Chinese find learning English a snip

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed Jul 31 15:27:02 UTC 2002

>>From BBC News, World Edition:

Chinese find learning English a snip

More and more people in China are seeking tongue operations to improve
their English. Plastic surgeons say that with minor surgery, patients can
improve their pronunciation almost overnight.  With China's growing
internationalisation, people's determination to become more proficient in
English has reached fever pitch.

            The operation itself is simple and quick - just a snip of the
muscle under the tongue using local anaesthetic - even if it does make you
twinge.  Plastic surgeon Dr Chu Jian is inundated with people begging for
the operation because they want their English pronunciation to be clearer,
freeing them from that tongue-tied feeling.

            "Lots of people come to us asking for surgery hoping it'll
help with their English pronunciation because they're taking interpreters
exams or wanting to go abroad or get a job here with a foreign company,"
he said.  Dr Chu tells most of the people they do not need an operation
because a strict regime of tongue exercises will work.

            "There are lots of people who have serious problems with their
tongues, affecting their pronunciation. They're not bothered about their
Chinese pronunciation and they don't think about having an operation.
"But when they start to learn English they think it's really important, so
they come to us," he said.

            Parental pressure

            Seven-year-old Ding Ding is one patient he has recently
operated on.  Ding Ding is bright and lively. But he was rejected by a
bilingual primary school, let down by his English pronunciation.  So his
parents decided on the operation for the sake of his future.  His father,
Wei Bo, said: "With China becoming more and more international, if you
can't communicate properly in English it will have a serious effect on
your career prospects."

            People who do have the operation still need to do the
exercises afterwards, meaning that for children like Ding Ding it is too
early to say whether the operation was a success.  In Shanghai's People's
Park on a sweltering Sunday morning, the heat does not stop droves of
people turning out to practice their English.

            Everybody's chatting away to each other purposefully, striving
to improve themselves.  But the question is, which is the best way?  Mr
Xie, a retired teacher, is an old timer here and his ideas on how to learn
English pronunciation are somewhat traditional Asked about the people
having operations on their tongues to improve their pronunciation, Mr Xie
laughed.  "It's a waste of time, waste of money," he said.

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