Sunday, May 13, 2007

English Speech Competitions

I am quickly learning that Chinese parents are focused on testing, competitions, awards, and results for there child. In a country of 1.3ish billion, there must be some way to carve up the levels of abilities. To this end, there are often English speech competitions around the city to encourage English learning. Some of my students were invited/forced to enter.

The process goes as follows: The student writes a short composition in Chinese, the Chinese teachers at my school translate it using an on-line translator, and then they follow around the foreign teachers all day trying to get us to make the text sound normal. While I don’t mind helping, online translators leave something to be desired for accuracy. So, for about two weeks, during my ten minute breaks between classes, I was tried in vain to derive meanings from sentences like: “I hold the lead of the gold metal to an innate wandering smile.”

Next, the student has to memorize and rehearse these ridiculous speeches on the themes of patriotism, work ethic, their favorite subject in school etc. This is where I learned that there is apparently a certain type of voice just for delivering speeches in China. The louder the better! My first rehearsal class was in a small room with one student. He was a small framed 10 year old with glasses and big cheeks. I waited with his hardcopy of the speech as he prepared himself. He stood, hands at his sides, fixed his gaze at a point behind me where the ceiling and wall met, and then belted loud, strong, monotone phrases! I stopped him immediately trying to keep a straight face and told him that would be unnecessary.

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