Oral English: I teach oral English to three sophomore classes a week, twice a week (so a total of 6 sessions a week, roughly 30 students per class, 90 individuals in total) 5 sessions are taught in a computer lab (great for powerpoints), and 1 is in a traditional classroom. Each class has a distinct personality; Class 3 is chatty and welcoming, and there are a lot of eager personalities in the class willing to answer questions and laugh off mistakes. Class 2 is deathly quiet and drains all my optimism within the first five minutes of stepping into the classroom; NO ONE SPEAKS. Class 1 falls somewhere between the two. Almost every session there’s some hilarious misunderstanding or mistranslation of sorts.
Example 1, favorite food: I asked the kids to introduce themselves, with a focus on things such as favorite food, singer, color. One student said her favorite food was “hot hot hot.” I thought she misspoke, so I laughed and let it slide. Then another student got up and said he liked to eat “hot hot hot.” Weird, but I ignored him. After the third girl said “hot hot hot” I stopped the class.
Me: what what what?!
Alina: hot hot hot?
Me: what what?
Alina: hot.. hot..?
As I later find out, there is a dish here called 麻辣烫 (ma la tang), which literally translates into “numbing, spicy, hot”. There’s no noun in ma la tang, just adjectives- that may be a first. So, the kids weren’t that far off when they said they like “hot hot hot.”
Example 2, poetry: The second week, we discussed some common themes in poetry: love, regret, friendship, heartbreak, revenge, innocence. I had my students write a short poem and then share it with the class. Camil wrote a poem called “Appreciated Enemy” and said these words to the class:
“Death to those who have not been good to you”
“Death to those who used to hate you”
“Death to those who have hurt you”
“Because they teach you the meaning of growth, but also to become more excellent”
Whoa! Pretty harsh words, but I was glad I could evoke such deep resentment from Camil. Afterwards, I went over to applaud her for sharing her unfiltered feelings. She handed me her poem, and I re-read it, and realized she wrote “thanks” and not “death,” and just had a funny way of pronouncing “thanks”.
Another student, Lorin wrote these words:
And so we talked all night about the rest of our lives
Where we’re gonna be when we turn 25
I keep thinking times will never change
Keep on thinking things will always be the same
But when we leave this year we won’t be coming back
No more hanging out cause we’re on a different track
And if you got something that you need to say
You better say it right now cause you don’t have another day
Cute… except i instantly recognized these words to be the lyrics to Vitamin C’s Graduation (Friends Forever) song from 2000! I lectured Lorin on plagiarism and he had to write an original poem for me.
Example 3, school map: I break the kids into groups and give them a poster and marker to draw me a school map, which they will later present at the end of class. I was so, so surprised that they all correctly labeled the dance studio as “experimental theatre”! but oddly, the track and basketball courts were “playground” “big playground” or “small playground” (they also say ‘this weekend I will play with my friends’ a lot; in Chinese 玩 , wan, literally means play and its used to describe having fun with friends, even for adults)
I explained playing is for kids, and as college students we should stop using the word play for everything, and instead say “hang out” or “go out”. Still, I get the odd text from time to time, “teacher do you want to play with me?” or “We can play together in Lanzhou this weekend!” No, I don’t want to play with you!
Dean Jiang: the dean of the English department; he’s a nice guy, speaks perfect British English despite never stepping foot in the UK, or any other English speaking country for that matter. He has a … reputation of sorts, for making volunteers do favors for him left and right. Several years ago, PCVs would have had to tutor his daughter in English; luckily she has since moved on to college. The volunteer I am replacing had to edit a book on education policy for one of his friends. I received my two year sentence already… and I kind of love it!
Dean Jiang translated 50 ancient poems into English from the early Qin Dynasty – Qing Dynasty related to Gansu, and I’ll have to clean up some of his wording and prose, to ensure the passages are lyrical and have good flow. Bobby the PCV 21 was horrified at my task, but this is actually a great chance for me to read dynastic poetry and learn more about China, and maybe get my name put into a footnote somewhere, when these poems are published.
Modern dance class!: My Waiban contact (Waiban department is in charge of foreigners at the school), Mr. Zhou is good friends with one of the dance teachers at our school. She’s a young woman a few years older than me and when I first met her, she walked into Mr Zhou’s office wearing cat ears and a cape. She didn’t have an English name so I named her Ciara, after the singer-dancer/ princess of Crunk (and now mrs. Russell Wilson!). Ciara invited me to join her modern dance class! It’s the type of four credit class my parents wouldn’t waste $5,000 on at NYU but here it’s free… and I had a great time walking backwards and crawling across the floor on all fours. Its mostly girls, but there’s two other guys in the class who definitely look like they’ve taken pointe ballet for several years in the past, so im currently the worst dancer.
Disclaimer: All opinions shared in this blog are the author’s own, and do not represent the views of any outside organization, including but not limited to the United States Government and the Peace Corps.