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November 18
2013年11月18日

英文、英文 ──
對高教國際化的偏解

Way Cool Blog


 

關於英文的重要與否,我先講個故事。

在德州農工大學當系主任時,有一位程度不錯的韓國博士生,英文很差,我於是建議他用韓文寫博士論文,然後再請人翻譯成英文。另一位韓國學生聽到這個建議,趕快說這個方法行不通,因為此生寫的韓文也沒人看得透徹。所以英文不是關鍵。其實不要說韓國學生。我有許多美國學生寫的報告,絕對是美式英語,可惜言不及義,英文當然也不是關鍵。

再講個完全不同的故事。

台灣嬰兒潮出生的那一代,學英文必用柯旗化編寫的文法書。那是一本被當成聖經般、學習英文必讀的範本。然而,柯旗化沒有去歐美留過學,甚至沒有出過台灣一步。台灣早期,幾乎所有學有成就的留美人士,都受過柯旗化的影響。他們說話受重視,因為有內容。

還可以再說個有名的故事。

鍾開萊是機率概論的泰斗,也是百年來這一領域首屈一指的華人概率專家,不做第二人想。他講英語帶著一口濃重的鄉音土話,不要說美國人聽不懂,就連我聽了都吃力。當年他任教史丹佛大學時,學生直搗校長室,抗議他的教學。校長告訴學生:「鍾教授是大學之寶,假使聽不懂他的講課,應該是你們的問題!」類似鍾開萊這樣英語講得破爛的旅美知名教授,我可以輕易舉出二、三十個。許多旅美,非美國本土出生的華裔教師,名震士林,廣受尊重,然而英文講的真不怎麼樣。

最後再說個經驗之談。

我相信大家聽過許多演講,講者用辭美麗,發音標準,可是聽完之後,保證不知所云。回家後,就完全不記得講者到底說了什麼,或者傳達了什麼信息。

語文固然重要,如今英文當道,忽略不得;但是中文好或者英文說得好,與溝通是否有效無必然關係,甚至跟能否出頭或者成就大事小事也不成因果,因此未必要把它擺在首要的位置去考量。談國際化,首在遵守國際標準;溝通的良莠在於態度、誠意、邏輯與內容。引喻失義的文章充斥版面,有礙溝通,令人惶恐。


English, English alone – a biased view about internationalisation of higher education

As regards the importance of English proficiency, please allow me to tell you a story.

When I worked at Texas A&M University in the US as a professor many years ago, I had a PhD student from South Korea who had immense academic potential but was very poor in English. I suggested that he should write his doctoral dissertation in Korean and then have it translated into English. But hearing my proposal, another Korean student told me that it wouldn't work because what that student wrote in Korean was hard to comprehend. So the English language is not the key point. And it is not only Korean students who have problems with English. A number of my American students failed to convey exactly what they meant to say in their academic reports even though the reports were written in pure American English. So, no, English is not the key point.

Please grant me the permission to tell you another entirely different story.

The baby-boomer generation in Taiwan regarded Ke Qihua's New English Grammar, one of Taiwan's most popular English textbooks, a must learn, even though he was just a middle-school teacher. His grammar book was respected as the "Bible". And yet Ke Qihua had never been to the US or Europe, and had never even stepped outside Taiwan. In the early days, almost all accomplished personages in Taiwan who went for overseas for higher education benefitted from Ke Qihua's New English Grammar. People like that because it has real content.

Here is another well-known story.

Kai Lai Chung is well known for his significant contributions to modern probability theory. He is the man who carries off the palm and is second to none among Chinese scholars in the sphere of probability. But he speaks English with an accent so strong that neither Americans nor I can understand him. When he was a professor in Stanford, his students rushed to the President's office to complain. You know what the president told the students? "Professor Chung is our university's valued asset. If his lectures are incomprehensible, it should be your problem." Frankly speaking, I can give out a list of dozens of well-known expatriate professors in the US who speak broken English. A number of non-native Chinese teachers in the US enjoy a reputation far and wide and are much respected in the academic community, but their spoken English is far from proficient.

Here I would like to say a few words based on my personal experience.

I believe that many of you have attended lectures. Sometimes, the speakers employ full-blown rhetoric, with nice pronunciation and intonation, but the audience felt at a loss as to what was the actual message. By the time the audience got home, they could hardly remember what the speaker had talked about or what messages the speaker had actually tried to convey.

Without doubt language is important. Currently, English enjoys the greatest popularity throughout the world. So we cannot afford to ignore it. However, it is not that important that one should speak beautiful English or Chinese, and your ability to speak Chinese or English well is less associated with the effectiveness of your communication or with the efficacy of bringing yourself into prominence or with major accomplishments or minor achievements. So it is less necessary to regard it as something of primary importance. In terms of internationalisation, the first thing we should take into serious consideration is to observe international standards and practices. The key to the effectiveness in communication is attitude, sincerity, logic and content. The pity is that articles stuffed with meaningless rhetoric are prevalent and cause anxiety; they are obstacles to communications.

November 18, 2013

 

 

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