Home >> News

English learners get help from Friends

Updated: 2022-08-04 09:35 ( China Daily )
Share - WeChat

Some people I've met around the capital tell me they learned English just by watching the popular TV series Friends.

The first time I heard this boast, I thought it was so unreal and so funny I laughed. If it was a joke, the punchline was perfect. I expected the next person I meet to tell me he or she learned science from The Big Bang Theory or medicine from ER.

A server in a Sanlitun noodle house, a newspaper editor, a delivery guy from SF Express, a hotel manager-they all claimed they learned English from Friends. Having heard this story repeated so often, I am now starting to believe they may be telling the truth and that I'm too much of a jaded listener to have given them the benefit of the doubt. I doubt they are in a conspiracy to gaslight me.

This sitcom of six New Yorker friends, who sit around a coffee shop moping, drinking, dating, laughing and pulling pranks may be China's best-kept secret: its unheralded, unappreciated English teacher!

Starring Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc and Matthew Perry, the show was such a monumental hit that it ran for 10 seasons on American TV. It contributed a whole slew of pop culture elements, many of which remain relevant nearly 30 years after the show ended. Remember Phoebe's Smelly Cat, an anthem of sorts at lonely bars and pubs?

I can understand why Friends can be the ideal mentor. The show is hilarious! "God, I love how sexy I am" may be a Chandler original, but who says a Chinese person can't say it? You didn't get it the first time? Play it again and again on YouTube until you get the words and accent on point and have a chuckle each time.

Chinese people get their English lessons many different ways. A year's study in Leeds in the United Kingdom; working for a foreign company; hanging out with foreign pals; or watching Friends. English may not be important to the older generation, but to some millennials, the language will get them ahead in a dynamic global environment. Some parents will pay top yuan to get their children into English-language schools or pay a native speaker for home tutoring. All because they want their children to look and sound smarter and have a competitive edge in the job market.

Some immigrant families in New York City, for instance, are secretly proud to hear their children speak English, even if they themselves are not as fluent. Proud, rather than shamed, to have their children translate for them at a neighborhood bodega or a doctor's clinic.

On the other hand, many foreigners are also studying Mandarin as a second language. Students from Europe, Africa and the Arab countries are coming to Beijing as language learners or studying it online. The common misconception is that learning Chinese can be a challenge because of complex characters and different tones.

Mandarin is more difficult to learn than English, but to the studious and determined learner it is not insurmountable. One thing about language, you have to use it for you not to lose it. When you start to communicate beyond ni hao and xie xie, it's like a big accomplishment, a big feather on your cap. New opportunities in teaching, interpreting and translating or working for businesses or officialdom begin to open up for you, and you become "that cool guy who speaks Chinese". I've seen how knowledge of Chinese has paved the way to foreign travels for some.

Come to think of it, though. I've never heard anyone say they learned Mandarin from watching Chinese TV series Go Go Squid.

Hot words
Most Popular