Blog News

1. Comments are still disabled though I am thinking of enabling them again.

2. There are now several extra pages - Poetry Index, Travel, Education, Childish Things - accessible at the top of the page. They index entires before October 2013.

3. I will, in the next few weeks, be adding new pages with other indexes.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

China: monkey hear, monkey speak

On the rare occasions that I sit for any length of time in the office (which is what the staff room is called in China) I witness an apparently endless stream of kids come to see their Chinese English teachers* with oral homework and time after time it's the same drill. The boy or girl will stand in front of their teacher clutching a textbook which has been folded back to the correct page but NOT looking at it. Then the learned passage will be recited. The interesting thing is that there is never any attempt at correct speech rhythms or correct intonation. All the syllables carry the same timing and the same - flat - tone, and the same amount of stress. Pauses between words are constant and exactly the same as pauses between sentences.
The result is that the passage is recited correctly - by which I mean "to the teacher's satisfaction" - but with no evidence at all that the child in question has understood a single word of it. It has been learned the way a parrot learns to say, "more tea, vicar" and with just as much effect. This isn't how to learn a language it's how to learn a parlour trick that is to be trotted out to amaze your aunts and uncles when they come to visit.
Then the child is replaced by another one who recites the same passage with the same lack of meaning, and another and another and another.
I suppose that with so many children to teach something of a production line approach to the task is inevitable, but there must be something better than this.