‘Washback Effect’ of Learning Foreign Languages

September 13, 2011 by totalityservices

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Here is another great contribution from Lily our intern from China!

As a native Chinese, I can say that we tend to regard the mastery of a foreign language as having a competitive edge in the business world as well as being fashionable in our daily lives. With the prevalence of Western culture, the English language has become increasingly popular among local Chinese. However, the dominance of English phrases in our daily talk remains controversial.

I have to admit that the younger generation of Chinese have a much better mastery of English than our parents and grandparents, which is a good phenomenon in a time of globalization. Yet, the ‘washback effect’ of learning English on our mother tongue cannot be neglected. Today, the integration of English words into our mother tongue is ubiquitous. You may hear expressions such as伊妹儿(email) 粉丝 (fans) 酷 (cool), 拷贝(copy) every day. I was taken aback when I heard a middle-aged women saying on the phone “晚上看完秀(show)记得考(call)我 (please remember to call me after watching the show tonight). Recently, there even appears to be a new expression “XX 控(kong)” (such as 校服控, refers to those who fancy student uniforms). This is quite interesting because the phrase originated from the English word ‘Complex’ and was then introduced into the Japanese language as a suffix “コン”. Finally, the Chinese language adopted the Japanese pronunciation and the character 控appears everywhere, which actually bears no relation to its original meaning at all.

So, the point is that while we become increasingly aware of ‘Chinglish’ expressions, shouldn’t we also pay attention to the negative effect of English on Chinese? Many Chinese phrases have lost their original meaning due to the infiltration of foreign languages.

You might be thinking that it’s a fashionable trend to speak Chinese with some broken English words, but I have to say that the awkward combination of English and Chinese really spoils the correct expression of Chinese. Nowadays, even the school kids do not have a clear idea about the correct pronunciation and grammar of Chinese language. This is partly because they start to learn a foreign language at an early age, so they often mix up the two languages, and partly because their grammatical senses are adversely influenced by the awkward expressions in the mass media.

What negative effects (if any) does English have on your native language?

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