WP126 Interactional straining and the neoliberal self: Learning English in China’s biggest English corner



This paper seeks to contribute to our understanding of the ?mechanism by which language, language teaching and neoliberalism intersect? (Block, Gray and Holborow 2012: 7). Through promoting the opportunity to practice English with English-speaking foreigners, English language learning has become one important part of the tourism industry in Yangshuo County, which now claims to be ?the biggest English Corner in China? (Yangshuo Tourism Bureau 2009). This paper examines this ?talking to foreigners? phenomenon to find out what this construction of an English Corner can tell about the changing ideologies of English in a globalizing China. Based on interviews with students (who are working professionals) and foreigners, as well as on (participant) observation, it shows how foreign tourists embodying valuable English resources are mobilized by local language schools for English language teaching. I also show that while the ?English Corner? has been attracting urban working professionals to come over to improve their spoken English, talking to foreigners nevertheless turns out to be full of constraints and tensions, which I characterize as interactional straining. I then discuss the significance of this finding for understanding the role of English for working professionals in a neoliberalizing China. I suggest that by navigating themselves among ambivalence and constraints, the working professionals exemplify what is meant by technology of the self.