Crazy English

Li Yang, the infamous Chinese English teacher

Li Yang teaching “Crazy English”

Story on NPR today about Li Yang (李阳), the originator of the unusual language learning method called Crazy English.  It’s a method that’s enjoyed considerable popularity in China and involves shouting out English, either alone or, preferably in a group (the normal Chinese way to do things).  His main motto is “To shout out loud, you learn”.  Another of his sayings is “I enjoy losing face” – pointing to the need for Chinese English leaners to overcome their shyness and fear of making mistakes.  It’s not a method that differs very much from the traditional learning techniques in China, namely repetition and memorization.  According to Wikipedia, there are some 20 million practitioners of Crazy English. The New Yorker had an interesting article about the method just before the 2008 Olympics, as it was being widely used in China in preparation for the Games. There’s also a 1999 documentary entitled Crazy English by Zhang Yuan (张元).

However, he was not in the news today because of Crazy English, but because his (American-born) wife has successfully obtained a restraining order, a first in China.  It seems that Li Yang not only shouts, but hits as well.  In fact, his wife was beaten so badly that in desperation she posted a picture of her face on Weibo (the Chinese version of Twitter) under the heading, “I love losing face = I love hitting my wife’s face?”.  This kind of public acknowledgement of what happens within a family is highly unusual in China, and the message went viral and has led to more pubic discussion of domestic violence.

The wife, Kim Lee, is using her own story to try to raise awareness.  According to the NPR story, “Now, she wants to use her high profile to help others. She is particularly concerned about one woman, Li Yan, who is facing the death penalty after murdering her husband. She suffered years of abuse, during which her husband even hacked off one of her fingers. She went to the police, but they didn’t intervene….Beyond that case, there’s still much to do: China still doesn’t have a specific law forbidding domestic violence.”

You can watch the entire documentary from Youku, it’s in Chinese, but with English subtitles => Crazy English

Culture & success

Mitt Romney’s comments in Israel during his recent trip abroad raise interesting questions about the relationship between cultural values and economic success.  He compared the much higher per capita income in Israel compared to Palestine:  “Culture makes all the difference…and as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things.”  He didn’t enter into any specifics on what cultural differences he had in mind, presumably aspects of the culture that favor industry, frugality, and an entrepreneurial spirit?  Or was it individualism (Israel) versus collectivism (Palestine)?

This echoes the discussion that has arisen from President Obama’s comments that successful businesses in the United States were not built exclusively by the business owners, but owed part of their success to the infrastructure created by American tax payers.  Objections were quickly raised that business owners created success exclusively through their own initiative and hard work – the triumphant result of unbridled individualism.  Reminds me of the hefty debates over Hilary Clinton’s “It takes a village” and the criticism of this advocacy of “collectivism”.  A particular virulent attack on collectivism comes from the “one government” critics.

Romney’s remarks were criticized in that he didn’t talk about the very unequal opportunities in Israel and Palestine.  He was also way off in stating that personal income in Israel is twice that in Palestine:  it’s more like 20 to 1. Of course what Romney meant by “success” was exclusively economic prosperity – as a businessman that is understandably his focus.  Is the point of his comparison that Palestinians would be well advised to change their cultural values?  It would be interesting to see where the Israel and Palestine rank in happiness indices.

Culture? There’s an app for that

Gee, all you need for knowing about other cultures, right on your smart phone.  The CultureGPS app allows you to call up one of over 100 countries/regions and have a score displayed on how that culture ranks in terms of Gert Hofstede’s five cultural dimensions:  power distance, individualism, masculinity, uncertainty avoidance, and long-term orientation.  The paid version (25$) allows for comparing the scores of two cultures. In the FAQ on their Web site, they admit that individuals from the target cultures do not necessarily reflect the scores shown, but they don’t mention variations based on region, membership in minority ethnic groups, gender, age, all of which can be significant.

On possible cultural change that might affect the accuracy of the information, the FAQ says that “On principle, culture is very stable” but does admit that catastrophic events might cause some variations.  I would categorize culture as dynamic and cultural identity as being influenced these days by so many factors, especially on-line roles and personas, that it is a complex issue.  Their disclaimer may point to the real usefulness of the app, namely to drum up business for their training seminars:  “The information contained in CultureGPS is intended as a guideline and for creating awareness. Proper use can only be assured when having undertaken one of our intercultural management trainings. Its use by those who have not received such training may result in error.”