Refelction: Yangpu, Hainan, China (Archived), July-August 2001

Yangpu Economic Development Zone, Industry and Commerce Administration Bureau

Upon my arrival to the international airport in Haikou, the provincial capital, I was welcomed by the company driver and my colleague representing Yangpu's Industry and Commerce Administration Bureau. Due to an unexpected typhoon, my flight was delayed for several hours, resulting in an arrival time of just before midnight to Yangpu. After a good night's rest, my colleague gave me a tour of the city and we prepared lunch from fresh produce obtained from a local market. During the weekend, several signs posted by the Administration Bureau regarding my upcoming class were pointed out to me; central locations such as the post office, bus stops, and principal intersections would allow for ample notification. However, due to a lack of coordination, the signs were only posted three days prior to my arrival since the classroom location was not finalized beforehand. A more accurate accountability for the number of students, along with their ages, foreign language training, and anticipations about the course would have to wait until the first class meeting.

On Monday morning, I met my colleague's peers and immediate supervisors in addition to the section chief who had signed my contract to conduct the course. Afterwards, I inspected two classrooms and was offered another classroom in the local middle school, but I elected for the room with the best atmosphere and air conditioning due to the outside temperature, scheduled classroom meeting times, and how such an increase in temperature would negatively affect the quality of instruction and take away from a productive learning area. Furthermore, my colleague and I had to personally carry all supplies and heavy technological apparatuses to and from the classroom. Unfortunately, Internet access was not available for classroom utilization in addition to an initial reluctance to place this project on the local server. Likewise, on-line service never materialized from my hotel room's location, immensely limiting my communication outside of Yangpu and opportunities for gathering reference material.

After successfully setting up the classroom Monday evening, I welcomed each student as they arrived, writing their name down in Chinese characters and pinyin (a phonic based Roman script alphabet). I decided to go ahead and introduce the idea of a low power distance between the teachers and students by pouring a glass of water for each student; I later reinforced this concept throughout the course. All students enjoyed technological manifestations utilized during class and the class period followed my lesson plan verbatim until five minutes before the end of the first class meeting. I surprisingly learned that the second class meeting scheduled shortly after would not be comprised of new class members, but rather just only be a continuation of the previous meeting; after a ten minute break, class would continue every night for another hour. Nevertheless, having accomplished all of my objectives for the first night, I briefly explained the class outline in more detail and opened the floor for further questions. Within fifteen minutes, I brought the first class meeting to a close, disassembled and packed up all remaining classroom resources, discussed the meeting's proceedings with my colleague as we assessed the number of students, their ages, and foreign language proficiency level over dinner.

Within the first week of class, a shift in the class' composition occurred: a majority of the older male administrative officials gave way to much younger learners. I suspect that the older supervisors attended the first few class sessions to verify the course's layout, materials and my knowledge of the subject matter in addition to my teaching ability. After substantial course preparation following the course's objective statement outlined by Yangpu's Industry and Commerce Administration Bureau, I decided that I should not excessively alter the curriculum since it was specifically designed for my employers and several other local governmental agencies. Moreover, the course's pace and instructional materials reflected the cognitive ability of the older governmental employees without compromising the younger students' comprehension.

Extrapolated problems with phonetic input never materialized due to the immense variety of languages, dialects and regional differences found in what speakers of English refer to collectively as Chinese. In Hainan alone, five major dialects that have little similarity with Mandarin Chinese (Putonghua) are regularly frequented by class members. Fortunately, an older version of the International Phonetic Alphabet is taught from Chinese middle schools up to institutions of higher learning. Nevertheless, I explained the differences between the old phonetic alphabet and the 1996 revised version, and the reason for the change. Later, I explained the usefulness of the older symbols when discussing syllable division with affricates. Manner and points of articulation gave the students the most difficulty. But, with the aid of movie files for each consonantal and vocalic sound, the disparity decreased dramatically. Syllable division in English did not require much effort once the possible consonantal clusters were covered in addition to the fact that Chinese is a syllabic language.

Late in the second week of instruction, the overhead projector's four bulbs malfunctioned and limited resources forced my colleague and I to utilize other means to present information in front of the class. At the beginning of the third week, my class was forced to relocate to another meeting room due to an unforeseen week-long workshop by the Administration Bureau. Since they outranked my employers, I had to adapt quickly to my new surroundings. However, my colleague and I relocated the next day to the Industry and Commerce Administration Bureau's meeting room for the remainder of the course. Unfortunately, serviceability of the air conditioning was less than expected.

Amazed at the use of two theatrical trailers in the classroom, my students were eager to discuss all means of grammar evasion utilized by all cultures. However, grammatical skill levels of my students varied tremendously, which allowed multiple activities for each assignment with corresponding evaluations. Upon discussing graphemes, I realized that all of the students were familiar to Roman manuscript, but no one had ever had the opportunity to practice cursive script in the classroom; since I already had the resources to do so, I thought that such a deviation from the syllabus was acceptable. Before I began preparing for the grammatical section of the course, I had been told that most of the students would have had previous exposure to grammar, as the vast majority of English classes in China tend to focus on grammar rather than a communicative discoursal approach to learning the target language.

I had already planned to teach prepositions, but was still shocked that several class members could not distinguish between prepositions and adverbs. Utilizing exercises that would focus on perspective allowed students to understand why prepositions have such a complex nature. Idiomatic phrases revealed that culture plays a significant role on prepositional applications. Nevertheless, with appropriate permission, the class was extremely surprised when I took them to a hotel skyscraper, took the elevator to the top floor and then proceeded to the roof to give the students such an experience that they would never forget about perspective. I laughed upon realizing that the most frighten person was my colleague. To say the least, many students did not want to leave the roof, but I explained that the management had only agreed to a brief field trip.

The cultural section of the class was integrated throughout the course. For example, personal physical space was discussed as the entire class packed the elevator full while in the US, only five students would have went up at a time. I had planned on dedicating at least one class period on-line to discuss culture and fulfill the technological applications requirement that I had set for the class, but limited infrastructure did not permit all students to have Internet access at the same time. Nevertheless, I asked them to double up on computers throughout Yangpu. Earlier, I had asked all students to obtain an on-line e-mail account through Hotmail and later download MSN Messenger so that on-line collaboration could be possible. Eventually, all students were either connected to the class conversation or at least observing the discussion. Finally, the last class meeting finished after all students were ready to call it a night.

NOTE: Upon course completion, students are highly encouraged to further pursue their studies in English. Both verbal and written feedback about course performance will be provided to the student and kept on record for future evaluation. Letters of recommendation for outside institutions are also provided upon request.