Monday, October 19, 2009

rant

I have no sympathy for the Chinese and their terrible English and total lack of communication skills- because the majority of them make no effort whatsoever to improve their English- stick to speaking in Mandarin amongst themselves even after spending years in the US grad school and post-doc system. And it just ends up being a frustrating experience to get things across and deal with them.

Grr.

Which all reminds me of a funny episode in lab the other day. My chinese labmate is introducing me over email to another professor, and he says "Another guy from our lab, TGFI, will be contacting you".

When I explained to him that guy is male, he profusely apologised and said "but I hear some people say "Guys" to women too!"

:)

26 comments:

Mr. K Bodhi said...

I hear you sister! I had this labmate who used to disturb me every two minutes with a grammar question.

I don't follow rules to place commas and I typically read it out and punctuate. So when I do place commas and give it to him, he used to argue.


P.S. I find the irritatingly cute.

ggop said...

Probably because they start learning the language in high school or while preparing for TOEFL.

The_Girl_From_Ipanema said...

K B
atleast someone was trying to learn his grammar-that's actually admirable.

ggop,
fair enough- which is why i say- five-plus years here and no effort made at all to integrate..or at the very least improve their english. its part of moving to a foreign country- they really need to step it up. gah.

Macho Girl said...

I hear you! Totally! It does get annoying when they dont make the effort to improve but even worse, when they don't make the effort to understand you! On that note, I gotta say, my journal club head makes the most amazing papers seem so boring and makes me look dumb :-< Any guesses why :-/

Sujatha said...

Belated happy diwali, TGFI. Hope you are doing well.

V said...

How could he mistake you to be a guy? This is outrageous.

TGFI, I could have him "taken care of". I'll wait for your word.

Shalaka said...

You have to give them the consideration that:
a) they are not exposed to English at a young age like we are
b) the script is totally different, which makes learning the language even harder. If we had to learn to read, write and speak chinese, would we be able to do it fluently in 5 years?
c) ofcourse, people will talk to each other in their mother tongue be it Mandarin or Cantonese or Hindi or Marathi - it's the language you are most comfortable with, so why use a third "foreign" language when speaking to someone who shares the same mother tongue as you?

I also admire the fact that Chinese people stay close to their countrymen and build up their community. They have an extended support system, family and neighbors etc close by to help in times of need, share the fun of festivals etc. Indians are more "lonely in a foreign land" by comparison.
Wow, this almost became a blog than a comment! :)

Shikha said...

Happy Birthday!

Sakshi said...
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Sakshi said...

@Shalaka - So you think its perfectly ok to talk in a professional setting in your mother tongue, excluding others? Because where I come from that is plain rude.
And AFAIK, this is a lab in US where everyone speaks in English and since these people elected to come here the onus is on them to learn the freaking language.

And also I dont get why one has to to build a community of Indians/your ethnic group in a foreign land? Why not try and make friends and build relationships with the locals? You can have "extended support system"with people who are not like you, you know. Inclusiveness based on ethnic groups is not something to be proud of.

Cynic in Wonderland said...

You should have told him it means cow in hindi. would have confused things further no?

Shalaka said...

@Sakshi, Cmon - I am referring to people talking amongst themselves here. It's understood that in professional communication or when a person who cannot speak that particular language is present, you switch to English or whichever is the professional language. Just switch the context, imagine you are working in China and you have other Indians in your company -would you speak in chinese amongst yourselves? I honestly wouldn't.

Also - having a circle that shares your background, your customs, festivals etc does not prevent you from building friendships with the local people, learning their culture etc. I am indeed proud of the fact that I have a circle of American and Chinese friends with whom I share Halloween and the Moon Festival, but also of the fact that I have a circle of Indian friends with whom I share my love for Bollywood and desi chai.

Sakshi said...

@Shalaka "Just switch the context, imagine you are working in China and you have other Indians in your company -would you speak in chinese amongst yourselves?"

Yes, in a professional setting I would. That is called being professional and being polite. It is that simple.

Sakshi said...

TGFI, I also blame the lab manager/boss for letting this happen at the work place. My old place had either a majority Indian or Chinese people (alternating years the majority shifted one way or the other) with a mix of european/American ppl thrown in - the rule in the lab was simple : communication is limited to English, no chinese/desi characters embedded into the work computers and political discussions were carried out after work hours. It made for a happy working place because you did not feel left out of a conversation where you heard random words like RNA, stability, protein interspersed with Mandarin/Desi language. That is how a professional setting should be, something my current lab lacks much to my aggravation.

