Teaching English as a second language has always been something I've always tossed around in my head. Whereas in general I probably couldn't cope teaching English high-school style, teaching it as a foreign language always tickled my fancy, as it has to do more with the practical and conversational than the philosophical.
English is in high demand here in Hong Kong. As one of the region's official languages and one its business advantages in the international arena, people who can speak English have an automatic leg up on the competition. Statistics show that Hong Kong isn't nearly as cosmopolitan as it's purported to be. Ninety-five percent of the population is Han Chinese and ninety-five percent use Cantonese primarily as their daily language.
From what I gather, English is taught in many secondary schools, but trying to talk to many service workers here in English, reasonably presuming they attended secondary school, whatever they learn tends to fade away. Talking to secondary-school students (I have no idea what grades they are in because they use the English form system), it's apparent that they, at least the ones I've talked to, have a good grasp in speaking the language. Comprehension is another issue, because whereas they can understand each other's English and I can understand theirs, they cannot understand enough of mine. And seeing as most native English speakers speak more like me and less like them, it would behoove them to improve their comprehension skills.
With this thought in mind, many Hong Kong people, several starting from scratch, pay oodles and oodles of money to get tutored (or coached) to make their English better and closer to standard varieties. Many tutors make $100,000 USD per year, from what I've heard. Others who have invented themselves as celebrities have become multimillionaires by such means. If I had the proper documentation to be allowed to be employed in Hong Kong, I might have tried my hand. But since I didn't, I participated in something second best.
Back to the secondary-school students--the reason I got in contact with them is through a program(me) that was publicized through the Office of International Student Exchange (OISE) here at HKU. It was advertised mainly to exchange and international students as the King's College English Teaching Programme. Sounds really intensive, doesn't it?
There was no pay, but that was understandable. It was a volunteer program in which after their school, we were to walk across the road and down half a block to King's College, a local boys' secondary school. though the program name had "teaching" in it, it was more of a mentorship, for they already had English class in school.
We first learned about it in non-local-student orientation back in August and I was excited to apply. They were supposed to send us applications shortly thereafter, I thought, because the program was to last most of the semester. I was wrong. After enquiring by email, I was told that application would be made available, but much later.
Around came the middle of September, nearly a month into my four-month stay here. The application had come and I was ready to apply. Only then were we told that it was but a four-week program, where we would teach for one hour a week on a given day. So I applied for a few timeslots I had available.
Now this happened to be going on during that whole shopping-for-classes fiasco, so I didn't definitively know when I was going to have free time. About two weeks later, I had registered after much ado for my tutorials. They were sporadically (and thereby inconveniently placed), so I wondered if both my class schedule, being my first priority, and the King's College Programme would fit together.
A few weeks later, well after I'd finished shopping for classes, registering online for classes, and registered partially online for tutorials, the selection came out. It was clear that they had more applicants than they needed. I had a partner to "teach" six students, and it just so happened that I got the Wednesday 4:00-5:00 timeslot, which proved to be problematic.
During that timeslot, I had my tutorial for Hong Kong and the World, so quickly I emailed my tutor Sebastian to see if he would allow me to move when I attend to an empty slot on Thursdays so that, if necessary, I could withdraw from the program as early as possible. The next day he graciously granted my request, since we were already well into the semester. I was now in the program.
The program dates were set to begin shortly after reading week. Orientation was scheduled in the latter half of reading week, but when it was found out that most of the exchange students couldn't make that date, it was moved earlier. I couldn't make either day.
I told OISE (specifically Queenie) that I wouldn't be able to attend and she sent me the orientation materials after the fact. there was a conspicuous lack of lesson plan stuffs, though it was suggested that in the first session we have the students give us a tour of King's College and that in the fourth and last session (which was today), we give the students a tour around the University of Hong Kong. Oh and a big piece of advice that proved a little unsuccessful was to talk about sports with them--yeah, that topic lasted like ten minutes total.
I arrived straight from my Humanity in Globalization lecture. The professor was beginning to give us advice on how to write a good paper, and I had to leave since he was going over on time in order to get to the first day of the program.
We were to pick up our folders and then proceed to our classrooms (which were marked on maps for our convenience), and we were each given a small bottle of water. At the entrance to the school, I met my partner, who I learned if from Singapore but normally attends university in Australia, here on exchange for one semester.
This first session a mere four of the six students showed up.
Going to start the first session, I found that he was talking a lot more than me. Though I tried to increase my presence by inserting more into the conversation, the students all directed their questions at him rather than at me. I figured that they found it easier to understand him, because although he speaks good English, his accent and their accents are quite similar.
As expected, they gave us a tour around King's College, giving me some insight into the life of a secondary-school student in Hong Kong. We were shown their athletic facilities and canteen, as well as their library and a hallway that students were not allowed to go through.
Hong Kong is like Las Vegas in that it implodes its history and builds upon the rubble. So King's College and a few buildings at HKU are some of the few remaining examples of the colonial style.
This week, all but one of the six students attended.
One student brought a newspaper clipping. It was about how a Hong Kong woman in finance decided to quit her job and start a frozen yoghurt business. They all thought she did it to make more money, assuming selling yoghurt can make more money than her high-paying corporate job. Though it is possible, she will, for a very long time, will be losing money on startup and then be making lots less money than her former career. I presented this argument to the students, that switching to selling frozen yoghurt was more a labor of love than a financial pursuit. They thought I was joking.
After that all, we completed unsuccessfully a crossword puzzle of sorts. I maintain that it was poorly designed with definitions too vague (and sometimes flat out wrong) for the specific words they were looking for. Needless to say, we moved on.
Hangman was the name of the game, and we went back and forth throwing random words at each other to see if we could get them. We kept the words easy, as did the students when it was their turn. Because we had some substance to this meeting, time went a lot quicker than in the last session.
This week was actually two after Week Two because they had their finals the week in between. Two decided to show up (the most talkative two).
My teaching partner, at their request, told them how he served in the Singaporean Army (as there is conscription of young men there) in order to defend themselves against possible attack from Malaysia. Though Singapore officially operates in four languages, the one and only in the army was Malay. His position was the army police, to suss out all the contraband and maintain internal order.
We went over another newspaper article. This was was about tonsils and tonsil stones (which accumulate in your tonsils and pop out when they get too big after a bit of prodding). Big words such as tonsilitis were skipped understandably, and at the end of the article they admitted that big chunks of the article didn't make sense. We verbally summarized the article for them.
Though I told them in the first place that I'm American, they learned that little fact again. I answered questions about the United States, pointing out where I'm from on a big bad chalkboard drawing, drawing New York state onto the map, and explaining that the smallest state Rhode Island is not an island at all.
The last session was earlier today today. The same two students as last week were the only ones to show up, and they were really excited to get shown HKU by us.
So we walked them there. As with any good tour of HKU, you start at Main Building. It's the oldest and most historic (and prettiest) building on campus. The main room in Main Building, Lok Yew Hall, is where the university hosts all its A-list events and ceremonies (except for graduation, which is being held this year at Asia-World Expo on Hong Kong Airport Island).
We continued around campus and showed them the library (but entering requires a HKU ID card, so we looked in from the outside), as well as a few canteens and some unique buildings. After we got through in just forty minutes, I was reminded how small campus is.
We walked them back to the bus stop and they went home.
I won't be able to attend the ending ceremony for the program. It is to be held next Wednesday at Lok Yew Hall. I told them that I was probably going to go until I realized that I have class during then. All in all, though it was not exactly what I expected, I'm glad that I participated because it was a good experience.
Copyright © 2009 James Philip Jee
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2 years ago