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Born in the UK but now living in Australia, Paul Fox has travelled to many places throughout China. He has seen the lighter side, the darker side, both the gentle and the seedy sides. He documents his experiences and is willing to share them with anyone who wants to listen. He is not afraid to say things exactly how he sees them, and is quite happy to "name and shame" when necessary.
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Crossing the Bridge    

By Paul Fox
1615 Views | 7 Comments | 6/21/2015 12:33:21 PM

Bore Warning! This blog has the potential to be the most boring blog I have written so far, so before I start I want to issue a ‘Bore Warning’. Any cross-cultural relationship is going to have ‘language problems’ and I want to talk about ways in which many of us can learn to overcome language barriers.



How often do you send a message to a member here only to receive a reply that you don’t understand without using the sites translation tool?



Then, when you receive that reply, how often do you not contact that member again because you feel it’s ‘too hard’? Are you/we/me missing out on something that could be perfect?



So essentially, no matter which nationality you are and what language you speak, if you are NOT INTERESTED in learning a second language then please stop reading this blog right now or risk being bored to death!



Teaching English as a second language in China has opened up a whole new ‘world’ for me. I have seen things that I never even thought about before. Complacency has turned into curiosity on many different levels.



Education in China is a serious subject and kids are pushed and pushed (even beyond their own limitations) to learn more and more, faster and faster, study harder and harder. Many young adults have no ‘quality of life’ in the same way as many westerners enjoyed when we were at school. They are under constant pressure to study, study study. I have students who are in school from 7am until 8.30pm. Others finish at 6pm and then go to a training centre until 9pm before going home to do their homework. Saturdays and Sundays are spent in language schools or training centres instead of in the park or on the sports field.



From a westerners point of view it’s a shame, but for them it’s just ‘normal’. Their parents had to go through it and so must they. Competition is fierce in China, especially when it comes to getting a job, hence even more emphasis is put on kids education.



I teach a total of 5 different classes and in each class there is at least one student who has an excellent level of English. Sixteen years old and already have conversational fluency at least, so I began asking ‘why’? Were these people simply ‘good students’ or had they some kind of ‘talent’ that the others didn’t have?



Out of school I have met many people with vastly different levels of English and again I wondered ‘why’? The truth is that a talking dog could get a job teaching English in China if it was a native English speaker, but anyone can stand in front of a classroom full of kids and ‘teach’ them words they don’t know. Boring, boring, boring!



Conversely, I have students who know about as much English as I know Arabic and some of us also have to teach ‘subjects’ (Civics, Maths, Geography, Canadian History) in English. Not easy when your students can’t understand what you are saying to them.



Just for a moment, please think back to when you were at school. What subject did you like best? What subjects were you good at, and why?



Perhaps you cannot remember why? Maybe you liked the teacher or maybe you just found yourself interested in Physics for example - but please TRY and think of the reason why and I am pretty sure you will come up with the same reason as I am about to explain.



I was educated in England and the second-language taught in our school was French. I hated French. Our French teacher was as ‘fit as a butchers dog’ but even that did not encourage me to learn.



One day, when I was 14 years old, our school decided to run an educational trip to Italy. Rome and Sorrento were on the schedule and I really liked the thought of going. Dad was a college lecturer back in those days and he always liked to see me get excited or interested about something educational so he agreed that I could go.

Ha, the other ‘language’ we had to learn in those days was Latin and our Latin teacher was heading up the trip to Italy. He was a nice guy and a very helpful teacher. Once he knew the names of all the students who were going to Italy he approached us all and asked us if we were interested in learning some Italian.

Out of the 40 kids going on the trip, only about 6 of us were prepared to give up our lunch breaks to go and learn Italian with our Latin teacher.



Something really amazing happened. I learned more Italian in 2 weeks than I learned French in 5 years. Was Italian easier to learn than French? Did I have a ‘special talent’ for learning Italian?



The answer can be summed up in one little word - MOTIVATION. I was going on my very first trip abroad and I wanted to learn some of the native language - simple as that!



