Friday, July 10, 2009

Our Youngest Chinese Teachers Ever

So there we were, sitting around the table with Yan Ke, working through a series of stories that date back to various periods in ancient Chinese history. As we translated, Yan Ke kept emphasizing how these tales, about everything from imperial horse races to visiting far away friends on a snowy night, are even today known by every school child around the country. Little did we know, we were about to find out just how much this assertion really holds.

The doorbell rang. Undoubtedly, based on the incessant finger-on-the-bell pattern, this was xiao pengyou, one of Z's main buddies from the neighborhood. We quickly decided to ring him in.

On this day, xiao pengyou was not traveling alone. He came in with another RipStick-riding friend, who at first seemed a bit intimidated to be in a waiguoren home, probably for the first time ever.

It did not, however, take long for this new addition to become a full participant in the language learning fun. Once the boys realized we were learning classic Chinese stories, they pulled up a seat at the table. Yan Ke, quickly sensing an unexpected teaching moment, asked the boys to take turns telling us the stories in their own words.

This was a fantastic, and endearing, decision. The boys took pride in their newfound duties, and delivered the stories with great excitement. As Yan Ke later put it, this was a chance for us to listen to spoken Chinese in a very different kind of way. Rather than Yan Ke reading exactly from the texts he had provided us, the boys narrated the stories in their own words, at their own pace, with their own, natural speaking patterns. There was a lot of na ge and jiu shi, common markers that everyday speakers use to give themselves a moment to gather their thoughts when speaking. Our ears were, to say the least, challenged by these young, wonderfully imperfect voices.

This was definitely one of those little moments that will endure in our hearts and minds for a long time...



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