their language, do nothing but complain.
May 29, 2013 13:16 Report Abuse
It's amazing that, no matter what is posted on this site, there is a slew of negative commentary. If someone were to post how they overcame cancer and then found a cure for it, I have no doubt that people would only comment on how natural selection had been robbed once again.
May 27, 2013 14:06 Report Abuse
Yeah isn't that the truth! A blog, for those that have never written one, can be a difficult assignment. Even for those with experience it can be quite a challenge. Many critics are made up of those that have never tried or wouldn't dare. Sure there are plenty of blogs written that contain typos and grammatical errors but not everyone is a gifted, talented writer and don't forget, a blog is one individual's thoughts and how THEY see the subject matter. Nobody is saying that what a blog writer relates is 'right', it's simply the writer's opinion. Same goes for articles written and published in this magazine. However, we are all entitled to an opinion, even those that enjoy criticizing every submission. Blog and article writers need to develop thick skins and maybe those that can only see negatives should lighten up a bit. In relation to this blog I am inclined to agree with the point made that we don't like learning another language too much and I for one, find it difficult to try harder than I do as well as making the time to learn. With that in mind we should never lose patience with our students when they display frustratingly slow progress as we teach them English! My Chinese teacher smiles at me with every mispronunciation and forgetting of vocabulary. Bless her!
May 27, 2013 21:23 Report Abuse
Typical thought is typical. The majority of the educated world in modern times is multi-lingual. Spanish is used by a minority of americans in every day life. To argue that the 0.001% of the population of China that is foreign teachers is related to a xenophobic, exclusive, and frankly barbaric culture with marxist characteristics is the mark of a Lenin style useful idiot. -Second moi dryg, America is full of ethnic asian ghettos where the majority of workers can barely speak English at all. I'm against this because workers who don't speak English in America are cheated, abused, and sexually molested. A recent job, which I applied for, requested social workers who spoke "Korean, Chinese, Russian, Tagolog, Spanish, or Hatian Creole" -You clearly are not interested in the facts, and hope you self-loathing ways will somehow help you in the end. There is no famine in Ukraine.
May 26, 2013 18:17 Report Abuse