A View from Inside the Circle

Recently, this image has been going around the internet.  I first saw it on Popehat.  Below is a modified version of my reply to the post.

Waving “hello” from inside the circle.

How should foreign language instruction and cultural education change in regions outside the circle? Which languages should [be taught as standards]?

Foreign language instruction should focus on American English.  No, that’s not arrogance or nationalism, it’s a reflection of how the world actually works over here.  I teach English to businesses–everyone from machine operators to executives.  And they all want the same thing:  American English.   The area I’m in (several cities spread around Shanghai) is a hub of international business.  Companies here are German (over 200 in this city, alone), French, American, Taiwanese[1], Japanese, British, Australian….   English is the language everyone uses.   American English is the preferred dialect.   Learning Chinese is great if you want to live here and interact with the locals on a casual basis, but for business, everyone switches to English.  The city I’m in is known as “Little Germany”–and *nobody* learns German.  Our center is, I believe, the only one here to teach German (we have both locals and native German speakers teaching), and (as far as I know) we have less than a dozen students a year in 3 cities.  And one of those cities is Shanghai–with a population in excess of 22 million people.  Based on my conversations with immigrants and visitors, the same holds true for most of the surrounding nations.  The notable exception is Japan.

From a cultural standpoint, there is certainly a lot that we, as Unitedstatesians, can learn from eastern culture (particularly China), but I think you’ll find that most of them don’t care if you learn their culture in the way that we expect them to learn ours. I can only speak for my experiences in China, and I’m fully aware that other cultures within that circle are quite different.

That being said, there’s an odd dichotomy here that we in the west (both US and Europe) don’t have–and it’s an important one. Culture in China is both ancient and ephemeral.  On the one hand, it’s over 5,000 years old.  On the other hand, it’s less than 70 years old (1949).  On the gripping hand, in the last 35 years, it’s been racing from third world realities to first-world sensibilities–and hasn’t taken the time to figure out where it actually is.

I don’t claim to have the answers, but I can say that I’m starting to learn the right questions to ask.  And I’ve come to understand something very important:   China wants to be America–and they have the drive, ambition, dream, and fortitude to take our crown from us if we don’t start paying attention.

[1] Considered both part of China and “outside” by the locals.

May Day

I know it’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything here.  Things have been their usual chaos, with lots of new contracts and ever-shifting schedules.   Most of what’s been going on is work stuff, but there’s one big change to my life:   A bicycle.

I bought a bicycle a few weeks ago, and I’ve been riding it to work most days.  Yesterday (May Day), I took a long ride just for fun.  22km.