Copernicus Goes To China: The Sounds Of English

Image credit: WHO/Pierre Albouy
Image credit: WHO/Pierre Albouy

Copernicus Goes To China: The Sounds Of English

This column is named after the 16th-century Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, who argued that “the heavenly bodies do not all move round the same centre.” The same idea can be applied to the English language in the 21st century, where non-native speakers outnumber native speakers by at least three to one, and nobody occupies a central or special position.

The aim of this column is to help give students exposure to the different sounds of English from across the globe. In our first six months, our world tour has included visits to the most populous countries in Africa and South America (Nigeria and Brazil). This month, Copernicus is off to the most populous country of all: the People’s Republic of China.

Margaret Chan was born in Hong Kong in 1947. She studied at the University of Western Ontario in Canada, before returning to Hong Kong to begin a career in public health. In 2006 she became director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO). The business magazine “Forbes” ranks her at number 62 in its current list of “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women”.

This is a video message Dr Chan recorded ahead of the 2nd International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2), which was held at the headquarters of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in Rome last year.


What are the world’s malnutrition challenges today?

Quantity of food, as well as quality of food – meaning having the right nutrients in the right amount – are two sides of the same coin.

We are seeing a contradiction. We are seeing in some areas of the world where people still suffer from hunger. And yet, on the other side, we see far too many cities and countries who have obese children and obese adults.

For obese children, in the 90s we have about 30 million, but now it has gone beyond 40 million. And the number will continue to rise.

Why is the 2nd International Conference on Nutrition important?

FAO and WHO are very excited that so many countries, and so many participants, have come to ICN2. More than 1,300 participants, from civil society, from – you know – academic, countries themselves, as well as parliamentarians and the private sector.

This ICN2 is important – important to re-energise political commitment. And so we have the Rome declaration for nutrition, and we also have a framework on action to make sure that we continue to make progress.



(1) Copy and paste the above transcript and create a gap-fill exercise. (I know, we always say that, but we love gap-fills – they are a powerful listening exercise!)

(2) On a scale of one to ten, how ‘easy to understand’ do students find Dr Chan’s accent? Which words sound the most different to what students are ‘used to’ hearing?

(3) How carefully do students think about their own nutrition? The “Healthy Eating Plate” developed by the Harvard School of Public Health might help with this discussion.

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