How many people teach English in China
120 Chinese names
Acting in English class
THE NEWSPAPER FOR STAYS ABROAD,
No. 6/2016, pp. 53-54
"I'll make schnitzel for you again, you will probably only get rice there anyway." "But you don't speak Chinese at all, how do you want to talk to people?" But you're brave! ”I heard these and similar sentences often enough when I told them about my plans in English for two months in a Chinese languageschool teaching outside of Beijing.
And to be completely honest, I had a queasy feeling in my stomach a few times when I thought of the upcoming adventure, even though I had already been abroad several times. But so far, the USA, Australia and Hong Kong had been English-speaking destinations, so China was a new, and in my opinion a little bigger, challenge. The online TEFL course gave me the English Teacher's Certificate, and combined with my knowledge of business education, I felt quite up to the task of teaching Chinese students some English. Still, a few days before departure, I kept waking up in the middle of the night because I dreamed of very embarrassing and uncomfortable situations. And I should have some surprises - but thank God they were neither embarrassing nor uncomfortable. After arriving in Beijing smoothly, I felt great relief. I was even met with a sign with my name on it. I was also very happy about that, because I would probably not have recognized the teacher, of whom I had only seen a blurry photo, in the Chinese crowd.
After half a day of getting used to the campus, which I was able to call my home for the next two months, I started class. I was allowed to teach six different ones, a little over 120 students in total, and that meant 120 Chinese names. So her first task was to make a name tag with her English name on it so that I would even have a chance to speak to her directly. All Chinese usually choose an English name to make it easier for non-Chinese. With some, however, I had to grin a bit - the ideas ranged from Apple to Barbie to Handsome. Whenever someone asked me after my return what the class was like, the first thing that came to mind was the following story: I held a lesson on the phrase "my favorite ... is ...". Among other things, we collected as many animal names as possible. When the flow of ideas slowed down a bit, I wanted to help my students with a few pointers on the jumps and began to "fly" through the class with outstretched arms, big flaps of wings and great birdsong. The students grinned at me from all sides, but none of them gave the correct answer. Instead, a few of them in the front rows started shouting "miao". Even if a lot of things ticked differently in China - even here a bird certainly wouldn't go "miao".
After trying to mimic the sounds of birds and cats alternately, the confusion was complete, both for the students and for me. It took a few minutes for a student to see the light and I was told that the Chinese word for bird sounds like a cat's “miao”. I will probably never forget this translation. I will always remember the strategy of a student for whom English was not a favorite subject. Accordingly, he could only speak a little English, but I still wanted to motivate him, so I kept asking him simple questions. The standard answer from demotivated students would probably have been, "I can't." However, the student in the penultimate row surprised me with his answer. He grinned at me and said: "I don’t understand what you say but you are so beautiful." I was speechless for a moment, but then grinned back and accepted his answer. I actually believed that he had not understood me and wanted to reward his efforts to at least pronounce this one sentence perfectly. I was also happy to be complimented on being so pretty. In the two months I learned on the one hand to decipher all kinds of hand signs and scribbles, no matter how strange, and on the other hand how to use body and sign language in front of a large number of people. It was not uncommon for me to let off steam in classes, for example to portray different professions. The greatest drawing challenge was the underwater creatures that we examined - how should I draw a seahorse or a clown fish correctly right away?
"I felt very exotic during the shooting"
Being different is noticeable, that is clear. People just take a look when someone is particularly tall, thin or - as in my case - exceptionally blonde. Due to my Central European appearance with blonde hair and light skin, I became the highlight for some Chinese at some well-known tourist spots and probably adorn Chinese photo albums on hundreds of pictures. But my appearance was not only interesting for the Chinese on the weekends, but was also used by the school to advertise with a foreign teacher. In addition to a short photo shoot in a class at the beginning of my stay, a full film was made during my last week. Two days were full of appointments where short film sequences were shot each time. I stood in front of the school for almost an hour for a few introductory sentences, then I had to change for the tea ceremony, then I was filmed in class for two hours in another new outfit. This resulted in a few hours of film material, from which a 15-minute promotional video was cut, which will hopefully attract many new students. I felt very exotic during the shooting, as the figurehead par excellence.
"But even if I didn't take too much of it with me, it was always very funny"
It was very exciting to experience the attention to detail - or perhaps more appropriately the mania for perfection - that the Chinese displayed when filming. For the class scene, we went into a new room, the tables were arranged precisely in rows, the name tags had to be perfectly coordinated with the edge of the table and the books then in turn had to be perfectly lined up with the name tags. The students were moved: the prettier ones in the front row, the restless ones in the back. I was asked to put on my nicer shoes. The shooting was definitely an event that I wouldn't want to miss and that you can probably only experience in this form in China. When I wasn't being filmed, teaching, or out and about, I tried the Chinese language. The "student manager" and some students tried to teach me a few words and sentence constructions three times a week while drinking tea. The strategy “What do you want to learn?” Without a book and without a common language as a basis, however, was not the most promising. But even if I didn't take too much of it with me, it was always very funny. This was mainly due to my pronunciation, which the students liked to amuse themselves with. In contrast to German, Chinese also has pitches, which means that it makes a difference how you emphasize a sequence of letters, and that immediately changes the meaning of the word. For example, the two letters “ma” can mean four different things depending on their emphasis. So I have great respect for everyone who learns Chinese.
"Some of them very shyly gave me small gifts"
Unfortunately, stays abroad always pass far too quickly, which is why the moment to say goodbye soon came in China as well. The last few hours on campus were marked by sad faces, and many students knocked on my door to say goodbye one last time. Some shyly gave me small gifts. There were also many messages that they would miss me, that I should come back and that they hoped I would be "happy as a chopstick". To this day I don't know exactly what "happy as a chopstick" means, but I suspect that it is a nice Chinese proverb. Looking back, I was able to gain an incredible amount of experience in China, both positive and negative. But I don't regret any of this and I can only recommend everyone to take the plunge and face a new challenge in another country. It doesn't matter whether it is in China or in another country - you experience things that you would have thought impossible at home and that will stay with you for your entire life.
Cornelia Doppler, 25, is studying business education in Vienna. She took a semester off to travel through South and Central America and improve her Spanish. She would like to turn her passion for traveling into her profession in one way or another.
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