'My favourite country is Africa. I love New York.'
25.04.2009 21 °C
The assignment, on the face of it, should have been simple. Choose your favourite foreign country, write seven sentences about it and then read your work out to the class the following week.
I had given all the Senior One students a 45-minute lesson on Major Countries of the World (a bit of a misnomer, I know) which included six or seven examples of countries they could talk about. They also got ten or 11 suggested categories such as population, location, language, leaders etc. All they had to do was copy one of my descriptions or write one of their own in the suggested simple style.
The results were, well, pretty bad. Many of them obviously hadn't bothered to do the homework at all, and were just bluffing their way through about 2.5 sentences in the hope they would get away with it. And many couldn't even do that much - at least one stood up and said: 'USA. I like NBA. Thank you'. And promptly sat down. X is for fail, mister!
The most popular country was Canada, but only because loads of students had found a stodgy piece about it in their English textbook. The result of this was that I must have heard the same spiel - 'My favourite country is Canada. It is north of the United States. It is the second largest country in the world. It has a population of only slightly over 30 million people' - about 40 or 50 times over the course of the week.
Out of the some 350-odd students a few, to be fair, were quite good. One girl gave a presentation on Switzerland that could have doubled as a Wikipedia entry. One boy said his favourite country was South Africa because it had lots of gold, and that when he found it he would be very rich. A few chose Ireland but seemed not to know what to say about it except to ply me with compliments. They all passed!
Many more in the middle ground had perfectly acceptable mini-speeches primarily about the US, Canada (genuine ones this time), France and Japan. Even where they just regurgitated what I had said in my introduction, I felt that they had done their job for what was an Oral English assignment.
Culturally, the exercise was instructive despite the flawed results. Boys liking basketball while girls like romance (or clothes!) seems to be the benchmark of Chinese teenagerdom. Some of the wider-eyed ones like neighbouring Japan while the boorish boys at the back hoot in derision, though I'm sure they know little about contemporary geopolitical relations or their roots. And nobody seems to be able to pronounce 'cheese'.
In the end then, my first foray into assigning homework was a bit of a mixed bag. But addling, lazy assholes aside, it's mostly a pleasant job being a foreign teacher in China I reckon. You draw up a simple lesson on PowerPoint and just run with it for a week, improvising and fine-tuning as you go along. And once you're plugged in to it, the work goes by really quickly, leaving plenty of time for fun.
So until next time, dear readers, check out the new photos of myself and Megan's trip to Xiandu Scenic Area and assorted other ones, and remember - French is not a country and neither is Paris!