“Crazy English” and Chinese nationalism

Japan’s Asahi Shimbun has an article that includes a discussion of the “Crazy English” (Fēngkuáng Yīngyǔ / 瘋狂英語 / 疯狂英语) movement: Chinese patriots burn with English fever. Like so much else in China, the movement is infused with patriotism (or scary nationalism, depending on your perspective) and cultural chauvinism (tricky to pull off when the subject is learning a foreign language).

“English is merely a tool for earning money. It’s an inferior language that relies on an alphabet with just 26 letters. How can it even compare to our language, with a sea of Chinese characters?”

So cackled a loudspeaker recently on the grounds of a junior high school in a tiny town in China’s southern Hebei province.

Wild applause broke out from the crowd of 8,000 junior and senior high school students. A red banner across the basketball court proclaimed: “Never let your country down.”

The rousing speaker was Li Yang, purveyor of a unique method of English study: shouting. Using Li’s “Crazy English” method, devised about 10 years ago, students spout short sentences loudly and at rapid-fire speed, over and over again.

The author of well over 100 books, the charismatic Li gives about 300 lectures a year around the country. About 30 million people have taken his courses.

His motivational secret is a single, yet simple principle: “Mastering English and thereby enriching our country is an act of patriotism.”

The sentiment has proved popular. The darling of China’s English-teaching world, Li considers himself a patriot, first and foremost.

“I promote the love-thy-country angle because I don’t want our people to forget China after they acquire English,” he explains. “I want them to use English and spread Chinese as a world language.”

10 thoughts on ““Crazy English” and Chinese nationalism

  1. It’s a bit difficult to use English to spread Chinese as a world language, isn’t it? Of course, after speaking with those who have used Crazy English, one has no choice but to switch to Chinese — perhaps that’s the mindset.

  2. If he wasn’t spouting nationalism, I doubt he’d be allowed to go around telling schoolchildren with what he thinks.

  3. English is inferior to Chinese? What??? Mr. Yang is forgetting some very simple English with this outlandish and inaccurate assessment. Chinese does not differentiate between singular and plural, nor male or female. Their characters also make no sense at all to the rest of civilized society. If the rest of the world learns Chinese, it won’t be because of Mr. Yang’s efforts, it will happen because other countries will be intelligent enough to see the value of inriching OUR nation’s people, and in trading and doing business with China on an ever increasing scale. Therefore, we will learn Chinese for OUR OWN purposes, not for China’s! Life is a lot easier in the United States than it is in China….why do you think the rest of the world has wanted to immigrant there for more than 100 years now! It’s not that complicated to understand, millions of immigrants have understood that and have not returned to their native countries!

  4. Read more about this in “Learning English, Losing Face, and Taking Over: The Method (or Madness) of Li Yang and His Crazy English” (Sino-Platonic Papers No. 170, Beb. 2006, 18 pp.).

    This issue is not online at the time of this writing, but it will be within the next five years or so, so check the Web site of Sino-Platonic Papers from time to time.

  5. What happened to “Don’t believe everything you read”? This article is completely biased (Japanese newspaper should be a tell-tale sign when talking about China). The Crazy English author is one part comedian and one part motivator. The point of his exercises are to build self-esteem when speaking a second language such as English. His point about teaching English to spread Chinese was that the two countries can better understand each other when they know each other’s language.

  6. Colin, do you believe the quotes are invented? And if I shouldn’t place any trust at all in one of Japan’s oldest and largest newspapers when it reports on something in China, where should I turn for unbiased information? A PRC paper?

    I don’t dispute in the least that building self-esteem is a major part of the approach of Crazy English. But that’s not all there is to it. The article is not inconsistent with other things I’ve read about Li Yang and Crazy English. It’s also worth noting that Crazy English has received backing from the PRC’s military.

  7. Who you are begins with what you do.

    Show the scientific merit of the teaching/learning method. Show the core human value of treating the teacher/student as an agent in studying a foreign language.

    English should be an effective/efficient educational tool open to every citizen, who are pursuing their individual/collective goals in the context of equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from globalization, in which China is an emerging major player.

    Science and harmony are meant to help people address such issues.

    What are the relevant scientific findings concerning pedagogy?

    1. Cognition instead of behavior explains the nature of “language faculty” (or ability) since 1950s. Being in a state of non-rational is counterproductive in such a profound human endeavor.
    2. One can only “blurt out single words” but “not sentences”, which have to be generated through “syntactic processes”.
    3. Each and every person is born with a language faculty. Learning of a foreign language occurs only “internally, intentionally with the learner as the agent”. No amount of interactions and fun activities can replace the mechanisms occurring at the language/cognition, or language/mind interface. No amount of immersion (including intermarriage) can touch upon the innermost mechanism, the black-box if we teach without some scientific merit. Only a cognitive theory can directly re-shape the cognitive processes for an L-2 learner. Nothing else is critical to any science-based pedagogy (teaching method). Tinkering a teaching method about the trivial will lead the learners to nowhere. Immediate, long-term effects should be the goals for both the learner and the nation.

  8. Pingback: Pinyin news » Crazy English in the New Yorker

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *