J: I’m fine, thanks.
D: Great! Why don’t you go ahead and let us know a little bit about you. First of all, where are you from?
J: I’m from Jingjiang, Jiangsu Province.
D: Ok, how old are you?
J: I’m 26 years old.
D: You were born and raised in Jinjiang; you lived there all your life?
D: What college did you attend?
J: I graduated from Huaihai Institute of Technology. It’s in Lianyungang, Jiangsu Province. That city is really cool; I like the city.
D: What did you study in college?
J: My major was English.
D: Ok. Why English? Why did you choose English as your major?
J: I was interested in English since…I think, primary school. My English scores were higher than in other subjects. And I just think that if you can speak another language it’s really pretty cool. I can speak my hometown language, Mandarin, and of course now I can speak English even though my English is not so good.
D: Don’t worry, I can understand you!
J: I also hope to go on [and study] French because in my college French was my second language; second foreign language.
D: Can you speak some French?
J: Um… “Comment vous appelez-vous?” “Je m’appelle…”
D: What does that mean?
J: It means, “What’s your name?” “My name is…”
D: Cool! Hopefully you can use it someday. Ok, so in college you studied English. Tell me a little bit more about that. How has your life improved by studying English and where has it taken you?
J: I think I just…language jobs are limited to becoming an interpreter, English teacher, and to work for foreign enterprises, but I think I’m not suitable for foreign companies.
D: You mean like making telephone calls and talking to people from different countries?
J: Yeah, I think for me it’s a little difficult to understand people from different countries. Of course I [mainly] wanted to be an interpreter but I failed. I took part in a test that included a writing and speaking part. I passed the writing part but lost in the reading. Later I still took part in some listening and speaking classes but finally I still didn’t get the interpreter job. It’s really a challenging job. Later I just got a good job as an English teacher.
D: So you became an English teacher in Kunshan?
J: Yes, in 2013. I teach children ages 7-12.
D: How quickly do they usually pick up the language?
J: It depends on different children. I think if you want to grasps one language well, of course when you learn it, you should review it, do a lot of practice—listening practice, speaking practice—some children are interested in learning languages so they will review by themselves, but if they’re lazy, their English won’t be so good.
D: Ok, you studied English in college and gradually improved. What were some things you did to improve your English abilities?
J: I took part in a training class in 2012 and I participated in English corners with foreign teachers and when I’m at work I take time to communicate with foreign teachers and discuss different traditions and cultures. By these ways, I can improve myself.
D: So you think that it’s good when you study any language that you need to learn the culture for that language as well?
J: Of course.
D: But sometimes in China it seems like when students do learn English or learn anything, they kind of just learn the textbook material and don’t really learn the outside, applicable life skills. Like they study just to pass the test. What do you think abut that?
J: You know in China, because the educational system is aimed at tests…for me, it’s not so good. I think that when they are still young and until high school, the educational system is suitable for them, but after that some students will go to college and some will go to work. Both are ok, but in China, a lot of parents just think you must go to college. I think it’s wrong.
[Break for laughter]
D: Did you understand my question? I meant, for studying English, many students in China will only study their textbook and learn the format and grammar [of the English language], but they don’t get familiar with the culture.
J: This is the same situation when foreigners learn Chinese. At first they’ll learn the easiest Chinese from the textbook and …. Now, more and more foreigners are coming to China and they can experience the cultures and traditions because they are in China, but our students usually never go outside to another country. So, now they learn English from textbooks and there will be some information about cultures in the textbooks, like about the American flag, American presidents, American history—but now they have no chance to go to America and experience different cultures. So of course to learn the basics first is ok.
D: But I don’t think it necessarily matters if you go travel outside. Some students that you and I have both taught, you ask them, “How are you?” and what do they say?
J: They always say, “I’m fine, thank you. How about you?”
D: Yes, it’s really robotic. So, that’s what I’m trying to say. They sound too much like a textbook; there’s no improvising, no thinking outside the box. I just think it’s interesting.
J: Again, just like you. At first you learned Chinese and when I speak Chinese to ask you some questions like “Ni jingtian chi la ma”, you always say, “Wo jingtian chi la shenma shenma shenma…” because your textbook teaches you to say this. Just like English, Chinese is the same. There are a lot of different ways to express the same meaning but the textbook just tells you one. So of course our students always just say “How are you?” I’m fine, thank you. And you?” Maybe later, when they grow up and meet more people and more foreigners, those people can tell them another way to answer.
D: Ok, on to a different subject. Tell me about your hopes and dreams? What do you plan to do and accomplish throughout your life, short-term and long-term?
J: You know, now I am an English teacher. I think my short-term goal is to be an English trainer. I want to train more people.
D: Train other teachers?
J: Yes, train new Chinese teachers and foreign teachers. Of course I have already tried but I want to go on. I want to become more resourceful and collect more details that will help me to become a successful trainer. I have [also] setup a goal for my long-term. In the future when I will be 30yrs. old, or from 30-35yrs. old, I want to go to another country like England, France, or America, and stay there for at least 1 year to experience a different environment and culture. My major was English but I have never gone outside of China, so I will try. And I will continue to do the teaching job and be in education because I like to be with children and I think the working environment is a little happy and relaxing.
D: And what about marriage?
J: You know, my thoughts are different than most Chinese. You know in China, for girls, when you are 28yrs. old you must get married or you will be the…
D: --I thought it was younger, around 24yrs. old?
J: Of course 24 is the most beautiful age so our parents always want us to get married at the age of 24, but here in China now the trend is around 28yrs. old and to have a baby at 30. Now in china a lot of couples just do that. Sometimes you also see some couples go to work in another country but their children are left with their grandparents [in China] because they get married too early and have no financial support. But for me I hope I can get married at 30yrs. old and give birth to a baby at 32. In China a lot of couples get married by blind dating.
D: Can you tell everyone what blind dating is?
J: Blind dating is when a woman is 28yrs. old and she should find a husband, but she doesn’t have one. So her parents and family will arrange strangers for her to meet and in half a year maybe they’ll get married and after a year later give birth to a baby. In 1 year they’ll finish everything.
D: That’s really popular in China right?
J: Yes that’s really popular!
D: I’ve heard of that before. In America, for instance, you can meet someone and get married but it’s not so much pressure. I think in Chinese culture there’s a lot of pressure to rush the process.
J: You know in China now there are 2 different extremes. One is like I’ve said before where in 1 year you finish everything. The other is a girl makes a lot of blind dates but doesn’t find a husband. Then finally the girl is bored of blind dating and then is still single until maybe 35. There are a lot of ladies like this in big cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong. They are 35 and have a lot of money, their own house, their own car, but they have no boyfriend or husband.
D: But in China if you’re that old and don’t have a husband or wife, it seems like people usually look down on you. “You’re not married yet, what’s wrong with you! ?” Of course in America it can happen too, but I still feel like it’s not as bad as it is here.
J: That’s right. In China if a girl is 35yrs. old and still not married her parents will say, “If you don’t find a boyfriend or husband before this New Year, please don’t come home to celebrate!”
J: Chinese parents are very conservative. They hope their daughters are not just successful at work, but mostly successful at life. You should find a husband, have a baby, and live happily. Don’t always live alone by yourself. Of course this is a Chinese parent’s wish; they don’t want their daughter to not have any support in the future.