Today was a lot of fun. I met my final groups of students, which means I will see them each two more days and then I'm finished. Both classes were pretty good at English - not my lowest, nor my highest. I'm getting better at teaching these students and I think classes are generally going pretty well now.
One of the highlights of all of my classes is actually just a "fun" thing that I've started doing during down time. Each class is 90 minutes but with a 10 minute break in the middle. At first I thought it was weird and I never knew what to do during it. Some kids stand up and leave the room, or go to the bathroom or take out a game to play. Other students just take out a book, or talk, or just sit quietly. So I started telling them that they were welcome to do whatever they needed to do, but I asked if there were any of them who would like to help teach me some Chinese. It's become one of the best things that has happened for me here. And hopefully this isn't a reflection on me doing a poor job of teaching during the actual class, but I think it's also a highlight for a lot of my students, ha ha. But they love teaching me to say things, and hearing my pronunciation (and working with me until I get it right!) Sometimes it gets to the point where every single kid is crowded around my desk and the board, teaching me Chinese words and phrases, and not choosing to do any of the other "fun" things that they could be doing on break. And while I know them teaching me isn't exactly the intent of our program, they actually are getting good English practice, since they are teaching an English speaker to speak their language. Plus it's fun for me!
So I've learned a good deal of Chinese over the past week or two. Still no where near enough to "get by" in any sense of the word, but I'm leaps and bounds ahead of where I was when I got here. In fact, today was the first time that my knowledge of Chinese actually came in useful! There was a student who didn't speak very much English and she raised her hand to ask me a question. They were working on writing stories in English. She asked me what the English translation for something was. And I recognized the word! So I repeated the Chinese word that she said, and told here how to say it and spell it in English. She politely said "thank you" in English and went on working - as if I hadn't just done the awesomest thing ever!!! I mean, I guess she could have easily asked another friend to translate, or looked it up in her dictionary. But I was pretty happy with myself anyway, ha ha!
While it probably shouldn't surprise me or anyone who knows me that I especially love the language aspect of this trip, I was a little skeptical that I would like it before I got here. It seems like such a difficult language to learn. And in a lot of respects it is: they have some sounds that we don't have in English, they use different tones to convey completely different meanings, and not to mention the huge, complicated set of characters that they have! But in a lot of ways it is an easy language. They don't use very many extra words. Articles don't exist. Verb tenses don't exist. "I," "me," and "my" are all the same word. They even use the same word for "he" and "she." And they call things by the simplest names that they can. The most popular green vegetable here is translated "green vegetable" and high heeled shoes are translated "tall shoes" for example.
But as you can see, I am fascinated by this (and every?) language, and I've been working pretty hard at learning some of the vocabulary, the structure, and the correct pronunciation. And so today, at the evening performance, I decided to rope a few of the other teachers into performing some Chinese on stage with me. We basically perform something for the kids every evening after they perform their things. Today they did short plays in English. So I thought it would be cool to do a short play for them in Chinese. So we did the Tortoise and the Hare. We had only a few speaking parts, and probably less than 30 words or so in the entire skit - but we got up on the stage in front of a small auditorium full of Chinese students and did a skit completely in Chinese! I was proud of us. And the kids got a big kick out of it as well. They laughed and/or applauded after most of our lines, which I think means they understood most of it, ha ha. And at the very end, Troy grabbed the mic and said "wo ai zhong guo" to the crowd. That means "I love China." Obviously that earned us a standing ovation, loud cheers and adoration, and was the perfect way to close out our night.
So with only a couple of days left, I'm going to try to get as much more Chinese as I can. I doubt that I'll ever get the chance to come back here again, or that it will ever come up back home that I'll "need" to know any Chinese, but it's just something that is really interesting to me and I think I would like to learn even more of it in the future. And who knows, maybe I will get the chance to come here again. Maybe we'll hit the lottery and Christine and I and our kid will get the opportunity to travel to China? It would definitely be awesome if that ever did happen, because, well, wo ai zhong guo!