Method or Madness?
Li Yang's "crazy" style of teaching English is earning him followers--and critics--across China
By ANTHONY SPAETH
There was a time when diplomats had to speak French and doctors benefited from a knowledge of German. In today's world, according to Beijing-based Li Yang, English is the indispensable tongue--not an original thought, perhaps, or an unlikely one from the highest-paid English teacher in mainland China. But Li's full message, accepted by millions, isn't quite that simple. According to Li, there is a single key to helping China grow strong and confident, to get over centuries of defeat and to get rich: a command of shouted English.
For those who weren't listening closely, Li has devised an English learning system based on shouting, which he claims aids concentration and retention. The method has become so popular that he can fill stadiums with 30,000 people eager to learn loudly. Rich families pay him between $12,000 and $24,000 a year to yell at their kids in English. A set of tapes and books teaching "Crazy English," as the method has come to be known, sells for $24, a significant sum in a land where the average monthly salary is $60. So popular are the lessons that the tapes and books have been pirated. So, too, has Li's persona: impostors claiming to be him have started holding high-decibel language sessions. "When I went to Shenzhen," he laughs, "they asked me if I was the real or the fake one."
The genuine article had a troubled boyhood in Xinjiang province, where, as Li tells it, he failed classes and was usually on the verge of expulsion from school. Somehow he got into a university, but was close to being tossed out when he had a personal revelation. He started bellowing his English lessons in a local park, and that did the trick. "I had serious problems with my concentration," he relates. "But when I yelled, I realized I could concentrate. It worked like magic." He ended up at the top of his English class. After graduation, working as a researcher at a technical institute in Xian, Shaanxi province, he rose each day at dawn, stood on the roof of the institute and hollered out bromides such as: "As you sow, so shall you reap," and "Actions speak louder than words!" Unsurprisingly, "people thought I was out of my mind," Li recalls.
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