The first two weeks of our trip we’ve been teaching English at the Hongshan School for migrant workers’ children. We originally thought we were going to be teaching middle schoolers, but they gave us third graders instead. We’ve divided up into two groups, with Laura, Jenn, and Laurel teaching one class, and Eli and I with another class.
Teaching hasn’t been nearly as stressful as I thought it would be. Usually right before class the teacher gives us the English textbook to look at and tells us what ages she wants us to go over. The textbook is quite simple, and tends to teach English through the use of dialogues and illustrations. Usually we’re told to cover a two-page spread in the hour we teach. Our basic teaching method is to write up the dialogues on the board in English and write the Chinese underneath it. We then go through the dialogues word by word, making sure everyone knows the dialogues’ meanings in Chinese. Then we have everyone read them out loud several times as a class.
One of the things I love about our students is how enthusiastic they are about learning English, and how excited they get when we come to teach. As soon as they see Eli and I walk up the stairs, they begin enthusiastically smiling and waving. When they get dismissed from their previous class, they immediately run out to the hall where we wait and swarm around us, asking us questions, and telling us things. The day I brought my camera I couldn’t walk very far, because I was constantly stopped by students who wanted me to take their picture. One day, before class, one girl was showing me a piece of candy she had. She offered it to me, and I asked what flavor it was. Before I knew it, she had unwrapped the candy and shoved it into my mouth, asked me if it was good, then turned to Eli and offered another piece of candy to him.
The students ask me a lot of questions. They’re all fascinated that I write with my left hand. I guess they still force students to write with their right hands in China. My Chinese isn’t good enough to explain to them that I’m a lefty, and what the concept of a “lefty” is, so usually I just tell them that I find writing with my left hand more comfortable. Another day, they asked Eli and I where we were from. When I told them we were Americans they then asked us what language Americans speak. I thought it was pretty obvious that Americans spoke English, considering that’s what we were teaching them, but I guess not. Several students actually asked if we were from England because we spoke English.
One of the things I’m still not sure how much to focus on is pronunciation. I obviously want to students to pronounce English correctly, but their Chinese accents do limit some of the sounds they can make in English, like the “th” sound, for example. During one of our classes, Eli tried to get the kids to say “thank you,” instead of “sank you,” like they usually do, and tried to get them to use the “the” sound by trying to explain the meaning of “sank” in English. It seemed to work a bit, but the kids obviously need more than just one class to work on being more comfortable with the “th” sound.
I think that if they pronounce words completely wrong, though, then it’s my responsibility as teacher to correct them. In one of the dialogues we taught, when asked if they like skiing, one of the characters responds with “Yes, I do.” While listening to the class read the dialogue out aloud, I noticed that one of the boys in the front kept saying, “Yes, I don’t.” I tried to get him to say, “Yes, I do,” by telling him what he was saying didn’t make any sense in English, and repeating what he said in Chinese, but no matter how many times I tried to get him to say, “Yes, I do,” he kept saying, “Yes, I don’t.”
Since we were only teaching for two weeks three times a week, we weren’t able to make a huge impact in terms of improving the students’ English, but we were still able to make noticeable improvements. I’m going to miss them a lot now that they’re on break, but I’m so glad I was able to have the opportunity to each them, even if it was only for two weeks.