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How Introduction of English "Mutes" E. Asians/SE A

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PostPosted: Sat Nov 17, 2012 6:10 pm    Post subject: How Introduction of English "Mutes" E. Asians/SE A Reply with quote

The idea behind spreading English around the world and making it an international language was excellent. Think about it- we will all speak one language, communicate with people of different nations, and erase barriers among cultures. It worked in Europe, the countries of South Asia and the Middle East. However, when it got to what we are no longer allowed to call “the Orient”, things came to a bit of a halt; in the most awkward way possible, too. Here are some dramatizations:

A Western gentleman is sitting in front of a religious structure in which he has been sent to work as a missionary. He is fluent in the local language, but he still finds it hard to talk to the natives. Here is a typical example how:

A local man walks by. He looks sideways at the missionary and walks on, shoulders drooped. He then approaches the janitor and asks him about the building (in the national language of the country). The missionary yells out in the same language- “Hey, come on back, sir! Come inside! Please!” The man’s jaw drops as if he had seen a cow fly- “You can speak (insert the language here)?” The eyes bulge with surprise- “I thought you spoke only English; this is why I did not even want to talk to you!” After the man entered the temple, it turned out that his English was fluent, but according to him, it was not fluent enough, and he did not want to look stupid. So, he just ignored the white man, clammed up and walked up to someone who looked like him. Because, if he spoke English and made a mistake, he would lose face. And E/SE Asians fear being embarrassed more than anything else.

The missionary takes public transportation, but people avoid sitting next to him. He feels like a leper. Because, you see, the locals are scared- what if you start speaking English and ask something, but they cannot answer correctly? If they do not know how to answer you fluently, they will lose face and appear stupid. It is better to avoid and ignore the white foreigner altogether.

The missionary stops a stranger on the street and asks him in the official language of the country how to get to the bank. The stranger recoils, shouting-“I don’t speak English! I don’t speak English!” and runs away. “But I did not address you in English!”, the missionary shouts in frustration as the stranger speeds off. The stranger stops in his tracks…the eyes wide open in total shock and disbelief-“You mean…you can speak (put the language in here)?” “Yes, I can. This is (put the name of the country). So, I speak its language to its citizen”. It finally dawns on the stranger that a white man can in fact speak the language and is not speaking English. He cautiously gives him the directions.

After finally getting to the bank, he witnesses a sad scene- the bank clerks shun him and stand up with a jerk ,leaving their desks and pointing him out to the manager- “there is a foreigner- I cannot speak English- you talk to him- no, you talk to him, no, you talk to him…”ad nauseaum. Finally, a manager comes out, the face having the expression of one trying to relieve oneself in the midst of a severe constipation. “Can…I …”- Eyes filled with horror, hands shaking, pale as a sheet. The missionary speaks to him in fluent South-east-asianese. The manager is trembling while answering in broken English- “Yes, we open account. You have ID? “

It is no use trying to convince such people to speak to you in their own language. The white man’s tongue is English- always has been, always will be. According to them. And they cannot speak it well and are afraid to be embarrassed. He sits down, but other customers do not want to sit next to him. Sits empty up around him.

After having opened the bank account, the missionary goes out to catch a taxi- but one after another roll on by without stopping- "what if he speaks English and my English is not fluent ?– I’d better not stop for this foreigner!” The missionary is left standing alone in the rain. He feels ostracized, and he feels like a stranger in a strange land in spite of the fact that he had spent years preparing himself to function in this society in its language.

Since the missionary is not a Catholic priest, he decides to invite some ladies to dinner. After many unsuccessful attempts, one lady agrees. She brings a chaperon and they all eat, but no conversation ensues. The girls do not talk! They just stare at the man, shaking. After he speaks to them in the local language, they still cannot get over the fact that he is a white foreigner. They remain “mute” for the time it takes to have dinner.” It’s just like sitting and talking to a mannequin”, thinks the young man.

The waiter approaches to take the order, and talks to the ladies, but not the man. "Hey, I am paying for this- talk to me! He shouts, " respect, please". " I don't speak English" - barks back the waiter. "But I am not talking to you in English"- replies the white man. The waiter stares at him mutely, not knowing what to say.

The man catches a taxi to take the young ladies home. The taxi driver again completely ignores him while speaking with the ladies. Again, the man explodes- "I pay you! Talk to me!"

East and SE Asian cultures do not as a rule promote individual confidence. They also emphasize the concept of “face”- do not show your weakness or lack of skill in anything. And facing a white man who cannot speak any language but English is a horrible experience which undermines confidence and makes one lose face. So, they stay away from you.

The imperialistic undertakings by the UK, US and other English-speaking countries did not help the situation. Their citizens who were, mainly, either military administration, short term tourists, businessmen or English teachers were overwhelmingly monolingual and never learned to speak local languages to the natives. The former were convinced that the world wanted to be English-speaking, and the latter became persuaded that “the Caucasian race” only spoke English and was biologically incapable of speaking South/East-Asianese.

Well, you will say, but they all have English in school, and they can attempt to speak at least its broken variety to explain something to the Westerner. Oh, well, some will, most won’t. They do not feel confident enough, and, God forbid, they will make a mistake and be disgraced in front of their compatriots and the arrogant western guest! That must never happen. They would rather run away than be humiliated. Hence, a western man is surrounded by fearful faces, people who duck down when they see him as if they are about to be delivered a blow to their face (pun intended) and the white man is ostracized. Not necessarily because they see him as inferior but because “they…do… not…speak…English!”

Hence, a white person who is surrounded by E/SE Asian people will often find mortified facial expressions, turned away gazes, quivering faces and the fact that many natives avoid him like the plague. Not an experience for the faint-hearted. And most of it is the result of introducing English as an international language into cultures where saving one’s image is so high on the priority list. Instead of making these people more talkative, it turned them into scared, ”mute” persons, at least as far as their interaction with a Western visitor or resident is concerned.
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Joined: 15 Jan 2003
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Location: Hokkaido, JAPAN

PostPosted: Thu Nov 22, 2012 11:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Just attended a conference where this topic came up a bit in a panel discussion.

Yes, some/many locals in Asia will be embarrassed / hesitant about making mistakes so they save face. However, are they the only group of people who don't imagine that foreigners (westerners, white people, whatever) have absolutely no ability to speak in the local language at all?

One speaker at the conference said that he felt locals should assume we speak their language and use that first, and if that happens not to be the case, it is the foreigner's responsibility to learn how to communicate (with easy English or with as much broken local language as they can muster). After all, they are the ones in the foreign land.
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