Thursday, April 24, 2008

0804242030 - I was learning to speak Cantonese, but now I have to learn how to speak English.

How did my quest to speak Cantonese turn into a job speaking English?

When I first started this job as a Native English Teacher, I bought a bunch of cheap English text books for about three Australian dollars from a Chinese version of Crazy Clarks - I have to correct the lessons before I use them on the unsuspecting students. There are a few Chinglish errors and crazy sentences. My new career as a Native English Teacher is based on these text books.

Sister Maria, the principal of the Chinese Catholic school, called me into her office the other day. In an office environment, being called into the supervisor's office is never good so I was a little cautious. When I arrived, Sister Maria and two other ladies were waiting for me. I wondered who these ladies were and what did I do wrong? I wondered if they had finally realised that I don't know what I am doing as a teacher and these ladies were from the Board of Education here to question me about my teaching methods. Was I wrong to teach the Chinese Catholic girls to say "press your palms to your cheeks!" when they are surprised. Is is racially offencive to go around humming the tune to Monty Python's "I Like Chinese"?

Sister Maria introduced the ladies as two new nuns that would like English lessons. They speak Mandarin and a little English. During the first lesson they asked me questions about the intricacies of English grammar - the answers to which I know very little. As a Native English Teacher I am often asked how to say a particular phrase or sentence - which is fine - but then I am asked what grammar rule is applied to the subject of the sentence and is the verb in the past, present or future nominative? My short answer is "That is how we say it in English." I then add a hasty disclaimer that the Americans do not regard the English grammar rules as legally binding and frequently say the wrong word in the wrong place, with the wrong spelling until the rest of the world cannot be bothered correcting them anymore - hence the phrase "American spelling". The American's grammar is broke.

The first week of the lessons with the new nuns went well, albeit thirty minutes overtime. The Chinese are very considerate and will adopt an English name so that is easier for the rest of the world to speak to them. The new nuns have taken the names Mary and Maria. Their Chinese names are Hur Tin and Wong Khur. It took a week for me to pronounce their names correctly. Part of the daily lesson is to write, and then say out loud, ten sentences with a given verb. Hur Tin can write the strangest sentences - think of the way Yoda speaks, and think of how Premier Jo used to speak. All the words are there -but they need to be put in the right order. Wong Khur writes quotes from the Bible and Heidi.

Alex has invited some friends from Windaroo Ward in Queensland, Bronte, Sunny and Ari to visit us in Hong Kong. They are going to be special guests at the Chinese Catholic Girls school where they will be interviewed about what it is like to live in Australia.

The Nightingales are going to France for the summer holidays in July. That is a sentence that only makes sense in the Northern Hemisphere. We have rented a flat for a month and will simply have a look around Paris. I plan to hire a scooter and ride it across the Millau bridge over the Tarn River. We will have a family photo with the Eiffel Tower in the background.

Jo Quotes: