Blog EntriesContemporary Society

ZGBriefs The Weeks Top Picks, October 24 Issue


Four of my top picks this week have to do with the Chinese language and language learning.

Testing Character: Spelling Bee is China's Latest TV Craze (Wall Street Journal)

As anyone who has studied Chinese knows, learning how to read and write characters is a challenge. Mastering the characters, even for native speakers, requires hours and hours of memorization. Once you've got them down, it takes a lot of maintenance to not forget how to read or write them. With the advent of the use of technology to write, there is a growing fear that Chinese people are forgetting how to write Chinese.

The Wall Street Journal posted a video about the problem and the popularity of a new game show that tests young people's ability to write characters:

Long before learning Chinese became a de rigueur in international business, Western students were drawn to the language by the challenging beauty of its writing system. But with the advent of the Internet and the popularization of smartphones, both of which encourage the use of Latin script for typing characters, many inside China itself are struggling to write even basic words. The result: A creeping sense of dread among Chinese language purists, and a wildly popular new TV show that tests students on their writing ability.

The website Newsy also has a video report on the topic.

The Geographic Distribution of China's Last Names, in Maps (The Atlantic)

The Atlantic has a fascinating set of maps showing the distribution of surnames in China.

For a country of 1.3 billion people, there is a remarkably small number of common last names in China. An estimated 87% of the population shares one of 100 surnames, and more than one in five Chinese citizens is surnamed Li, Wang, or Zhang: more than 275 million people in all. (By contrast, 90% of the United States population encompasses over 150,000 different last names).

In other words, if you find yourself nose to nose with someone on a crowded bus or subway, the chances are his or her name is Li, Wang, or Zhang.

Unless you're out west, though, in which case it is probably Ma.

China to downgrade English section of college admissions test (The Guardian)

Individuals and organizations involved in English teaching in China may be particularly interested in this story about the downgrading of English on the college entrance exam.

Beijing education authorities plan to de-emphasise English scores on standardised tests, a sign that China's obsession with the language may be waning. The Beijing municipal commission of education plans to reduce the English section of the all-important college admissions test, the Gaokao, from 150 points to 100 points in major cities by 2016, China's official newswire Xinhua reported. It will boost the value of the Chinese section from 150 to 180 points. Currently, the test weighs English, Chinese and maths equally.

Will this translate into a diminishing need for foreign English teachers? Only time will tell.

The Shaping of a Bilingual Child's Reality (Sinosplice)

I just loved this article by Sinosplice writer John Pladsen about watching his two year old learn how to talk, in English and Chinese.

My daughter is almost 2 years old now, and as she talks more and more, not only is it a blast to see that this little crying pink thing has grown into a real human, but I've also got front row seats to the amazing phenomenon of first language acquisition. If you've never seen a kid acquire language from scratch, or have never seen it happen bilingually, there are bound to be a few surprises. It's kind of messy, and sometimes it feels like a wonder that it even works.

And finally .

The Story of IKEA: Foreign Shame Fuels National Rectitude (Sinopathic)

Who hasn't been to IKEA in China and been amused by all the people who seemed to have moved in, using the display areas to take naps, do homework, or just relax? Apparently foreign bemusement has caused some loss of face, so some are using it as a means to launch a 'rectification campaign.'

This article at the blog Sinopathic takes a closer look at the phenomenon:

Stories have abounded regarding IKEA's Chinese stores being treated as an amusement park by a Chinese middle-class dabbling into a freaky three-way with crass materialism, a free market and an obsession with wealth. The Chinese media has finally gotten around to chronicling this phenomenon, and the measured wrath by which morals are to be taught is doled out with the biggest yardstick of all, the shame by which the shame-based culture of China is most humbled by: shame from non-Chinese.

And just for fun, here's a collection of photos taken in IKEA stores in China.

Image credit: China, by Steve Webel, via Flickr

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is senior vice president of ChinaSource and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University... View Full Bio