English tips from Li Yang, noted wife-beater and pedagogue

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Crazy English: crazier than you imagined!

An anonymous tipster sent me this photograph taken in a washroom at the Kunming Airport:

Before annotating and explicating the Chinese on this poster, just a brief review of some of the posts about Crazy English, bathroom language, and the Kunming airport on Language Log and elsewhere:

If you're curious about Li Yang as a wife-beater, search the web under Li Yang + domestic violence OR wife beating OR divorce. If you add the name of his abused American wife, Kim Lee, you'll find many more links, including some that lead to articles like this one in the People's Daily (from the Shanghai Daily): "It's normal to beat wife in China – Li Yang."

All right, now down to business. Since the contents of this poster are so incredible, I will translate almost everything on it that I can make out with the naked eye. When the English on the poster is passable, I will incorporate it in my treatment without comment.

quánguó miǎnfèi fúwù diànhuà 全国免费服务电话
nationwide free telephone number

Li Yáng Fēngkuáng Yīngyǔ guānfāng wǎngzhàn 李阳疯狂英语官方网站
Li Yang Crazy English official website

huānyíng hé Li Yáng lǎoshī yīqǐ fēngkuáng xué Yīngyǔ 欢迎和李阳老师一起疯狂学英语
Welcome you to crazily study English together with teacher Li Yang

zhēngfú Yīngyǔ, ràng zǔguó gèng qiángdà! 征服英语,让祖国更强大!
Conquer English to make the fatherland stronger!

Yīngyǔ jiùshì Hànyǔ de pīnyīn 英语就是汉语的拼音
English is spelling for Sinitic

Yīngyǔ shì Hànyǔ xià de dàn! 英语是汉语下的蛋!
English is an egg laid by Sinitic!

rènhé rén dōu kěyǐ 任何人都可以
Anybody can do it

qīngsōng xuéhǎo yīngyǔ! 轻松学好英语!
Learn English easily!

jiàoyù 教育
education

qǐng dàshēng dú 请大声读
Read loudly

ài jiù kāixīn 爱就开心
If you love you'll be happy

fēngkuáng liánxiǎng 疯狂联想
Crazy association

jiàoyù jiùshì ài, àile jiù kāixīn 教育就是爱,爱了就开心
Education is love; if you love you'll be happy

jīròu 鸡肉
chicken meat

qǐng dàshēng dú 请大声读
Read loudly

chī kěn 吃啃
eat-gnaw

fēngkuáng liánxiǎng 疯狂联想
Crazy association

chī jīròu jiù yào yòu chī yòu kěn 吃鸡肉就要又吃又啃
When you eat chicken, you have to eat and gnaw

xué Yīngyǔ jiùshì zhème jiǎndān 学英语就是这么简单
Learning English is that simple

yīgè cèsuǒ de wénmíng juédìngle yīgè guójiā de wénmíng 一个厕所的文明决定了一个国家的文明
Civilization in a restroom determines a nation's civilization

Never mind the wife beating and the craziness, people still flock to Li Yang to learn English, as they do to countless other teachers and schools in China. The craze for learning English in the PRC has not yet peaked. Of course, there are those who wish that English did not play such a prominent role in the lives and minds of the Chinese citizenry.

Note that, so far, this is only a proposal. I doubt seriously that parents and students will want to lessen the emphasis on English, which is arguably the most important key to success for Chinese, both inside and outside the country.

Cèsuǒ yīngyǔ wànsuì! 厕所英语万岁!
Long live toilet English!

Fēngkuáng yīngyǔ wànsuì 疯狂英语万岁!
Long live Crazy English!

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49 Comments »

  1. Roger Lustig said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 1:00 pm

    "The civilization in the restroom determines the level of a nation's civilization."

    He may be on to something there…

  2. Eric said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 1:15 pm

    英語就是漢語的拼音

    This is the part that really caught my attention. Is there some cultural note I’m missing; does this make any more sense in chinese?
    English is in fact Hanyu’s pinyin?

  3. JS said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 2:14 pm

    ^ English is nothing more than the pinyin component of our Chinese; that is, a crude system of squiggles pieced together to make larger words by a logic any two-year old could understand

  4. EdConnelly said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 2:40 pm

    Eric: Pinyin is the official Romainization system used in the PRC. It is introduced in primary school to teach the sounds of Modern Standard Chinese , hence most Chinese know Pinyin. Li Yang seems to be implying that English is no more than an extensive Pinyin system.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 3:00 pm

    When he writes "education" as "àijiùkāixīn 爱就开心" and "chicken" as "chīkěn 吃啃", he is showing how English is "spelling" Chinese. Aarrrgghh.

