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So far I’ve been doing a pretty good job trying to avoid the Foreigner-In-Asia Trap of teaching English. I’m just too lazy busy studying – and the thought of facing a bunch of kids who barely even realise there is more than one language in the world is a bit terrifying.

Still, today I ended up trying to teach some English to a class consisting of one little girl and doing a demo for two three-year-olds (and their female relatives) who didn’t speak a word of English.

I decided to give it a go, even though the phone conversation with the boss made me a bit doubtful. Instead of asking me “Are you a native speaker? Which country are you from?”, he asked “Are you white?”. Once again I was reminded that when it comes to teaching English, Chinese people discriminate against their own race. I might have the thickest French or Russian or German accent, but if I’m white, they’ll choose me over a Chinese-born native speaker of English. There’s no joking my way around it – it’s just sad, full stop.

Another thing was the teaching materials I was sent before the class. To quote a few sentences (grammar and punctuation according to the original):

Learn some new words: flower, butterfly, ladybug

Explanation: teacher use PPT and a little story to show our words.teach them how to say the words.

Story: I go to the park. I see a flower and want to smell.suddenly a butterfly come here. I see a butterfly. I chasing. but I cannot find it.oh, there is a ladybug.haha  

Erm… oh-kaaay.

I was also supposed to do a “song or chant” for a start. I don’t know any, so my co-teacher Penny (who was to translate things into Chinese for me – I was forbidden to speak it) played me one. It went: “Faces, happy faces! I see some happy faces!”. We looked at each other and I could see we were thinking the same thing. No. Frickin’. Way. Out with the song and let’s move on to the real thing. The students I was doing the demo for were named Tang Tang and Yi Yi. They were so new to this they hadn’t even got their English names yet, so I couldn’t address them as Rainbow, Candy, Flower or Strawberry. Which should have felt weird, but I discovered that being in a classroom with huge mushroom-cottages and flowers on the walls puts you in a strange state of mind. The state of mind where you don’t actually think there’s anything strange about calling someone Strawberry (a friend of mine told me she once entered her classroom and shouted: “Oi! Dragon! Stop kicking that boy! Monster, take that hand out of your pants!” And then: “Wait, did I just really say that?”).

Anyhow, Tang Tang started the lesson with a huge crying fit, hiding behind her mum and saying she wanted to go home. We gave her some time to adjust and concentrated on Yi Yi. She in her turn wouldn’t even open her mouth. After five minutes of trying to cajole her into responding, Tang Tang suddenly got interested, stopped crying and repeated my “Hello” on her own steam. We rewarded her with a Doraemon sticker and turned back to Yi Yi, who still refused to make a sound, whether in English or Chinese. After a period of trying out different techniques (Playing-Peek-A-Boo, Pretending-That-The-Teacher-Is-Not-There, Bribing-With-Stickers, Distracting-With-Pencils) we had to go back to Tang Tang, who was getting bored with repeating “Hello, teacher”, “Hello, Penny”, “Hello, Mummy” (“But I’ve just said it, haven’t I?”). We sat them down to colour some pictures of fruits and tried to teach them the fruit names (that’s what the lesson was originally supposed to be about). “Lemon” was the biggest success, because it sounds similar in Chinese. Yi Yi was still refusing to say anything, but when her granny suggested that we use a peach instead, as she doesn’t really know lemons, she finally cracked. There was much rejoicing when we heard the quiet “pee-chee” and I think it gave the little one a lot of confidence, because when we back-tracked the lesson, she happily started repeating all the various configurations of “Hello, Someone”. Sadly, by this time Tang Tang had already forgotten the word for lemon; when I was showing her the picture and asking “What is it?”, she’d repeat “Whassit”. Then Yi Yi forgot all about her pee-chees and we had to start all over again. You get the picture.

So, at the end of the day, the sum total of the knowledge I imparted (or not) onto the impressionable minds of two Chinese girls was: hello. Peach. Lemon.

 Believe me when I say that I was filled with a massive sense of achievement.

Very cool girls met randomly on a hike, who wanted to practise their hellos, how-are-yous and what's-your-names with us.

First rule of posting photos: never two on the same subject. I know. But they were just so sweet! The little one on the left was called Happy – though she looked like she was too shy to live up to the name...

PS: I know, it’s been a long one, but just one more thing: you remember my huge bitter rant about the word “Hello!” and how it’s become my pet peeve? Well, squatting on the floor in front of a scared Chinese three-year-old and trying to make her say it to me, I found myself yelling it at her with the same insane grin and the same intonation that grates on my nerves so much. HelLOOO! I mean… There really WASN’T any other way to do it. So there. I admit it. I crossed over to the Dark Side and became a part of the self-perpetuating circle of Crafty Verbal Abuse. I’ve lost the right to complain. I’m evil.