Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Losing face

In mainland China, many students are afraid to speak English for fear of making grammar mistakes in which case they would 'lose face' or have 'no face' or 'wouldn't know where to put their face.' Some foreigners get stumped by these idiomatic expressions but they should not underscore the concept. Face value is something that is strongly embedded in the tradition and the culture of the people. To lose face or have no face happens in a situation when one's ego is punctured either by a third party or by oneself as in the case of making a fool of oneself by using the wrong grammar. So rather than making grammar mistakes and 'having to lose face' it's better not to speak English. I always encourage my students by telling them "I don't expect you not to make mistakes."

Language is active and has to be practised to perfection which infers mistakes will be made. So have a "thick face" which means "have a thin ego" and all will be fine!

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