  6. Victor Mair said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 3:11 pm

    @Victor Mair

    No, that's Chinese "spelling" English!

  7. D.O. said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 3:18 pm

    Prof. Mair, are you debating yourself?

  8. Victor Mair said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 3:45 pm

    @D.O.

    In this case, yes.

  9. Ted said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 4:29 pm

    It actually makes more than a little sense: He's coming up with a "crazy association" as a mnemonic to link the meaning (one Chinese phrase) to the sound of the English phrase (as represented by a Chinese phrase with a different meaning, in addition to the English spelling and IPA). I'm not a second-language teacher, but the concept seems sound (no pun intended) to me.

  10. Ted said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 4:32 pm

    The point about civilization in the restrooms, by the way, seems to be a message provided by the Kunming airport authority related to the location of the sign, not by Crazy English. I think it's connected to the ad only in the literal sense of the word.

  11. Ted said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 4:52 pm

    Also, I don't think "English is spelling for Hànyǔ" is meant literally. It's an analogy.

    The concept is basically: Don't be intimidated by the thought that these are strange, difficult foreign words. You can write Chinese in pīnyīn , right? Well, here's an English word: "Education." And look: "education" is just "ài jiù kāixīn" (爱就开心). Here's a wacky mnemonic to help you remember that. See how easy it is?

    To say that " Li Yang seems to be implying that English is no more than an extensive Pinyin system" is, I think, entirely missing the point. English is no more pīnyīn than education is 爱就开心. It's a rhetorical device meant to emphasize how easy it is to learn English by his method.

  12. Rubrick said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 4:52 pm

    When all is said and done, is not all of life an egg laid by the Sinitic?

  13. leoboiko said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 4:53 pm

    The problem with this kind of cute mnemonic association is that they sound good when you look at a few examples, but no one can use them to learn two (or ten) thousand words. It would be just too many stories—and in many cases the associations are imperfect and open to multiple interpretations (how many things you can "eat-gnaw" other than chicken?).

    Also, during live conversation there's no time to mentally retrieve stories for every word.

    You can use mnemonics as some sort of training wheels, to force yourself to remember those odd few words that you keep forgetting. But this is a rare problem; most of the time your problem is that you still have thousands and thousands of unknown words to learn, so that you're forced to resort to more time- and space-efficient methods.

  14. Eric said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 5:08 pm

    You know, this, of course, reminds me of those radio commercials from the ’90s, S-O-C-K-S—eso sí que es.

  15. William Steed said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 6:09 pm

    Of course the aijiukaixin "spelling" of 'education' works quite well if you say it in Shanghainese. 'Chiken' for 'chicken' still isn't great in Shanghai, but it's closer to English. I suspect the person who came up with that part of the poster is a Wu speaker.

  16. William Steed said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 6:16 pm

    p.s. I should add transcriptions – 爱就开心 (aijiukaixin) in Shanghainese is something like [eʨjɤkʰɛsəŋ], and 吃啃 (chiken) is something like [ʨɪ̌k:əŋ].

    I also realised that I missed an analogy with the father of the bride in My Big Fat Greek Wedding's insistence that any word in English can be traced back to Greek.

  17. kamo said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 6:41 pm

    @ Rubrick

    That's a very astute observation, but I think slightly misses the key question as to whether the Sinitic egg came before or after the eat-gnaw.

    The answer to this will reveal something significant, I feel.

  18. Matt said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 8:16 pm

    I, too, am curious about this egg metaphor. Is it a common one? If so, in what sorts of contexts is it used? (Like, "I knew Jack Kennedy and you, sir, are an egg laid by him", that sort of thing?)

    Also, is it actually more scornful than a direct English translation would imply (a la "stupid egg")?

  19. maidhc said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 9:27 pm

    He picked some easy examples, but I think the pinyin approach to words like "strength" or "thwart" would be a bit more challenging..

    Still, it's advertising.

    The ads we get on the Spanish TV channels kind of imply that if you take their English course you will be plucked from your dead-end service job and dropped into a big leather chair behind a mahogany desk, where you will lounge around all day in a nicely tailored three-piece suit saying things over the phone like "Get me the third quarter results immediately".

  20. Hung said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 9:46 pm

    英语就是汉语的拼音: I think it means that English (words) can all be transliterated into Chinese (characters), but the expression in Chinese is rather awkward.

    任何人都可以 Anybody can do it
    轻松学好英语! Learn English easily!

