Silence is NOT Golden

Happy to speak English "outside" the classroom!

There’s that moment when the new EFL teacher walks into class for the first time, introduces himself/herself, tells a funny joke to break the ice and then SILENCE. That first time an EFL teacher realizes that no one is talking, no coaxing, nothing, they just aren’t talking can be very unnerving and the silence is deafening. Yes, the new EFL teacher is thinking what have I gotten myself into. They try one thing and then another to get the students to respond, but still nothing. It has something to do with a combination of group approval, not losing face and being shy about speaking English. The Asian student is unlike a western student in that a western student will usually speak up by themselves not worrying about any consequences about making a mistake. The Asian student wants to make sure that the answer they give is not just correct but that most if not all of his classmates would agree with him/her. So rather than lose face making a pronunciation mistake or risking disapproval the class remains deathly silent. The resolute and quick witted teacher will look for that one opener that will spark conversation. Today I noticed the problem with a group when we began to discuss something a little bland, sometimes I’ll backpedal into something else but I really wanted the students to discuss the topic of Chinese Calligraphy – National Treasure. So I decided to play devils advocate and suggest that it may not be that important. And maybe it should not be funded. Wow! That got the ball rolling. You might have thought I had told them that China wasn’t the oldest country in the world or that they hadn’t invented paper! It was a rollercoaster ride after that and we enjoyed a spirited discussion of the important role calligraphy has played in China. One more note about getting students to talk, just be patient, let them warm up. It takes time, patience, encouragement and understanding. But once done right it opens up into some of the most wonderful conversations, story telling and best of all practical English speaking by all!

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Chinese Crosstalk xiàngsheng 相声

Today I was discussing Chinese Crosstalk( xiàngsheng 相声 , literally, “face and voice” )  with my EFL class. It’s something you might see on CCTV during Spring Festival or holiday and very popular. It’s a kind of satire that comes from two or more people talking down to each other, usually one takes the upper hand but not always. Imagine Abbott and Costello doing “Who’s on First” in Chinese and you get a rough idea. However, it’s not strictly satire, but one speaker may point out the other’s shortcomings, or they may talk about social issues, political issues or just something the audience might consider funny. Usually performed and watched by older audiences, I was informed by my university students that a younger generation has taken up the torch and that they, the students, watch it also. I have two students who can do this but only in Chinese. I am trying to coax them into doing Crosstalk  in English so I can enjoy. And also so they can get practice with English.