When Yao Ming arrived in America to join the NBA, everyone assumed the transition would be difficult. When asked, Yao remarked, “I feel that I did not make too many adjustments, except for the language. I must speak English when I’m here.”
Yao Ming was twelve years old when he began to study English. His mother encouraged him to help prepare for his future. Back then, Chinese students studied English for business, or to study abroad. She believed English would help Yao in business. She wasn't thinking of basketball or America.
As a child, his mom taught him how to say "I want some water" in English. As Yao later recalled, “I didn't know which word was water, or what each word meant, I just knew that saying those four words would get me water.” As he got older, the CBA (Chinese Basketball Association) had many American players which gave him a chance to use English. In the summer of 1998, he traveled to the U.S. where he learned to speak "basketball English."
In the early days of his NBA career, Yao could understand reporter’s questions, but was uncomfortable answering in English. He often relied on his translator. Nowadays, after years of hard work, his English has greatly improved and he is well on his way to mastering the language.
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