    —— should be read as one sentence: 任何人都可以轻松学好英语

  21. John Rohsenow said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 11:47 pm

    This once again reminds me of the late John DeFrancis' (in)famous
    "Singlish Affair".

  22. michael farris said,

    October 24, 2013 @ 12:59 am

    "The ads we get on the Spanish TV channels kind of imply that if you take their English course you will be plucked from your dead-end service job and dropped into a big leather chair behind a mahogany desk, where you will lounge around all day in a nicely tailored three-piece suit saying things over the phone like "Get me the third quarter results immediately"."

    So much advertising for English courses reminds me of religious conversion literature.

  23. Jacob said,

    October 24, 2013 @ 1:26 am

    Do any educators (and I don't count Li Yang as one) really believe this is an effective method for learning English or any other language?

    Examples of these kind of mneumonics come up occasionally, but they're usually just marketing gimmicks or jokes. I remember seeing 'ponderous' "spelled" as 胖得要死. I think I've even seen a cross-talk where one of the comedians insisted he could teach anyone English.

    And here's a semi-related video that has been making the rounds lately: http://view.inews.qq.com/a/VDO2013051500941403?dt=1&cv=0×14050036

  24. michael farris said,

    October 24, 2013 @ 2:00 am

    "Do any educators (and I don't count Li Yang as one) really believe this is an effective method for learning English or any other language?"

    I doubt if Li Yang is that concerned about people who pay for his courses actually learn much of anything. AFAICT much of the private English teaching industry around the world is constructed to make real learning difficult and time-consuming (and expensive).

  25. Victor Mair said,

    October 24, 2013 @ 5:43 am

    @michael farris

    It was the same way with dance lessons. And psychotherapy.

  26. Eric said,

    October 24, 2013 @ 7:09 am

    The ads we get on the Spanish TV channels kind of imply that if you take their English course you will be plucked from your dead-end service job and dropped into a big leather chair behind a mahogany desk, where you will lounge around all day in a nicely tailored three-piece suit saying things over the phone like "Get me the third quarter results immediately".

    At least one fairly widely available series in American Spanish-language bookstores purports to teach you English painlessly vía Castilian-orthography transcriptions. e.g. Jau ar yu? Fain, tenk yu. Du yu jav ei smáler sais? which is guaranteed to make you sound like the worst peón ever, jeez

    Also, I love that the ubiquitous Inglés sin barreras has mistakes in the English transcriptions on their commercials. Extensive screaming at the TV has not seemed to rectify this.

  27. Victor Mair said,

    October 24, 2013 @ 10:37 am

    From Fangyi Cheng:

    ======

    I looked up the meaning of "英语是汉语下的蛋" by Li Yang. The sentence can be found in several similar contexts:

    李阳先生说过:“英语是汉语下的蛋!精通汉语,顺便学好英语。”

    Li Yang's Weibo: "英语是汉语下的蛋!只要会拼音和汉字,你就能快速学会英语!Education 教育。疯狂联想:教育就是爱,爱了就开心。发音:爱就开心。说慢一点是汉语,快速说就变成了英语!"

    "日本人、韩国人有两门外语(汉语和英语),美国人、英国人有一门外语(汉语),而中国人没有外语,因为英语是汉语下的蛋!"

    I think that the meaning of the sentence is related to "英语是汉语的拼音". Because one of the ways Li Yang teaches English is by trying to teach the pronunciation with Chinese pronunciation. (The example above is: Education—爱就开心) He emphasizes that English is the same as Pinyin, so students can easily learn how to speak English.

    =====

    VHM: This makes what Li Yang is trying to say a bit clearer, but it is still illogical and pedagogically unsound.

  28. Jake Nelson said,

    October 24, 2013 @ 11:21 am

    "Civilization in a restroom determines a nation's civilization" – I'm reminded of a line, something like "If you wish to measure the health of a city, examine its sewers", but I can't find the reference.

  29. Dan Hemmens said,

    October 24, 2013 @ 5:44 pm

    Do any educators (and I don't count Li Yang as one) really believe this is an effective method for learning English or any other language?

    I'm not an EFL teacher, but I suspect that the answer is "yes and no". The basic principle (strong, preferably visual associations allowing you to more easily recall specific facts) is sound, and overlaps strongly with well understood memory tricks. I've heard people suggest similar methods for learning vocabulary in other languages as well and honestly I don't think it's actually as completely mad as people are making out as long as you're clear what you're trying to do – that is, to memorize specific bits of vocabulary. Certainly it's a better technique for learning vocabulary than … well … no technique at all, which is what a lot of language learners wind up with. Most of the things I remember from my A-levels are things I had silly mnemonics for (I remember the Jacob-Monod Lac-Operon principle to this day thanks to a cutesy limerick).

