Sunday, July 08, 2007

First Week of School!

The first week of English lessons was a little bumpy, but will smooth out as we move forward. (This was my "teacher outfit" complete with bejeweled apple pendant from our visit to TopShop in London, and the other photo is our little English class. HuYi has her hands on my shoulders) It appears that HuYi has invited two of her girlfriends to join us, which adds an interesting dynamic. Both of them appear to have studied English quite a lot before, possibly even using the same book. My only worry is that they will be bored while the engineers will be stumped. I plan to concentrate on the engineers and hopefully the girls can use this time as review. Luckily, they seem happy enough to listen quietly and take photos with the “Meiguoren” after class (meaning American, translated literally it means "person from the Beautiful Land") They love my light hair and green eyes, which is nice since I am stunned at how impossibly thin and beautiful so many of the women are here.

We definitely get stared at everywhere we go, but are basically un-phased by that after our time in Africa. I thought perhaps we would blend in China more easily since our skin color is similar and Eric and I are both pretty short by American standards. This is definitely not the case. Our hair and build distinguish us immediately. It would appear that most of the attention is simply friendly curiosity.

In class we are using a book called “Family Album U.S.A” which has a nice (if a bit hokey) DVD for us to watch together and a transcript in the book. Then there are a series of activities to determine if the students were able to follow the storyline. So lesson planning is pretty simple, and each unit is taking about an hour to get through.

The main difficulty is that I don’t have a “teacher’s book”. I have the same book as the students with Mandarin instructions above each activity. So, I end up guessing what we are supposed to be doing in each activity. I explain in English what we need to do, then I urge them to read the Mandarin if they need further clarification. At first, I was getting a lot of blank stares. I’m not sure if a) I’ve given directions that are different from the Mandarin instructions b) they don’t understand that the Mandarin instructions are the same as the ones I’m giving, c) they don’t understand my English instructions or D) they don’t understand what has happened in the video. I suppose it is likely a combination of all three problems.

The students have a lot of experience reading and writing in English because their work requires them to deal with English speakers via e-mail. So my general feeling is that their “receptive” skills are quite good, they just need help speaking or “opening their mouths” as they like to say. They are also incredibly enthusiastic about learning and very sweet to me. With two hours of practice every day, I think they will definitely improve quickly.

By the end of the week, I was able to communicate the idea that they best way for them to learn quickly is to practice as much as possible. I am hoping that since everyone in the office is studying English together, they could try to converse in English even when I am not there. By Friday, they started to get my drift. Eventually we can also spend less class time doing the activities suggested in the book and more time talking about the video to practice our conversation and vocabulary skills. And of course we’ll have to move into grammar…Yikes! I have an intuitive understanding of grammar as a native speaker, but will definitely need to brush up on “the rules”! Thank goodness for the internet. As of yet, I have not seen any English language bookstores. There will be a steep learning curve, but I think I have a good intuitive grasp of how to do this and certainly many people go abroad to teach, so at least I'm not alone!

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