Friday, October 5, 2012

English Corner, achtung!

Ah, English Corner, a place to gather with your EFL students and casually discuss a topic in English. It's so Renaissance man, so cerebral, so of the Western liberal arts tradition.

Or so I thought...

My first English Corner was a week ago now. My 270 freshmen and I were going to discuss together some English-language idioms. 

English Corner as I imagined it would be ( I attempted to insert drawings here, but to no avail. If you know how, send me a message!):

I introduce the topic with the help of my class monitors, the students are given an idiom to discuss, I mingle to check their comprehension and discuss how the idiom relates to similar Chinese sayings.

English Corner as it began:

Chaos. The class monitors were adamant that all of the students could not fit in the designated area and that we should move to the athletic field. Okay, I say. Let's move to the field for our discussion. The weather is pleasant, hen liang kuai. 

Shouting. The monitors give instructions to their classmates to move to the field. Five minutes later, each class is in military formation. They are now ready for me to impart my English-language wisdom. One monitor suggests that I stand on the landing at the front of the teaching building to address all of the students. I'm feeling a little like an autocrat in the mid twentieth century. This was the first time in China that I felt my patience really tested. Those of you who know me well know that my patience has deep reserves. I was literally on the verge of shouting or throwing up my hands and heading home. I passed the test (Lord of the Rings geeks, unite). 

Pause. I remember that these students have just finished two weeks of military training and that, even though extremely intelligent and responsible, the class monitors have never been responsible for leading such a large group of students, let alone shepherding a foreign American teacher through his first English Corner. 

English Corner, back to the plan:

I calmly went to each class, as is my wont, and handed out slips of paper on which were written idioms. And then, after having handed them all out, I went from class to class to discuss. 

The idioms were a little over their heads, I'll admit, and it was a stretch getting to every class during the allotted time, but I am thankful we were able to get back to the plan and engage in some un-regimented conversation. 

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