    Where it falls down is the same place that most people fall down when studying languages, which is the assumption that all languages are basically just your language with the words swapped out. Even if you can remember the English word "chicken", that won't tell you how to use it in a sentence or help you remember that, for example, the word "chicken" in English refers to the meat and the bird (unlike many English food words, where the meat has a unique name) or to distinguish between "chicken" (whole species) "chick" (baby chicken) and "hen" (female only).

    tl;dr "Crazy Associations" actually seem like a perfectly reasonable (and I think commonly used) way to learn vocabulary. But vocabulary isn't language.

  30. Chris said,

    October 25, 2013 @ 9:04 am

    "Civilization in the restroom" probably alludes to an idea expressed in the small signs promoting cleanliness that are posted above urinals in many public toilets in Beijing: "向前一小步,文明一大步" ("A small step forward is a great leap for civilization").

  31. Victor Mair said,

    October 25, 2013 @ 9:57 am

    @Chris

    "A small step forward….")

    Mentioned here:

    "Signs from Kashgar to Delhi"

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=7682

  32. Mike Jones said,

    October 25, 2013 @ 10:51 am

    A resource for learning English that is waiting to be exploited is that of Esperanto-language documentation of English. Such documentation would enjoy economies of scale: it would be useful not only the the Chinese wanting to learn English, but also to the Russians wanting to learn English, the Spanish wanting to learn English, and so on.

  33. Michael Watts said,

    October 27, 2013 @ 3:42 am

    Why would esperanto documentation of English be useful to Chinese, Russians, Spanish, etc., wanting to learn English? They don't know esperanto. And it would surely make more sense for them to learn English directly than to learn esperanto just for the purpose of using it to learn English.

  34. michael farris said,

    October 27, 2013 @ 7:36 am

    As a relatively fluent user of Esperanto (who's taught and given papers on linguistic topics in the language) I'm not sure what Mike Jones is referring to since there's not really that much about English in Esperanto.

  35. Mike Jones said,

    October 27, 2013 @ 9:10 am

    @Michael Watts:
    >it would surely make more sense for them to learn English directly than to learn [E]speranto just for the purpose of using it to learn English

    Learning Esperanto has enough inherent benefits to justify its study on that basis alone, but, quite aside from that, learning Esperanto just for the purpose of using it to learn another language in fact makes sense, and is in fact a going concern. This is the so-called "springboard" use of Esperanto. To read up on it, google for "Springboard to Languages".

    "Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age 18."
    –Albert Einstein

  36. Mike Jones said,

    October 27, 2013 @ 9:14 am

    @Michael Farris:
    >there's not really that much about English in Esperanto

    And it was silly of the Wright Brothers to invent the airplane – because there weren't any airports.

  37. Sili said,

    October 27, 2013 @ 9:41 am

    Prof. Mair, are you debating yourself?

    Perhaps the quality of the regular audience is insufficient …

  38. Mike Jones said,

    October 27, 2013 @ 9:45 am

    BTW, FWIW, Walter Lippmann, the famous journalist and author of Public Opinion, also publicly had marital problems. Google for "Mrs Walter Lippmann Wins Florida Divorce". There you can find: "Mrs Lippmann charged her husband with extreme cruelty and habitual indulgence in a violent and ungovernable temper."

  39. michael farris said,

    October 27, 2013 @ 12:17 pm

    "Learning Esperanto has enough inherent benefits to justify its study on that basis alone"

    I basically agree, but I think the whole idea propedeutic value is not a good selling point at this time. It lacks face validity for most people who aren't already multilingual (and for some who are).

  40. Jason said,

    October 27, 2013 @ 2:50 pm

    The International Auxilliary Lanuguage discussion is of course interminable, but I would suggest that Zamenhof's amateurishly designed pidginized Slavic was never likely to find favor with the world even during its most propitous period, and certainly won't now.

    If I were to choose an International interlanguage, I like Interlingua (if you already know a Romance language, you already speak it) with its Latinate roots meshing nicely with English's scientific and technical lexicon, or Ken Campbell's quixotic but inspired choice of Vanuatu's English-lexified pidgin, Bislama.

    But all of this is a dead issue because it's clear people would rather try to directly learn English than an artificial language with a few thousand speakers. Perhaps if the trends continue we might see a pidginised form of English evolve on the Internet among L2 speakers talking amongst themselves, but it will of course look nothing at all like Esperanto.

