For Payton
and Deona


Connecting Mandarin and English,
          Chinese and American,
                    people with people

English Corner
(September 19, 2008) (return to Homepage)
     We'd be totally amiss if we didn't talk about "English Corner." We promised the students this week that we would attend. It's merely a designated time and place when students can gather and practice their oral English. If they can co-opt some native English speakers into the group the topics can go beyond, "Hi, I'm Jane. My hobbies are running and listening to music." For us, it was another one of those exhilarating experience perhaps facilitated by our grand age, our American accent, our unique appearance in a land of long straight black hair, or maybe it was because we still hold hands as we walk through campus.
     We deliberately arrived a little late and despite the darkness at about half a block from the designated point of rendezvous, we could hear "Denvy! Gail! Over here!" I think they were expecting us. Step two of the cohersion occurred as we stepped into the arena. There appeared to be several small groups standing in circles. I was dragged over to a group at the far end and never saw Gail again for a couple hours.
     A student facilitator greeted and continued as a student to give her name and list her hobbies. Although I was completely out of line (in my position in the circle, not my behavior), she asked me for my name and hobbies next. I told them that as an "old man" I had a long list of hobbies but I kept it short. I think this is where form and order fell apart as the next statement was someting to the effect: "Do you have any questions of Denvy?' "Why do think the American economy if falling apart?" "What motivates you to volunteer?" "Why is the dropout rate in colleges in America so high?" No one seemed to want to know how many children I had. I had taken a USA map with me as well as some brochures from WOU, but it was too dark to see them.
     After time the group size changes from 20 to 30 and then to ten after a couple hours. I said "Good bye" several times but there was always at least one more student who would say, "Can I ask you one more question?" We love them, we love their spirit, their desire to learn, to explore, and to consider other ways of doing things. The people who will institute change in China are not in power.
     A little sidebar: in our writing class we asked the students to write their opinion of the Olympics. They are very emotional about the Olympics. They are very proud of their country as it hosted the Olympics. They are very eager to pursue cooperation, friendship and peace among all nations. They are ready to do what needs to be done to improve the fate of the country. They're young and they are not certain how to do it yet, but they have the right questions.
     We don't have any pictures of English Corner, but we just received an email from the teacher in the Foreign Language Department who serves as our guide and she said she saw our pictures at English Corner hanging in the Student Union. So if you want to stop by the Union, you can see some pictures.
     Now we are recruiting other English speaking instructors to join us. The exception is our neighbor across the hall who is from Ireland and counts something like this: "one, two, tree." We told her she would completely undo our lessons on pronouncing "thank-you", "this", "that" and all "those" other words with the difficult "th" sound. Just kidding!

A note Gail about the "Corner":

It is so interesting how the students change from the classroom setting to the public setting. In the classroom we have been able to get the students to talk to us and each other, but at first they aren't comfortable with their English skills. They are much better at writing and reading than speaking the lanuage and that is why there is so much enthusiasm when there is a native English speaker available. We have extra 'observing' students in almost every class and many times are engaged in conversation as we walk around campus as well, just giving people an opportunity to speak in English.

But that event called 'English Corner' was very different. Students come there to practice their Engish skills and that's what they do. Some of our current students felt a little more possessive of our time there but others did get some questions in as well. Then I found some of our current students answering some of the other students questions, things like do we have children etc. In fact, one student pulled out her phone and showed a couple pictures that she had taken of our family pictures during class.

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