Seeing Potential or Learning to Count?

I just saw the weirdest billboard ever at the airport. It said something like, “Five times more people are learning English in China than in England. The world belongs to those who see its potential.”

Has the genius who came up with this billboard stopped to consider the difference in the population size of China and England? I’m sure many more people take showers and brush their teeth in China than in England. And not because the English are dirty.

11 thoughts on “Seeing Potential or Learning to Count?

  1. The same thing happens when people compare Chinese students to American students. Little do they know, phrases like “China has more honors students than the United States has students” only reveals their lack of counting ability. I’d rather know the proportions of honors students to the general population.


  2. Are they really learning English?

    Will they generalise or generalize?

    Will they be honours students or honors students?


  3. Yeah, this is very stupid. Similar to how people like to compare gun crime statistics between the US and small developed countries.


  4. Normalizing statistics to make them comparable has never been a pastime for most people.

    Also, just because the number of people in china that are showering has no relevance to the dirtiness of the English does not automatically mean that the English are not dirty.


  5. Ha ha. Talking of weird advertising, Dasani water has the slogan — ‘Replenish the Source Within’. One, there is no source of water/fluids inside of us. Second, if it’s a source, why would it need replenishing?!


  6. I think it is informative to think in raw numbers sometimes. All these examples are interesting. As in China has more middle class people than the US has people. That definitely is interesting to me. And from the view of conservation, environment, global warming etc it is important. The earth doesn’t care if the statistics are normalized-it’s the numbers that matter.
    “China has more honors students than the United States has students” this isn’t stupid, it is a profound observation! This fact is a much discussed big deal in the sciences.


    1. I don’t think the info on the number of Chinese honor students has any value. Who’s to say that the Chinese honor system is even remotely comparable to ours? China is a communist country which means it has a long-standing tradition of falsifying statistics. We had all kind of stats in the USSR, showing how we were better in all respects than the US. A lot of good that info did to us.


  7. There’s a considerable number of Chinese students at UVic, and I’ve tutored/proctored in ESL classes with Chinese students before. They’ve told me that the most profound difference between their universities and UVic is that at Chinese universities, the primary method of learning is to absorb everything the professor tells you and spit it back out at them on the exam day. So while they excel at school in China, they tend to flounder in courses in North America, because they’ve never been taught how to think independently and develop their own ideas. That may make it seem like they’ll “conquer the world” in sciences, but any scientist will tell you that it takes a hefty amount of creativity and original thinking to do any remarkable, original research and make new discoveries.
    That makes the whole “more honours students, better education!” argument ring hollow to me.


    1. That might be true of ESL students, but american graduate schools in sciences and engineering are brimming with asian (specifically Chinese and Indian) students who do terrific research during their dissertations.


      1. I’m hoping that by grad school most of them have learned to think independently and assert their own ideas, especially if they did their undergrad work abroad. 🙂 Otherwise all of my boring lectures on the value of independent thinking in science, especially physics, I give to the undergrads would be in vain.


  8. I think there’s a differences between these two categories of students. The ESL students you encounter don’t transform into independent thinkers by virtue of their undergrad work abroad. In fact, these are not even the same students that later go for grad school in the US. ESL students pay their own tuition, which means they’re studying in america not because of their academic talent but because of their parents’ wealth.

    Graduate students are awarded full scholarships for their stay in school and their selection is based on merit, at least in sciences and engineering. The chinese students that come over for their PhDs can hardly speak a lick of english at first, but it doesn’t even matter much because they’re so goddamned good at what they do.


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