How Chinese celebrities mastered English

By Xu Fan/Chen Nan | China Daily | Updated: 2017-01-18 07:16

How Chinese celebrities mastered English

Chinese kung fu star Jackie Chan shines on the world stage with good command of English. [Photo/VCG]

Chinese celebrities who've gone global reveal how they mastered the language, even though it's so different from their mother tongue. Xu Fan and Chen Nan report. 

English proficiency is the key to the international market for many Chinese stars.

In this respect, their success in the West is built upon hard-sometimes humorous-lessons.

Jackie Chan, the kung fu master who has starred in more than 100 movies, admits the toughest step on his long journey to Hollywood fame was jumping the language barrier.

He didn't speak a word of English when he arrived in California in the 1980s.

"It would be a very long story to talk about my English-learning experience," the 62-year-old said, grinning broadly, during a recent Beijing event.

"But I can say that now Hollywood needs me, while, in the past, I needed Hollywood."

Chan soared to fame as a martial-arts master in Asia in the mid-70s.

But his employer, Golden Harvest, hoped he could break into the larger US film industry.

So, the company purposely arranged for him to fly alone to the United States to immerse himself in the English-speaking world so that he could learn the language as quickly as possible.

Later, a classic scene in his smash hit Rush Hour, which also stars US actor Chris Tucker, features Chan as a Hong Kong inspector, who flashes a silly smile when Tucker, who plays a detective, asks if he speaks English.

It harks to Chan's actual Hollywood experience, his close friend, director Frankie Chan, revealed during a recent interview with China Central Television.

Another time, Jackie Chan made an urgent call to his Hong Kong agent, Willie Chan, in the middle of the night because he mistook a menu for an important document, the Guangzhou-based Yangcheng Evening News reports.

Jackie Chan spent a great deal of effort solidifying his status in Hollywood at a time when Chinese faces weren't as prevalent there as now. To do that, he made gaining fluency in English one of his top priorities.

To improve his English, he says, he listened and practiced as much as possible.

Jackie Chan, who's also a singer, used US folk songs, films and TV series to study.

He listened to them repeatedly and imitated the pronunciation.

He improved his listening comprehension by covering the bottom of the television so he couldn't read the subtitles.

At his peak, he hired four English teachers and spent nine hours a day studying.

He also practiced while appearing in such blockbusters as Rumble in the Bronx and the Rush Hour franchise. He recited the scripts before shoots and communicated with US actors on set.

Eventually, he became fluent.

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