So when you think back to what you were good at when you were at school, there must have been some kind of ‘motivation’ connected to your ‘better’ subjects. Something MOTIVATED you to learn, and that ‘motivation’ could have been something as simple as the fact that you just ‘liked’ that particular subject with no actual reason ‘why’.



So in order to learn a second language we need to be motivated. We need a good reason, a reason to motivate us into actually getting off our arses and doing something about it.



Motivation doesn’t come easy especially self-motivation. It’s much easier for us to find ‘reasons’ why we shouldn’t do something. The truth is that these ‘reasons’ are often nothing other than excuses!



CLM is a cross-cultural, International dating site and YOU are a member. Your ‘reason’ for being here is to find a partner that you hope you can spend the rest of your life with. Isn’t that in itself a little motivation to at least TRY to learn a second language?



Stereotypically, native English speakers are ‘lazy’. We can’t be bothered to learn another language because we often feel that other people should learn ours. We are ‘selfish’.



Still here? Good! It means you are not bored yet or are possibly interested in learning more about the possibility of learning a second language.



There’s a McDonalds fairly close to where I live and I remember the first time I went in there to buy a take-away coffee. I could see the fear on the faces of the staff behind the counter as they quickly tried to position themselves in a place where they could avoid serving ‘the foreigner’. I still remember the expression on the face of the young girl who ended up serving me. The sheer fear and desperation in her eyes quickly changed to one of relaxation and a beaming smile after I asked her for a take-away cup of coffee in perfect Chinese. On the rare occasion I go into that same McDonalds, none of the staff are afraid to serve me but I have seen this kind of behaviour in shops, restaurants and cafes on many, many occasions. I love it!



Fact is, many Chinese people never expect a foreigner to speak any Chinese. Surely it’s up to THEM to learn English - right ? - but where is their ‘motivation’ ? Simply put, there is none. 



Likewise I often find myself in my favourite little back-street cafe chatting with Chinese customers. 99 times out of 100, at least ONE person will ask me if I will teach them English. Of course I always say ‘Yes’ because I KNOW that I will never hear from them again - and I never, ever, do!



Sitting at the table in a cafe chatting to a foreigner makes them wish they knew a little English - right at that moment! But that ‘moment’ has long gone by tomorrow morning, along with any possible motivation that they THOUGHT they had the previous evening. That feeling will never return to them again until such time as they in a similar situation with a native English speaker.



A friend of mine will soon move to China to be with the lady he met here on CLM. He’s very worried that he cannot speak Chinese. His first wife of around 20 years was a Chinese lady, but she (and the one he’s met here) both speak good English so he never found a reason to learn Chinese. No motivation!



Now, he is beginning to realise that he made a mistake by not learning. After all, he won’t be with his lady 24/7 and he’s going to find himself in situations not unlike the embarrassing ‘McDonalds situation’ I described earlier, where both he and the staff member are likely to feel like a couple of wet-blankets.



He has told me on several occasions that he is ‘too old to learn’, which of course is total nonsense. My mother learned to drive a car when she was 50 years old! Age has nothing to do with it - quite simply you lack motivation.



Moving to China and the thought of finding himself in a situation where he must fend for himself fills him with fear and dread. But fear itself is a pretty good motivator, don’t you think?



That said, I know many western people who have worked in China for several years and speak no Chinese, and others who can read and write it.



So what motivates one person may not motivate another, yet motivation is something we MUST have if we are to succeed - otherwise we are wasting our time and that of our teacher.



Once we BECOME motivated it’s relatively easy to stay motivated, especially if we can make our learning enjoyable and one way to do that is to change our vocabulary slightly in order to think about things differently.



Let me give you a couple of examples. Firstly the difference in our language is often referred to as the ‘language barrier’, and a ‘barrier’ is something that stops us from doing something or going somewhere. From now on I will refer to it as a language ‘bridge’, because a bridge is something we can cross.



