China, as you know, is getting set to host the 2008 Summer Olympics. What you perhaps didn’t know is that the Chinese have been mounting a historic campaign to teach English to millions of their citizens in time for the Games (guess how that’s going…)
Courtesy of the New Yorker here’s an engrossing story about China’s efforts to master English, told through the prism of one of its foremost English instructors and motivational speakers.
To summarize the article, China only recently turned to English to help them develop. After Mao Ze Dong ascended to power they turned to Russian over English. Only about ten years ago did serious English language learning come to the fore once again. Now there’s a huge push to learn Shakespeare’s tongue; many people see speaking English as offering life changing possibilities (I agree wholeheartedly).
I know very well how hard it is to learn a foreign language. Moreover, as a former English language teacher, I have a lot of respect for Li Yang, the guy profiled. Teaching English effectively is really hard work. Not only do you have to be able to explain grammar concepts effectively, you have to inspire the students to want to learn, and you have to foster an atmosphere in class where students feel comfortable making mistakes.