Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Li Yang and Crazy English

Most people in the English language teaching game have heard about Crazy English at some point. Started by Chinese entrepreneur Li Yang, Crazy English is the brand he has created to market his high-octane method of teaching English.

The New Yorker has an extensive piece on Li Yang and Crazy English in their current online edition. It details Li's background, the methods he uses, some of the resistance he has encountered and the controversy he has created:

"Last fall, Li’s blog site posted photographs from a middle-school lecture in Inner Mongolia. One picture showed hundreds of students on their hands and knees, kowtowing. Bowing one’s head to the ground is, in China, a potent symbol reserved mainly for honoring the dead. It was once required of visitors to the Emperor, and during the Cultural Revolution it was used as a tool of humiliation against those who were accused of committing political crimes.

The response to the photographs was swift. A columnist in the state-run China Daily pronounced Li a 'demagogue,' and his lectures 'like cult meetings.' 'Cult' is a dangerous word in a country that affixed that label to the spiritual group Falun Gong nearly a decade ago and has been rounding up its followers ever since."
Many so-called language experts question whether his techniques truly help people acquire English language skills. They may have a point but what they are possibly overlooking is the fact that a teacher should also motivate their students to learn as opposed to only offering instruction during the few hours they meet every week.

Li emphasizes a mantra-like recital of English as a way to learn. The exaggerated volume and the kind of "out of yourself" trance that develops seems to at least push some students towards practicing and putting in the hours necessary to learn. Not only that, but simply the sense many of Li's followers have that they are part of something special--i.e. his movement--spurs many on to greater heights as well.

I probably have more of an affinity for Li than many other EFL teachers. In my own language learning experience, I have engaged in some rote learning methods and out-loud repetition as a way to retain as many words and phrases as possible in a short amount of time. I find that this method, together with pacing back and forth in a decent sized room, works for me. It's kind of difficult to do this in the classroom in Thailand though I do mention it to my students in the hopes they may do some similar practice in combination with other study methods.

And I have also seen the effect that whipping a class into a frenzy can have. Everyone is in a heightened state and they leave with a positive feeling and walk into class the following week with a smile on their faces and a sense of expectation.

But Li is far more than an English teacher. In his 5,000 student plus, evangelical-like mass rallies/English lessons, he pushes the audience to challenge themselves and the accepted way of doing things.

An article well worth checking out.


English Advantage said...

This is a great post. I had never heard of this guy but he sounds really interesting, though that quote about making people pay more and more made me a little skeptical. But drilling and repetition and a little energy can be good for a classroom too.

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