Shalaka said...

@Sakshi
Yes, in a professional setting I would. That is called being professional and being polite. It is that simple.

I would say that is called being "too politically correct". :)
Again, I am referring to people "speaking amongst themselves" as TGFI had mentioned in her post. I have already mentioned what everyone needs to do in professional discussion. Anyway, to each his own. No need to argue about this more..

The_Girl_From_Ipanema said...

I'm breaking my own rule and blogging from work now- Shalaka-as for your emphasis on "talking amongst themselves" - the point is- as long as they stick to themselves and talk in chinese language, they will never get over the hump and learn to speak english. as a result, their english suffers. this has an impact on the overall productivity and functioning in a professional setting. It takes me so long to get a simple question through to my lab- mate- mostly because he doesn't understand english.

And yes, the continue to discuss science/work only amongst themselves- only in chinese. effectively isolating me, and also never learning english.

so i think a simple rule of talking in english when discussing work stuff and may be in their language if they want to discuss personal stuff should be implemented.

its not about political correctness, its about simple efficiency and creating an inclusive environment. and part of being in a lab or any work atmosphere is learning from your colleagues ideas- i will never get that advantage in my lab- because these people are just too lazy to learn the official language of the country they have been living in for so many years and working in. not cool.

if i were in say- germany- (i wd never choose to go to china) - as a phd student- for 5 yrs- i wd definitely learn german- its part of the foreign experience and absorbing the foreign culture. doesn't mean i'll lose my indian-ness or indian friends etc. point is how many chinese make any effort to learn any english? CLOSE TO NONE. its very very very irritating. their laziness is coming at a cost- our time is expended conveying simplest things to them.

Shalaka said...

Aah TGFI, I saw your comment and I couldn't resist responding :) This is my last comment wrt this post - I promise! :) So here are my responses -

1. they continue to discuss science/work only amongst themselves- only in chinese. effectively isolating me
Okay, this I agree is wrong. Irrespective of the language or ethnicity etc, this is cliquish behavior which is a total no-no at work.

2. because these people are just too lazy to learn the official language of the country they have been living in for so many years
I don't think they are lazy, it's just harder for them because of the reasons I mentioned in my first comment.

3. how many chinese make any effort to learn any english? CLOSE TO NONE
I disagree. I have worked in two companies where 90% of the workforce has been Chinese/Asian, and they all speak in quite fluent English. Accent - yes. Grammatically correct - maybe not all the time. Understandable - Totally.

4. i wd never choose to go to china
May I ask why?

5. i wd definitely learn german- its part of the foreign experience and absorbing the foreign culture
yes, but how fluent would you be in it compared to fellow Germans in the lab? And how would you feel if it made them upset that it took them more time to discuss work details with you?

I understand you are upset about the non-inclusive behavior of your colleagues, but my two cents is that let's not theorize on the reasons or generalize their actions to their entire ethnic group.

Sakshi said...

Sorry TGFI but I have to chime in -

@Shalaka,
I have worked in two companies where 90% of the workforce has been Chinese/Asian, and they all speak in quite fluent English. Accent - yes. Grammatically correct - maybe not all the time. Understandable - Totally.
That is what we are asking them to do in an academic setting - speak in English! We dont give a rats ass if it is incorrect - they will be better off if the learn to communicate in the language of science : English.

You say its hard for Chinese to learn English - but I have had labmates from non-English countries that learn English pretty late in their life not exhibiting this reluctance to speak in a common language in a work place. This is not about being "too politically correct" but as TGFI pointed out - its making an inclusive work atmosphere.

I dont know about you but if I came to work and people around me talked only among their ethnic group in their own language, I would be bummed out. In science, a great deal of work is thinking out aloud, bouncing ideas and working out a problem with your lab mates. Now picture this scenario that TGFI talked about - you are in a lab with majority chinese people, they all are good people but prefer to communicate in mandarin in the LAB, all the time to each other - wouldnt you be irritated? Do you think this behavior is excusable?

The scenario that TGFI talks about is pretty common in academic labs and very unhealthy work atmosphere to be in. Its not about some random conversations in Mandarin but all conversation in the language all the time that is making us rant.

bongopondit said...

