Sunday, June 19, 2011

Chinese Fire Drill

I have one week left to work at the Middle School. My time here is spent testing the 2400 students in the sophomore class on their pronunciation. It's a challenging process of trying to make an evaluation of each student in an abbreviated time. The classes this year have a little over 60 kids in a class, and I have 40 minutes to test them. I pass out test sheets with ten words or sentences and grade on a scale of 5 to 10 their pronunciation of the following sounds: "V", "Sh", "Th", and "L" when it appears at the end of a word. I also listen for them to finish words that end in "M" and "P".
For example, I use this sentence, "Everybody loves somebody sometime". A complete fail would be, "Errybody luz sunbody suntine." A couple of other common errors are "Meoh" for "Meal", and "Mudder" for "Mother". The last sentence is "It's time to stop," which often becomes, "Iss tine to stah."
Most of the students' primary language is Cantonese, which is completely different than Mandarin. Most words end in sounds that do not require the lips to compress, so M becomes N and P disappears completely. V is non existent, as well as Sh and Th. Since most of their English teachers are from this region, these errors are perpetuated. The lack of decent pronunciation can make an otherwise decent English speaker difficult to understand.
Most students do well, since I have been drilling this into them for the last semester, along with presentations on American culture, including basketball, school differences, Lady Gaga, guns, and eating habits.
I'm looking forward to my new job. The middle school has been an excellent experience, and I've enjoyed many of my students and classes. But it's factory teaching on a massive scale, and when you are the only foreign teacher, you are very limited to what you can do.

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