English-only WeChat is Reverse Dashan Reaction Syndrome

By Christopher Cottrell Source:Global Times Published: 2018/11/18 19:28:40

Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

One of the greatest things about WeChat is how I can share Shanghai and China with my family directly. They get it fresh without filters.

They get their dose of Bund fun or Fuxing Park action strait-up and live from my pictures, voice messages or live chats. Last week was no exception to remind them that China is on the move, as they live in a southern California bubble and need reminding now and again.

Following November 11, China's newly famous "Singles Day" aka Double 11, I sent my sister in southern California a direct link to a story about the $30-billion trade done that day - all online and from a company named after an 18th-century Arabian folk tale headquartered in a little Chinese city called Hangzhou.

My sister does online sales and was flummoxed by reading how much money was banked in just 24 hours. She texted back "Crazy!" The timing was fortuitous, as a few days prior she'd asked me if my Chinese wife would help her access China's vast online market. I told her she could text my wife directly about this. After all, my wife speaks and reads English fluently.

But I forgot to tell my sister that, by subscribing to WeChat, she could put her own QR code online and access our social networks in English and Chinese. I neglected to note how my wife can utilize both Taobao and WeChat to fuel demands for her beauty products. We're working on those details now.

Why mention this? Because I was talking to an expat friend in Shanghai who recently expressed dismay at several foreigners in Shanghai and elsewhere in China who are adopting "English only" policies in their WeChat forums. "Say what?" I asked incredulously.

From small foreign-owned F&B establishments to freelance acting troupes, I've heard that numerous expat WeChat groups are now enforcing an English-only policy. When asking them why, some of these group managers admitted to me that it was just a ploy to hook Chinese users who want to learn English at informal lessons.

That way they can skirt Chinese visa laws by teaching English out of their homes from clients they poached for private lessons from these same WeChat forums. "Oh..."I responded.

Not only is this poor marketing (making them bilingual seems a far more realistic gambit to attract clients), it smacks of racism. It also shows basic technological ignorance of WeChat, which has a built-in translation tool for Chinese into English and vice-versa. So why are so many of these little groups managed by schoolmarm-made WeChat minders enforcing English only?

One expat friend of mine with nearly two decades clocked in the country calls it the "Reverse Dashan Reaction Syndrome." Unlike Canadian Mark Rowswell (the brave student who came to Beijing in the 1980s to study Putonghua and became a famous TV celebrity... and an inspiration to millions of foreign and Chinese language students), many millennial expat newbies arriving in today's China are recoiling against the culture and unwilling to learn the language.

They see no reason to bask in the beauty and complexity of this ancient language, and instead cling to their native lingua like a life raft. They do not have any desire to advance themselves in this society and, thus, do not value adapting to the culture or language. I call this "social retardation."

Linguist impotence could easily be remedied should these exclusionary WeChat groups use the proper tech tools to stimulate their communication potency. But they won't! I think weeding out these expats in China and sending them back to their home countries is sage advice, as the wrong sort of foreigners continue to flock to China, abusing its warm hospitality and advanced technology to create their own culturally aloof cabals.

It is my hope that responsible WeChat users will eschew these "English Only" policies and properly utilize this awesome technology for its maximum impact - bridging borders for friendship and family and, incidentally, maybe also getting a slice of that yummy $30-billion cake that was made in one day. My sister certainly now is, and she doesn't even live here!

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.

Posted in: TWOCENTS

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