Like all good English teachers, we like to make jokes about our students. But rather than being intentionally mean-spirited, we do it as a way to stay sane and relieve our own stress at the challenge of becoming proficient in another language. Learning a language, as opposed to most other skills, comes with an incredibly high risk of embarrassment, considering that verbal slip-ups are often associated with a great deal of humor. But not being afraid to make mistakes is a mantra I often drill into my students, and it would be hypocritical then, if I didn't stop to laugh every once and a while. And besides, it's not like the feeling isn't mutual. Chinese friends and teachers here do it to us all the time—including drawing attention to an especially embarrassing slip of mine that confounded “medical insurance” as “beverage insurance” that I will seemingly never live down.
The boy's half of my "K" class posing for photo-ops after our last class of the spring semester last year.
But in the same way, when it comes to students, you can't help but get frustrated by the same things. In a given class, it's entirely too easy to generalize and envision them as a sea of clones. Everyone has similar tendencies to aversion and exhibits the same sorts of behaviors—confusing gender pronouns, sticking out their tongues when they're embarrassed, whispering to neighbors in Chinese when they have no idea what's going on. Especially when it comes to our first-year English majors, it's almost as if their every response has been pre-programmed by years of Chinese education. Everyone seems to know the “right” thing to say—that is, non-controversial, generally positive, and at times, blatantly nationalistic.
But even among the stand-outs, certain archetypes begin to crop up, forging similar strains between this year's students and last's. There always seems to be, for example, the smart student in the front row who is a go-to for answering tough questions. The outspoken girl who's volunteering in class is purely crush-motivated. The cute girl in class who you secretly have a crush on. The mild-mannered boy in the back who will surprise you with how much he knows. The former English major know-it-all with a chip on her shoulder. The student who is always missing class for work obligations in another city. The gutsy group of girls who are the first to befriend you outside of class. The athletic bunch of guys you play basketball with on the weekends. The older student with a spouse and child who you wonder why is enrolled in graduate school. The dumpy, clueless boy who understands nothing save for how much he can glean in Chinese from his neighboring seatmates. The adventurous and creative student who excels in role plays and class skits.
The girl's half of my "K" class posing for photo-ops after our last class of the spring semester last year.
I suppose it doesn't help then, that this year's lesson plans are almost mirror carbon-copies of last year's. It's been wonderful being able to capitalize on those lessons that worked and fine-tune the ones that fell flat. I now feel like I have a coursebook that I can draw ready-made lessons from for nearly any situation. In grading student essays and class presentations I assigned for homework, I've also taken careful note of especially juicy tidbits. Compiled and categorized, I give you a short “best of” sampling of student essays from this year and last, centering on the topics of self-introductions and food. I'll save the more profound and touching responses for a forthcoming post. It might be my jaded teacher-side talking, but if all of the bad English parody sites out there have taught me nothing else, it's that there will be plenty more examples in the months to come.
The unintentionally suggestive:
“Guoyan is very famous for nuts. I invite you to have a taste of our nuts.”
“I think a lot of people like to my hamburgers.”
“In this festival, I want to do once your family personally. In a round round holiday sweet sweet honey.”
The needlessly detailed:
“When we cook this noodle, we use pieces of cutter to cripple the white collar into pieces and then use water to boil them.”
“The Datong hot pot is reasonable, it is consist of the chassis, the pot body, the copper gland, the fire tube, and the cap part.”
“When I eat the sweet meat, my temper will become so sunshine at once.”
“You'll feel a strong burning in your mouth, what a wonderful feeling!”
“I don't know whether you have already saliva, but I must suggest you can't eat more.”
“It's difficult to point out the most favorite food. But I find gruel plays a more and more important role in my daily life.”
“Often eat fried foods, due to the lack of vitamin and moisture, easy to lose, constipation.”
“I like to eat something that can be called food, so I have a weight that makes others worried about me.”
“My cat is a haughty cat. She doesn't like embracing.”
“When I lost passion, I will speak to me: 'Go, Go, Tony, hard working to be a excellent student.'”
“Please lead us to swim in the ocean of English and we will do our best.”
The hopelessly mistranslated:
“My family is very warm and fragrant.”
“I look forward to make a chronical friendship with you.”
“Every year, many tourists travel to Hongtong, one of the countries in Linfen, to sacrifice their ancestor.”
“She is a fan of telling horrible stories.”
“Koalas are my favorite. They are very cute and naïve.”
“Dumplings mix up some meat and vegetables like a pie with vinegar.”
“I like noodles because they are delicious and good-looking.”
“My favorite food is cattle.”
“Nowadays, fast food is so bandwagon.”
“She hates chicken and selfishness.”
“All these activities enrich my extra-curricular life very much. Oh. I also dislike mango.”
“Folk music is my favorite. Anyway, I feel great pity for our country's singers.”
“You look like my sister. I must study hard.”
And the down-right incomprehensible:
“...add spring onion until fragrant go fishing.”
“Oh! I like drink is milk. I don't know cooked. Sorry! I will try to cook some food.”
“The hobby widely cause me to be substantial; the numerous friends cause me to feel urgently richly!”