This is a breakout blog.
I’ll do this from time to time, get outside of the Block 6 Lifts and write about something wider in scope. Chalkface is one such project. It is intended to share some of the observations from the Chinese language learning environment. We’ll get back to Caffeine Man, the Mad Tapper, and Sir Pick-n-Flick in the next Life In Lifts blog.
Chinese kids are busy on the weekends with loads of extra-curricular classes. It seems that the Chinese middle-class want their kids to be calligraphers, scientists, mathematicians, structural engineers, TV hosts, pianists, polyglots, and NBA All-Star team members – all before lunch time Saturday.
I taught ten lessons this past weekend. Ten different locations, with varying degrees of ambience, air-quality, size, materials, and linguistic skills. And ten traffic jams to negotiate. It’s a good thing that the job is a blast.
In April, I gave the students three weeks to complete a task: design a travel poster for the summer holiday. It had to be an overseas destination, limited to 10 days travel, with a clear itinerary of fun things to see and do. A route map was also part of the requirement (e.g. Day 1 – Pyongyang, Day 2 – Kim Il-Sung shrine etc.). Sixty percent of the mark was to be allocated to the poster (size, colour, visual effect) and 40 percent was for the oral component (pronunciation, grammar, vocab, length, and delivery).
Well, the posters were great. Some real passion went into the production of these posters with colour photos, drawings, computer-aided design, clearly-written paragraphs and neat layout. It made my school homework look embarrassingly inept. Most teams scored full marks.
Then came the spoken part.
There was one girl who spoke beautifully about a tour of New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC and Bossy Town. She lost half a mark for that. Bossy Town is home to both M.I.T. and Harvard universities and the Red Sox baseball team (have you guessed it yet?).
Here are some of the other things I heard:
“After Black Forest (breakfast) we will make a trip to the female agitation (what?)” Tommy, 10
“People like beer very much. Then it’s time for lunch” – Davy, 10, about a trip to a Swiss zoo
“American food is very unhealthy so we will stop at a Chinese restaurant for lunch” – Jessica, 11
“New Zealand is made up of the North Iceland and the South Iceland. You will be arraigned in Christchurch.” – Connie, 10
“Sweetland (Switzerland) is in the middle of Earache. It is home to chocolate watch cheese.” – Lisa, 11
“Quebec is the best city to cultivate children. It has many interesting topographical features (how do you know such complicated English – you’re 10 for goodness sake?!). The Canadian frog is red and white with a maple leaf….” – Ada, 10
“After arriving at the sandwich hotel, we will get our passports (followed by indecipherable words) from the Internet and visit the old naughty (Nordic?) museum, then on to a ski Russell to try skiting” – Leo, 12
There were many examples of this but also lots of really good English too. The most touching thing was their attitude towards this assignment. They didn’t really have to do it. I would be powerless to contact their school teachers and have them fail English. They were incredibly self-motivated. Many parents were kind and said that I had been their child’s motivation but I disagree. Their collective effort made me yearn to take this freshly-acquired inspiration and repeat my childhood all over again!
Do you ever wish you could go back and do things differently? Feel free to leave a comment.