Language learning and the Handan Walk.

Zhuangzi tells the story of a boy from Shouling who went to learn the Handan Walk. “He hadn’t mastered what the Handan people had to teach him when he forgot his old way of walking, so that he had to crawl all the way back home.”

As a language teacher and learner, I sometimes feel like the boy from Shouling: my own English has changed. One of my classmates gleefully informed me that my “native speaker intuition is ruined;” an officemate notices I use features of English as an International Language; when I lived in Japan and visited the US, I was often asked what country I was originally from.

This story shows us the flipside of interculturality. To borrow another metaphor from Zhuangzi, if the truly intercultural person is the Daoist Sage, able to fall into the rapids of American (or any other) culture and emerge unbruised, in the culture but not of it, than the boy from Shouling is the failed bicultural, neither here nor there, alien to both.


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