Eurasia Newsletter

bringing the minds of Asia, Canada and Europe together

Month: April, 2014


Heard of this word? It really exists. We have long had the word “Anglicization”, which meant the adoption – willing or unwilling – of English language and culture. This word no longer seems to do, for “Englishization” has been coined. Is it because something new is involved? Or can it be because the coiners don’t know enough English to know the established word? Anyway, there is a certain grim appropriateness to it: a barbarous word for a barbarous thing. What is it all about?

Englishization seems to refer to two different things: (1) teaching through the medium of English in universities, and (2) the influence of the English language on other languages, especially Asian ones. Thus one speaks of “the Englishization of higher education” but also of “the Englishization of Chinese, or Japanese”.

Sense (2) – influence on other languages – is easy enough to understand. It is mainly due to translation. Thus for example the “localization” of software into Asian languages results in English terms and even English ways of saying things being imported into those languages. This can hardly be avoided, though it can be resisted. If it is any consolation to Asians, Europeans are dealing with exactly the same thing – our languages too are being corrupted by English imports. But then again, Europeans always have been dealing with this. German, for example, has recently taken on a flood of English words, but three centuries ago it was taking on a flood of French words.

I will not spend any more time on sense (2), however, but will now talk about (1), because it is a huge phenomenon with huge implications.

Englishization of higher education in Asia is due to the preponderance of English in academic research and publishing in the world today. It is also due to the presence of large numbers of foreigners among university faculty and students, who don’t bother to learn the language of the country they are in, but do understand English. Thus the presence of Chinese students in Japan is used as an argument for teaching in English at Japanese universities, not (of course) as an argument for Chinese. This seems to be leading to a situation where all teaching and research in Asia would be done in English.

This is a lot to ask of millions of Asians, who would find it easier to study in their own language. It appeals to English-speakers, especially to academics who now find that they have vastly increased new career opportunities. Some English-speaking academics think it is not a great idea, however, as it represents a linguistic impoverishment of the world, and of Asia in particular.

The Englishization trend in higher education has already spawned a huge industry: ESL. Asian students are learning English in very large numbers so they can go to universities in the English-speaking world, and later be able to participate in English-medium research. But they are also learning it to go to universities in other countries in Asia where courses are taught in English. Before long, they may even be learning it to go to university in their own countries.

The cultural and even political implications of this trend can hardly be ignored. Is “Englishization” anything different from what “Anglicization” was in the old days?



Greek Easter

This year Greek Easter falls at the same time as Western Easter. The ways of calculating the dates of Easter in the two religious traditions are different. But it is pleasant to think of Greeks celebrating Easter at the same time as the rest of Europe. It reminds us that Greece is a part of Europe. Recently, as a British academic on Corfu told a Swiss journalist, Greeks have been shocked to “experience the crisis as a guillotine that has separated them from the rest of European Union. Many of my friends in Corfu do no understand how, after their being made to feel they were an integral part of Europe, Europe now sees them as a lot of pariahs closer to Asia than to itself.“

Greece’s neighbours the Turks have been trying to get into the European Union for a while, pleading that they are European too, or almost. After the Ottoman Empire collapsed, Atatürk gave them a modern secular nation-state based on the European model. Yet the feeling in the West has always been that Europe ends with Greece. Go any further, and you’re in Asia. Now the Greeks must be feeling that Europe is not too sure about them either. Do they belong to Europe or to Asia? In fact, at one time not so long ago, when the English talked about “Orientals” it included the Greeks. The Greeks have defined themselves in opposition to the Turks, of course; they see themselves as being the last outpost of free Europe rather than a bridgehead of Asian despotism, which is what the Ottoman Empire was to them.

The truth is that Greece has a unique peripheral position. It is at the Eastern edge of Europe, on the edge of Asia, and its tradition is to form a meeting point for the two. It is open to Europe, and it is open to Asia. Not many countries can claim that. Let Greece stay that way, and let the Greeks, rejecting any uneasiness about their status, continue to fulfil their historic mission of bringing together Europe and Asia – Europe and the Middle East in particular.

