This article first appeared in English Language Gazette, November 2008
PRODUCT PLACEMENT has entered Chinese self-study EFL. This latest wheeze from free online internet-based EFL provider Speak2me uses cartoon ‘virtual tutor’ Lucy to introduce its students to the English language. ‘Conversational advertising’ allows ‘corporate partners’ (advertisers) to construct English lessons through which students learn English within the
context of the client’s product or service. Examples on Speak2me’s short demo video include Lucy, dressed in a Starbucks uniform, kicking off a lesson (set in a Starbucks) with ‘Hello! Welcome to Starbucks.’
Two less frightening fictional Chinese EFL teaching characters from the very different People’s Republic of the early 1990s are making a surprise nostalgia-fuelled comeback. Loveable goody-goody boy and girl companions Li Lei and Meimei featured in the state-approved national High School English Textbook (People’s Education Press in association with Longman Press, 1990) and were familiar faces for over six million students. Now Li Lei and Meimei smile out from a variety of merchandise featuring their images – stickers, badges, T-shirts, school bags, badges and other items that are part of a sudden youth craze sweeping
a 21st-century China that Li Lei and Meimei would scarcely recognise.