An American in Chengdu

Bad education | November 21, 2009

Over the last few class sessions I showed the Michael Moore movie Sicko to the spoken English class of doctors. They seem fascinated with the American health system, so I thought they might like it; on the other hand, I worried it would be beyond their English comprehension abilities. So I played it with English subtitles and wrote down words and phrases to discuss after the movie finished. Many of these were insurance-related: deny, co-pay, deductible, pre-existing condition. Others were political: lobbyist, campaign, tax dollars.

Sometimes I was surprised at what the doctors already knew. They didn’t need to be told that “the Hill” means Congress, or who Richard Nixon was (“Watergate!” someone said immediately). They knew about the Cold War and the Third World and didn’t need any explanation about Guantanamo Bay. By comparison, no one knew that cab is another word for taxi, and they were unfamiliar with the expressions “put [someone] on [a medication]” and “take [someone] off [a medication].” I wasn’t surprised to find that educated Chinese knew about the less-savory bits of recent American history, just that this education was so thorough as to include English terminology.

At one point Moore pokes fun at American attitudes toward Cuba by saying that the island is “where Lucifer lives.” Later, when I asked the class whether anyone knew what Lucifer was, several immediately said “Fidel Castro!” Not exactly the point Moore was trying to get across.


1 Comment »

  1. Hey, way to be up on the science.

    Comment by Helen — November 22, 2009 @ 1:42 am

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    About me

    I've come to Sichuan in search of adventure, fluency in Chinese, and awesome vegetarian food. I have to concede that the baby pandas are very cute.
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