Saturday, August 1, 2009

What do we do in China?

Pictures: 1. A class performance at the Talent Show. 2. A bridge in the Old Summer Palace Park. 3. A classroom activity. 4. The July 2009 Summer Facilitators.

For the last two years we have been in China for about six weeks with an organization called TeachOverseas. We have volunteered with a program called TIP -- Total Immersion Program -- which is designed to help Chinese English teachers improve their spoken English. We have discovered that most English teachers in China have never spoken with a native speaker and have never been taught conversational English. As a result, they lack confidence and are fearful of speaking out and making a mistake. I can identify with that because, even with traveling to many parts of the world, I have never had enough confidence to speak the few phrases I know in a foreign language.

The concept behind TIP is to cloister these Chinese teachers in an English environment for a period of time, currently about three weeks, where they will be constantly exposed to English only, NO Chinese. This year there were about 350 English teachers, along with about 40 American volunteer facilitators. They were broken into 13 classes of 25-30 each with 1 - 2 Americans per class.

The typical student day began with breakfast on their own in the cafeteria at 7 am, then classroom time at 8am for two hours with their small group facilitators. During that time we used discussions, projects, games and other activities to get them to bond as a group and practice their English. They next spent two hours in a large group meeting where they had diction lessons and Morning Motivation time. MoMo time was mentioned frequently as their favorite part of TIP because they were inspired with a moral lesson and challenged to change their thinking about themselves and their lives. Some of the lessons included "Being the right person", "Never give up", "Have a positive attitude" and similar concepts. After large group time, they had lunch as a class with their facilitators and were required to stay for a full 30 minutes of conversation. They were given "conversation starters" with questions and vocabulary words to discuss, but of course they also wanted to know anything and everything about our lives in America. After lunch was a 90 minute break for a nap and personal time, then an hour in the reading room. Each American is encouraged to bring at least 10 magazines to stock the reading room, so there is much to choose from. The students are required to write a summary of an article each day as well as keep a vocabulary notebook of 20 new words they have learned that day. After reading time, they have a one hour large group meeting for "Famous speeches and Fairy Tales". Included are a variety of well known American speakers, such as Martin Luther King, Ronald Regan, Barbara Bush and Bobby Kennedy. The fairy tales are also ones with a good moral lesson. After this large group class, they are divided into different small groups for an hour of "clubs". Clubs are classes with specific topics such as cooking, sports, travel, holidays, drama and music. They changed their club every three days so they had an opportunity to learn about a variety of subjects in English. They had dinner with their club to give them a greater variety of people to talk with.

The last group activity of the day was at 7pm, when they had one hour of game time with their class. This could be physical activity such as basketball, card games, word games, etc. but they especially enjoyed the occasional opportunity to go to the park next to the campus and just walk and talk. The park area was the ancient Summer Palace that had been destroyed in the mid-1800's by European armies and kept as a memorial to the lost culture. Most of the students felt it was a sad place (sort of like a Holocaust memorial) but they loved to visit.

Throughout the day, there was also a rotating schedule for language lab when they used the computers and specialized software to continue practicing their pronunciation. After game time, they had an hour of personal time to write in their required daily journal and take showers before bed at 10pm. As you can see, it was a busy day with both students and facilitators working very hard.

The most rewarding part of TIP was the love and appreciation of the students. They came from all over China and many never imagined ever meeting a foreigner. Many times they had unpleasant ideas of what an American would be like and were amazed that we were loving kind people there to help them. One day a student asked if Americans hated Muslims, and since he was a Muslim from a persecuted area, it wasn't a casual question. I have already received an email from this teacher and I know his idea of Americans has been changed forever. Yes, it was an exciting and rewarding experience!


Happynhanford said...

What a testimony! Thanks for what you do to make a difference!

Shelley said...

Susan and Paul ~ excellent, informative blog. I think I understand a bit better now why you chose to return to China again this summer.

What a blessed experience for all of you, students and teachers.

Very much looking forward to seeing you next month ~ Shelley