@shalaka
"I disagree. I have worked in two companies where 90% of the workforce has been Chinese/Asian, and they all speak in quite fluent English."

Umm...don't you see the crux of the matter right there. It isn't as if they can't put the effort to leanr English.

The main factor is motivation. In a scientific academic setting, people are often allowed to get away with poor language skills (quite wrongly).

IMHO, you should try to speak in a language everyone understands even in a social setting. Otherwise, it is quite rude.

V said...

@Shakala,

First off, only I reserve the right to say, "This will be my last comment." TGFI will vouch for me.

Secondly, Chinese students and professionals are required to pass an English test before applying for admissions/jobs in the US and the test also includes a section on speech. So, if they made it here, they should have passed the test. It doesn't really matter if they were not exposed to English at an early age. I agree a test cannot really determine the fluency in a language particulary if one has to speak it at a length but it gives you a baseline you could use to improve fluency and speech. As TGFI and Saksi pointed out, some Chinese just refuse to get out of their comfort zone because they are scared they'll be judged for speaking a grammatically wrong sentence.

Recently, we had a visitor from Spain at work. He expressed keen interest to move to the US but he said he was apprehensive because he doesn't speak English. When we took him out to a restuarant, he wouldn't say a word in English fearing he would say something wrong. The point is, unless you screw up, you'll never learn. It goes double for the Chinese because some refuse to learn AND refuse to understand the concept of speaking a common language in the presence of non-Chinese people. It doesn't just apply to a professional setting.

Also, this problem is not just limited to the Chinese. Some Indians speak their native language at work. My opinion is the same for them as it is for the Chinese. The rule applies to one and all - it's offensive to speak in a language that no one else understands at a level audible to others.

Lastly, the solution to this problem doesn't lie in dreaming up hypothetical situations, "What if we are in China?" The rule is simple anywhere you go - speak the language.

TGFI, I was doing what I was paid to do but Saksi pulled me in.

Anonymous said...

You people have a lot of time on your hands. The time you spent in dissecting a simple, practical comment could as well have been spent in learning Chinese. Then you could have understood what that guy/those people in labs and elevators say to each other and participate in their conversations.

How many of you have been around Tamilians? Let's try to find out why Tamilians never bother to learn their national language (and are actually proud of it) before we start finding fault with Chinese for not learning English well.

How many of you have never spoken in a language other than English or made liberal use of non-English words in your conversation when you were in an elevator at your place of employment or at a restaurant and someone was serving you food? I am sure the answer is not NEVER!

I am sure a stickler can find at least 3 flagrant violations in each post/comment (including mine). Should that make that stickler get frustrated that we, the people that learn English from their first day in school, cannot punctuate or know the difference between arse and ass or know where to place apostrophes or that it is speaking English fluently (or is it speaking IN English fluently)? Let's individually think about that for a minute. Instead, let's spend the time in figuring out how we can contribute to make this a greener planet than consuming more electricity than necessary to write such non-productive comments.

With that parting thought, I am putting my laptop away so I can go drive my Hummer to the store around the corner (pun intended).

再见

The_Girl_From_Ipanema said...

what pun?

V said...

@Anoynymous,

You just spoke in Chinese, pal. I didn't understand sh!t. Either you were high on Chinese MJ or you were trying to make a point that beat us all.

Sakshi said...
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Sakshi said...

Sigh, seems like a SIWOTI day to me.

@Anon - You lost the thread completely now. You are building strawmen and then defending them.

A. We have consistently used the term "professional setting" - your workspace. So the hotel will not count. And if I use hindi in the elevator when there are people from my workspace, I apologize. And the point we were making is not occasional use of mandarin but consistent talk all throughout the day in that language. So that is again not a good analogy. I think it is rude (and many here agree)- just like a group of Tamils/Marathi/Telugu speaking crowds refusing to accomodate the single Hindi speaker among them.

B. You are assuming that we dont say anything to the Tamils who dont try to learn Hindi (or some other language), especially if they live in non-tamil speaking states. The two issues are not connected.

C. We never said anything about fluency in the language but just talking in it, may be talking will help you master the language better. Last I know all science conferences are done in English - so it is not a burden to them to learn and master the language. I dont need to learn chinese because I am not in China.

d. Since I planted a small herb, I use more than my carbon footprint of electricity without guilt. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

OMG, what a bunch of racists here..LOL!!! And @Sakshi, you need to get some classes in humility!