Secondly, I won’t use the phrase ‘learn a second language’ from now on, I will use the phrase ‘acquire a second language’ instead. The word ‘learning’ drums up visions of classrooms and students, studying hard and spending heaps of time doing something. ‘Acquire’ is a much more casual term.



Essentially, humans learn in 4 different ways:-

Classroom/Teacher/Instruction

Media = Books, films, newspapers, internet etc

Experience

Asking Questions



I will stop here for now. I will continue this in part 2 and give you some ideas as to how you can use these 4 ways to acquire the language you want to learn. What’s more, I will tell you some interesting facts about learning and how you can learn at a much faster pace than you ever thought possible.



So whether it’s English, Chinese, Thai or Tagalog, the ‘rules’ are the same and if I can do it, anyone can!


Copyright owned jointly by Author and CyberCupid Co., Ltd. Breach of copyright will be prosecuted.
Comments
(Showing 1 to 7 of 7) 1
#2015-06-21 12:36:33 by JohnAbbot @JohnAbbot

Paul, far from being boring this is a great article and incredibly useful to all members. Great article! (clap)

As I said to @Barry1, I am travelling now and working on a small tablet so won't write a long comment, but I should be back home soon and will do so then.

One thing though, you're missing a photo. I suggest you walk into that MacDonalds and grab a shot of yourself chatting with several of the employees in Chinese. That might make a nice motivator for some of your readers to follow suit.

Looking forward to Part 2.

#2015-06-21 19:02:28 by hyy051 @hyy051

Hello Paul,

Very great article, I love it.

I am from China, living in Australia for about 8 months. My motivation of acquiring language skills is to live better in the English-speaking country. But I still wonder why many Chinese women prefer to speak English instead of Chinese with their western husbands who are living in China. Look forward to your viewpoints.

Thank you.

#2015-06-21 19:32:23 by Barry1 @Barry1

@paulfox1

"So whether it’s English, Chinese, Thai or Tagalog, the ‘rules’ are the same and if I can do it, anyone can!"

Very interesting article, Paul. Great stuff.

By way of further information, I knew a Chinese teacher who spoke perfect English who told me that by far the best way to learn Chinese is to have personal, one-on-one instruction from a teacher.

I seem to remember you wrote once that you used to visit a Chinese teacher for this purpose back in Australia. Learning Chinese. So before you went to live in China, you already had a head start on the language, compared to the rest of us.

Would you recommend that people wishing to learn Chinese not only try to develop a motivation for learning it as you've suggested, but also get regular personal instruction from a language teacher? Would doing this greatly accelerate the learning process, as it appears to have done with you?

Once again, a very informative article, thank you. (clap)

#2015-06-22 10:07:16 by sunrise68 @sunrise68

Good writing, it's useful to us all, language learners.

#2015-06-24 00:39:39 by twhite725 @twhite725

Learning a language is not very difficult; little babies can do it, why do adults have so much trouble? Because in our language learning orthodoxy and formalism we try to impose an external structure and organization instead of accepting how our brains work. Like expecting people to think like computers... First language is learned by example and imitation of phrases more than individual words. What young child knows or needs to know anything about grammar, about nouns, verbs, articles, pronouns? Are young Chinese taught about tones before they use them? Languages can have extremely complicated grammar with nouns and verbs taking different forms according to their place and role in the phrase. I read a discussion of one such difficulty for learning French, the gender of nouns which is arbitrary but necessary to speak French correctly. Yet French children learn their language as quickly as other children learn their native language. The third language is very much easier usually than the second because you are no longer stuck and hung up on the assumed uniqueness of your first language as the way to think and speak.

#2015-06-24 12:58:32 by paulfox1 @paulfox1

@twhite725 and @Barry1

Thank you both for your comments. I did reply to you yesterday Barry, but the post seems to have been lost in cyberspace

Needless to say, the concerns and points you have both made are fully addressed in part 2
Part 2 has already been submitted and I guess it will be posted when Miss Trabbot gets on to it

Thanks again

#2015-07-05 03:27:47 by bmccull @bmccull

An Anglo-Aussie teaching Canadian history? That's rich!

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