That will be my thought and my wish as I celebrate Greek and Western Easter together this year.

Making the most of soft power

“Soft power” is an American idea. This is not surprising, because the Americans have been the greatest exponents of it. Soft power means cultural power, as opposed to military or economic power. If you get people to think like you, to value the same things as you, to admire you, then you don’t need to invade them with tanks or blockade them with energy embargos. As the American saying goes, “you’ve got them eating out of your hand”.

Soft power means making your culture admired. It also has to do with making your language admired – not forcing people to learn it, but making them want to learn it.

This happened often enough in the past. For example, France dominated Europe culturally and linguistically, even though Louis XIV and Napoleon ultimately failed to dominate it militarily or economically. In Asia, China dominated Japan culturally, even though it failed on a couple of famous occasions to dominate it militarily.

The Americans got off to a good start in the soft power business when they occupied Germany and Japan after the War. They managed to be constructive and respectful, and helped the former enemies to build up again. They taught them American ideas about how to run a country and an economy.

After that, there was no stopping the Americans. For decades now, popular music and mass entertainment media have all come from America. How could young people around the world fight American power when they consume American cultural products all the time, when these products determine their modern lifestyle? The other half of American soft power is, of course, the English language. Ironically enough, the Americans have never actually organized themselves to export English, whereas the British, who only travel on their coat-tails, have made it into a huge successful industry.

Funnily enough, the Americans don’t seem to have planned their soft power very much at all. Like good capitalists, they left it to the private sector. Hollywood and Tin Pan Alley did the job for them. This does not mean that other countries cannot plan their soft power. France, for example, with its Alliance Française and Francophonie, understands very well what is at stake and is very active. The Germans with their Goethe Institutes could have done just as well, but since the War they have been suffering from a national inferiority complex, and so have not pushed their language and culture as much as they might have.

China shows signs of building soft power with its Confucius institutes. To be sure, Chinese language, writing system and culture are an outstanding achievement of humanity that the rest of the world should be familiar with.

Japan could enjoy tremendous soft power but doesn’t. The Japanese have so much to offer the world, but they are still too insular and focused on themselves. “Japanese management” was a craze they failed to exploit and it seems to have fizzled out.

Other countries, including Asian countries, could be exploiting their soft power and making it count around the world. But they would have to value their own civilisations, and not just the business and technology skills which they have picked up from the West.

Language study trips

A language trip can be a unique experience to be remembered for a lifetime. But it does call for a certain investment – of money, time and energy. You have to be well prepared. You have even to be inwardly prepared. Are you ready for a language study trip? Ask yourself the following questions:

Have you learned enough of the target language yet?

To benefit by an intensive course, you probably should not be a complete beginner.

Do you like this target language?

To benefit by a course, to enjoy it, you need to love that language already. You have to be motivated.

Have you already spent time abroad?

A bit of foreign experience is helpful – even a short time spent experiencing a foreign language and culture. Otherwise you might find yourself overwhelmed with “culture shock” if it is your first time abroad when you go on a language course.

Have you got an open and accepting attitude towards other peoples?

You need to be open – open to all the things that will be coming at you. Otherwise it is all too easy to get into a defensive position as regards the foreign culture and the target language itself.

Have you budgeted enough money?

You will need to pay for the trip itself (including the school, accommodation, etc.) and you will know at an early stage what these amounts are. But don’t forget that you may want to take holidays in the country you are studying in, travel around, or take in cultural events. When these opportunities come up, you won’t want to be troubled by lack of money.

I hope these questions will help you as you make your decision about a language trip abroad. You can certainly work at improving your weak points – for example, becoming culturally more open or working intensively on the target language before you travel. And if you are thinking of sending a son or daughter on one of these language trips, or if you are a teacher of young language students, you might do well to discuss these questions with them.