As promised, I wanted to write about my experience living in Shanghai more, and so today I thought I'd write about the English. As I wrote previously, while the Shanghai people have a relatively higher proficiency in English, it's still nowhere near what you can get in Malaysia (thumbs up to Malaysians!). Within the CBD, though, I have to say more city-folk speak English. The moment I left the CBD, it was quite hard to find anyone who could speak English.
It was worse when I visited Nanjing- had a case of food poisoning, but thought it was just indigestion at first, and the pharmacy did not understand English, so when I said indigestion they didn't know what I was saying, and I didn't know what indigestion is in Mandarin, either! So I resorted to saying very bad stomach ache (in Mandarin).
I wasn't expecting much in terms of English, either, although I did expect that the company that I would be interning at would have more people speaking English, as it is owned by an Indonesian and all my correspondence with them were in English.
So imagine how uncomfortable I was the first day at work- I was left in an environment where Mandarin is the main language, and most of them didn't speak English. I knew what went through my mind then- what am I going to do for six weeks? Luckily, being placed in such a situation puts you in survival mode- My Mandarin dramatically improved in just that day alone. And it also helped that I met some Indonesian coworkers, so we just conversed in English (such a lifesaver!).
Throughout my six weeks in the office, it was indeed funny at times communicating with them in Mandarin- sometimes I understood them, other times I don't and would guess at what they're saying based on the context of the situation we're in and their body language. It was entertaining at times, but by the third week I could understand about 90% of what they were saying.
Then there was English in public. Like I said, the Chinese have this perception that learning English is something that will make them more Western, or at least that's how I perceived it. Once, a boy probably my age approached me while I was waiting for the train, and asked me in Mandarin if I wanted to learn English. I was, to say the least, thoroughly amused. Unfortunately it happened too suddenly that all I could muster was muttering 'I can speak English' in Mandarin. If I had more time I would've replied in English. The next few times I went to that station I positioned myself close to the same person, but unfortunately he never did approach me after that- what a shame.
Then there was this incident when I was walking in the station with one Indonesian colleague. You should've seen the speed at which the two people in front of us turned the moment they heard us speaking in English. It's as if a bomb exploded or something. But no, it's just two people conversing in English.
Those were the instances that I saw as them being transfixed by anything English. There were others, too, but it would take too long to list everything.
I'm sure many of you would know by now that the Chinese English accent is quite hard to understand. I had a colleague there who could speak English, but I struggled to understand her as her accent was so heavy. For example, they would call a colleague by the name of James as 'Jame-suh'. I don't know where the 'uh' came from, as it's not existent in Mandarin, to the best of my knowledge. And 'thinking' became 'sinking', as did all other 'th-'s. 'Thought', 'that', became 'sought' and 'sat', which is actually very, very funny. I know it's extremely rude to be making fun of a person's accent, but that just reminded me of this ad:
And you should see one of the comments made on the video:
Not to take anything away from the strides in English on the part of the Chinese- their CCTV English channels have presenters that spoke excellent English. It's just that for the majority of the population, they could work on their English.