  41. Eric said,

    October 27, 2013 @ 4:08 pm

    @Mike Jones (Who?) Mike Jones:

    A resource for learning English that is waiting to be exploited is that of Esperanto-language documentation of English.

    I'm sure your contributions would be much appreciated. :)

  42. michael farris said,

    October 27, 2013 @ 4:28 pm

    "Zamenhof's amateurishly designed pidginized Slavic"

    "an artificial language with a few thousand speakers"

    I could try to pull apart the levels of prejudice inherent in those descriptions but instead I'll just ask if you would describe anyone's native language like that to their face and then remind you that there are native speakers of Esperanto (though they don't have any special influence in dictating usage that native speakers of English have).

    Also the idea that small languages are inherently inferior is common enough, but I am surprised to find it at language log.

  43. Eric said,

    October 27, 2013 @ 8:08 pm

    we might see a pidginised form of English evolve on the Internet among L2 speakers talking amongst themselves

    This isn’t hard to find, of course—just visit any international venue not dominated by the Anglosphere. I, on IRC, once watched a quite impassioned conversation take place where not a single participant appeared to be a native English speaker (I believe it was during the 2010 World Cup). I can’t offer any further analysis, but I do remember the repeated use of the regular preterite maked.

    there's not really that much about English in Esperanto.

    I believe this lack is exactly what Mr. Jones was addressing.

  44. michael farris said,

    October 28, 2013 @ 1:33 am

    I have sometimes have ocasion to observe/listen to groups of non-native English speakers outside the confines of the anglosphere (in Europe).

    There are a number of distinctive features of such L2 (in some cases L3 of L4) English. In my experience they include:

    - use of do with embedded wh-clauses, though it is frequently omitted in main clauses.

    Where he lives?

    I don't know why did he do that.

    - use of 'discriminated' by itself

    Women in my country are discriminated.

    - use of some pseudo-English words like 'mobbing' (instead of work-place harassment' or 'work-place bullying').

    - ditching most empty politeness formulas (making the whole thing process sound pretty unpleasant to native speakers).

    - grim (almost obsessive) use of 'he and/or she' instead of 'singular' they.

    Also the whole use of stress to emphasize sentence elements disappears.

  45. Victor Mair said,

    October 28, 2013 @ 9:57 am

    @Sili

    "Perhaps the quality of the regular audience is insufficient …"

    That's silly! Quite the contrary, I find the quality of the regular audience at Language Log to be extremely high.

  46. Mike Jones said,

    October 30, 2013 @ 9:55 am

    @Jason:

    > people would rather try to directly learn English than an artificial language

    You are perhaps under the mistaken impression that the student must
    already have learned Esperanto in order for Esperanto to be of use
    to the student. This is not at all the case, because of the great economy
    that glossing has over full-blown definitions. To take one example, if the
    teacher wants to point out the difference between "angle" and "angel",
    the teacher can give long-winded explanations of each word, or simply
    translate the two words into Esperanto: "angle" = ["angulo"] and
    "angel" = ["anĝelo"]. Anyone with an Esperanto dictionary has access
    to this concise mode of enlightenment, and in many cases probably
    doesn't even need the dictionary.

    "A failure of imagination is not an insight into necessity."
    –Patrick Barrow

  47. JS said,

    October 30, 2013 @ 10:40 am

    Are you referring to the use of "ĝ" to represent /dʒ/ in contrast to "g" for /g/? This phonological information is available in the English dictionaries I am familiar with (as well as aurally)… and surely doesn't go very far towards accounting for the difference between an angle and an angel?

  48. Mike Jones said,

    October 31, 2013 @ 1:21 pm

    I was not referring only to that, but to the entire difference in spelling. It was only an example, anyway. Here is another example that may better illustrate what I am talking about: It often happens that in non-English-speaking countries that the police cars are marked most prominently with the English word POLICE. Now imagine that all such designations were magically changed to the Esperanto word, namely, POLICO. I maintain that no one would be confused by this, even if they had never heard of Esperanto. (A similar situation obtains with BANK: If all instances of BANK were changed to BANKO, would anyone be confused? I think not.)

  49. Victor Mair said,

    November 4, 2013 @ 11:05 pm

    From Fangyi Cheng:

    It looks as though Li Yang will end his "Crazy English" business soon, because he joined the Amway company to do direct selling. However, he will still be doing similar work, making speeches to convince people to join the "direct selling" system. Here is the link describing this major change in Li Yang's life:

    http://finance.ifeng.com/a/20131104/11005937_0.shtml

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