Thursday, April 05, 2018

Single Dog

I teach a lot of students from China. Sometimes I learn things about Chinese. A lot of the materials I choose are designed for college, so sometimes there are questions about whether or not students are married. Sometimes the boys say, "No, I'm a Single Dog." When I ask what they're talking about, they say that's what single guys are called in China. I think that's hilarious, and now I notice the expression when it comes up.

China's a Confucian society, and there's still this thing about having sons. People want to carry on the family name. There's been this one child per family rule in China. While it's phased out nowadays, the effect of preferring male children has been one of a country in which there are more men than women. So there are an awful lot of Single Dogs out there in China. I sometimes think that's why the Chinese boys come here, but I must be wrong because the girls come too.

My classroom is dominated by Chinese speakers. My second largest group is Spanish speakers, but they're outnumbered maybe four to one. It's problematic in that my goal is to get them to speak English, and it goes against all natural tendency. I mean, imagine we, native English speakers, are grouped together in China and some crazy teacher is standing in front of the room insisting we speak Chinese. What a ridiculous demand.

Yet that's essentially my job. A good friend of mine once asked a student, "Who's the craziest teacher you know?" He was quite confident the student would say he was, but he counted me out too soon.

"Mr. Goldstein," said the student without hesitation.

"Why?" asked my disappointed friend.

"We came here, the first day, and none of us could speak any English. The first thing Mr. Goldstein said to us was from now on we would speak only in English."

I'm always proud of that, particularly because my friend is pretty crazy on his own terms. But it is a crazy thing to ask. It's a little tougher this year because I now have four or five Single Dogs with pretty active senses of humor. I'm pro-humor, actually, but it's problematic when it's in a language a fair group of us don't understand. It's particularly problematic when it's used in an unfriendly way.

One day we were talking about animal sounds. Dogs say bow wow in English, but guau guau in Spanish. One of my Single Dogs told me what cats say in Chinese, I repeated it, and it turned out to be a pretty vulgar word. The Chinese girls are a little more mature than the boys, they didn't find that amusing, and they let me know. I verified it with the Chinese teachers and called his house.

Usually their banter is not that offensive, but it's still rude to cut out so many people. One day, after they had a hilarious in-joke, I started speaking Spanish, which is something I never do in class.

I looked at the boys and asked them how they liked being left out of the conversation. What did they think I was saying? Do they like it when we have conversations and exclude them? I don't remember exactly what else I said but my Spanish speakers were very happy about it. Several of them came up and told me so. It looked like they were feeling much what I was feeling.

The boys were visibly stunned. They didn't expect that and had no way to react. My Single Dogs have slowed down their private conversations since then. But they will surely pick it up, and having used that trick once, I can't rely upon it again. I'll have to come up with something else.

I'm Sisyphus, pushing the boulder up the hill, and every time they make a joke in Chinese I have to push it even farther. But I'm making progress despite all reasonable expectations otherwise.

I can't put pictures of my students on the blog, so pictured is my dog Toby. While he's not technically a Single Dog, he is nonetheless both single and a dog.
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