Sunday, December 31, 2006

But Can They Speak?

Here's some food for thought--- Chinese schools have classes of 45 in humid, non-air-conditioned 90-degree classrooms, yet the only voice you hear is that of the teacher.

Can you imagine doing that here? I can't. Is that because our teachers aren't as good as theirs? I don't think so.

If the students were talking, of course, they wouldn't be able to run schools in this manner. Despite their orderliness, I don't want my child in a classroom like this. Maybe they could make her pass more tests, and maybe I'm idealistic, but I think schools need to do more than that.

At the first school, we were told that, at the present time, more than 200 million Chinese students are learning English. Two hundred million children learning our language! And they do so because China is committed to becoming an economic superpower to rival the United States within 10 years.

They may not need to wait that long, given our profligate borrowing habits. But as for learning English, having taught hundreds if not thousands of Chinese kids, I think their government needs a new approach. There's absolutely no way 45 silent kids learn to speak English, or any foreign language.

One of the most difficult things about my job is forcing silent kids to speak. And if I succeed, I then need to work on making them speak audibly, which is another thing entirely. I'm always amazed that while my colleagues are working overtime trying to keep kids quiet (and of course I have kids like that too), I'm on my hands and knees, begging and pleading with improbably quiet kids to open their mouths and make sound come out.

Are you jealous? You might not be if you had to do this. It's more difficult than you'd imagine, as it takes extreme persistence to overcome lifetimes of trained silence. Still, it's very gratifying if and when you succeed.

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