Teaching English to Chinese kids is pretty weird. For starters, our alphabet is totally different from theirs, obviously, and so Chinese kids try and pronounce the entire word at one time like your classic American with dyslexia. If you write “Able” on the board, and they guess it correctly, don’t assume they can get “Unable,” for a second because the word has changed and rather than adding one thing onto another, they start all over again. It’s really exhausting teaching Chinese kids to read, write, and spell. What I usually like to do is give them a word like “Catamaran,” or “Honorificabillatutinatatabus,” have them work forward with each syllable, and explain that everything can be discovered if you just make the sounds as you see them; ca/ta/ma/ran – catamaran!
Another strange thing is the whole process of naming. Now, I’m a flamboyant Virginia man, and I like the flamboyant name as much as the next guy (Carlton, Carmine, Thaddeus, etc.) To my great dismay, the trouble with translations, usually observed on douchebag Chinese character tattoos and electronics manuals is just as bad within the realms of child-naming. English to Chinese is not easy to translate – you’re definitely translating thoughts and ideas rather than specific words. So if you can’t get your hands on them first, you’re going to have a lot of students named Fire, Apple, Only, Nature, and Run. I try and stay neutral, being that I am only an expert, but certainly not the authority on English names; however I implore you readers to put yourself in my position. Say I’m teaching a four or five year old how to speak English in China, the first things I always consider are what is this child to do with an English education, and what the climate in English countries is like at the moment for names. Maybe call me old-fashioned, but I’m not on board with stepping outside of our traditional naming cultures. The problem here is that names are words that have other meanings, and so parents expect their children’s English names to have meanings. Well sorry, but it doesn’t work like that; and I would like to see it stay like that. Back on my earlier point, if you have three boys called Tom, Jeremy, and Ian, they are all equals on the name level. But here, your name might be the same word as “horse,” or “decisive.” I don’t think it’s at all a stretch to imagine a world where you have three boys and two happen to have these names while one is called something like “Pine cone.” Now I don’t think anyone is naming their kid Pine cone, but you can see that unless you want your kid to be ridiculed, you’re going to name him something cool like Dragon or Hyper-good Dancer or something like that, which vastly limits the number of viable names; not to mention sets the bar pretty high (I wouldn’t consider most people up to par with dragons).
With regards to my earlier point, I’m going to assume that a well-to-do family in such a ravenously capitalistic society is going to want their kid to have every advantage in the department of possible employment opportunities. English is a plus in that column no doubt; having a name like “Panda” is not. So what I usually do, and see if you agree with me or not, is take their proper Chinese name, and pick an English name that sounds similar – that’s how I got my Chinese name. My name is Andrew, so the university called me An Jun. Everyone stops me to mention it means handsome -.-
So I had a kid named Lang Kun, therefore I asked his parents if they liked Lincoln. I have a kid called Mei Xi, so I asked if they liked Marcie or Macy. I have a kid called Guo Rin so I called him Gordon. Sometimes parents will give you complete control and respect that because you are the English teacher you may know best how and what to name kids. I named my first ever charge Walter – immediately receiving questions as to its meaning. I told them it’s an older name and it was the name of the first great American news anchor. I do not know if this was taken with any great observation or consideration, if they did or did not like it, or if they thought I had misunderstood the question.
I’m not really sure there’s much more to say on this topic, other than that Chinese school seems intolerably miserable, and if you’re lucky enough to be born into a well-off family, the societal pressure to put your kid into as many different learning worlds beyond school as possible – to further open the world to them as adults – is so intense that by ten or eleven, your average kid, who goes to school at 7 and leaves at 4, could be going to as many as 11 after school or weekend courses. It’s a terrifying load to bear at that age. How could one have time to fit in travel or anything artistic during such a crush? I’m not sure if the internet restrictions contribute, but I wonder if that’s why I just don’t hear of anything or anyone, artistically domained or otherwise, coming out of China?
This is also being written at the time of the large UK, US, and French air strikes in Syria. The other foreign teachers and I are happy to be in this far flung region of China at this time. Certainly I, being so close to my nation’s capital, experience this more than perhaps some of the others. I hope I have a capital to come back to, and that a number of miscalculations and escalations don’t lead to hot war between the great powers for the first time in 70 years. Some of my American coworkers think this is just a spat and that nothing will come of it, however I tend to side with historical observations, which would point out that a week before Europe plunged into World War One, there were people saying the exact same things my coworker was saying today – such as “There’s too much to lose, the world is too integrated.” I disagree wholeheartedly, though I would be interested to hear your opinion on the matter, and resolve instead that any amount of evil can be achieved when power is held in the hands of single men, such as President Trump and President Putin; for one need look no further than the evil, against all man and his own soul, that one man can unleash within the confines of the stall in a public restroom. And I am not claiming these leaders alone can bring us to war, but that the existence and pomp of one is a direct contradiction to the other’s existence, and that such a clash would, as Kennedy put it, pull us down, spiraling, into a series of events whereby the actions of others lead to the situation taken out of the leaders’ hands and removed from their ability to control; public opinion was just as big a factor in the election of JFK, when we were at nuclear odds with Russia most ferociously, and it still matters now. Dread forces, alive and ready, dusted and dialed in since the cold war can and will unleash mini-Armageddon upon the world for something as small as these strikes in Syria; and even though such a trifle itself couldn’t bring us there, but rather lead to something that leads to something that leads to something that does.
Happy travels, I hope I can talk more about China next time considering this is supposed to be a travel blog.