On my way to work this afternoon I was packed into the already crowded MRT, face pressed against the door, old lady pressed against a delicate part of my lower body, trying not to scream and yell at the high schoolers jabbing me in the back; when I heard an odd sound: it was the sound of English...
Naturally any time I hear English in the subway I perk up and listen...you learn to block out all the Chinese jibberish and English always penetrates my most crowded subway rides. Normally hearing English wouldn't be a big deal, maybe some foreign tourists, or a fellow ex-pat....but I listened more intently:
"It is A air conditioner"
"No It is AN air conditioner"
It is AN air conditioner"
It is AN air conditioner
It is AN air conditioner....
Good, now it is A duck.
"It is A duck....
I strained my neck and lo-and behold....directly under me, grasping onto the pole among dozens of adults was a little Taiwanese kid, not more than 5 years old.... holding a fistful of flashcards. His mother was bearing over him (or overbearing) making sure he knew the difference between "A" and "AN". As I was looking over, his mother caught my eye, smiled nodded at her son, then continued the lesson.
This would be amazing enough except on my way back from work, waiting in line for the subway back home....ANOTHER youngster was also practicing English (with the help of his equally overbearing mother, and astute, older brother). He was practicing spelling. "INTERESTING" I-N-T-E-R-E-S-T-I-N-G....
Also had a fistful of flash cards.
There's something admirable about the value placed on education here. Clearly education is important, beyond important....I can't really describe the emphasis on English learning, except that people will pay someone like me big bucks to teach them English. But I mean its Sunday at 1 pm....let your 5 year old just stand in a crowded train and daydream about dinosaurs or whatever...
I was talking to some of my adult students and I also found out that in Universities here, English is a General Education requirement....regardless of major. At Binghamton University we also had a language requirement...but we could choose let's say Italian, or Spanish. God help my GPA if I was forced to study Chinese for one year when I was at University. But here, there's no choice. But what about Japanese as a GenEd? I asked; "Nope you must study English, it's Island wide. If you go to university in Taiwan, English is a GenEd"
These kids will have a great advantage no doubt, but again at what cost?
Maybe a few years from now, speaking Chinese will be seen as an asset...
You might be sitting on the F train, packed in against the door, listening to a parent from Brooklyn correcting her 8 year-old's Mandarin tonal pronunciation.
"BU YAO! Not BU YAO... Fourth tone Fourth Tone....try it again."