Vol­un­teers find fo­cus with English

Older res­i­dents add to rich lives by join­ing ef­fort to sup­port for­eign­ers dur­ing Lead­ers Sum­mit

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - By CHENMENGWEI in Hangzhou chenmengwei@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

Five years ago, Wang Meil­ing, now 60, was di­ag­nosed with cancer. The dis­ease took many things away— in­clud­ing her uterus and ovaries. But one thing she kept was her de­ter­mi­na­tion as an el­derly Hangzhouwomanto serve her com­mu­nity, es­pe­cially dur­ing the up­com­ing G20 Sum­mit.

“Next time a G20 meet­ing comes to China, I will be ... let me see ... more than 80 years old. Not sure if I’ll be able to see it again,” she laughed.

Wang was born in 1955, the year of the sheep ac­cord­ing to theChi­nese lu­nar cal­en­dar. She be­longs toa­gen­er­a­tion thathas wit­nessed most of the dra­matic changes of modern China.

“When I was born, there wasn’t much to eat. When I went to school, there wasn’t much to read. There was the ‘cul­tural revo­lu­tion’(1966-76). When I needed to work, there wasn’t much to do.

“There was the move­ment en­cour­ag­ing young peo­ple to work in the coun­try­side. And when I got mar­ried, there was the fam­ily plan­ning pol­icy,” Wang re­called. “And now I’m see­ing the G20 come to my home­town. Who­knowswhat’s next?”

Wang, a Hangzhou res­i­dent and the el­dest daugh­ter in her fam­ily, left school when she was 16 and trav­eled five days by train to work in the far north­east­ern part of China, Hei­longjiang province’s Ji­a­mu­sic­ity, for eight years. When her mother re­tired from a State-owned print­ing house in Hangzhou, she was per­mit­ted to move back to fill the va­cancy at the com­pany.

With her bro­ken ed­u­ca­tion back­ground, it never oc­curred toWang that she would be able to speak an­other lan­guage one day. Yet the G20 gave her the chance.

Since March, Wang’s com­mu­nity, Tian­shui street in Xi­acheng dis­trict, has of­fered re­tirees free English train­ing in prepa­ra­tion for the sum­mit. The classes start from the ba­sic ABCs. Wang and about 30 other res­i­dents rarely miss a class, ac­cord­ing to CaiQiaoyan, the or­ga­nizer of the pro­gram.

“The old­est stu­dent is an 84-year-old gen­tle­man; the youngest is a 57-year-old woman,” Cai said. “Now ev­ery one of them has learned at least how to greet a for­eigner prop­erly.”

The greet­ings are not just the sim­ple “hello” and “goodbye”, but also in­clude ba­sic so­cial man­ners— in­ter­ac­tions such as shak­ing hands firmly and look­ing peo­ple in the eye.

The teacher and as­sis­tant are spon­sored by a lo­cal English-teach­ing agency. Stu­dents come ev­ery Tues­day morn­ing from 9 to 10 and learn en­try-level words and phrases.

The el­derly res­i­dents have de­vel­oped their own way to re­mem­ber Western pro­nun­ci­a­tions. Some write Chi­nese pinyin be­side the English words, while oth­ers sim­ply use Chi­nese char­ac­ters to im­i­tate the sounds of the phrases.

Huang Gen­lan, 66, one of Wang’s class­mates, en­joyed study­ing English when she was a stu­dent at Hangzhou FirstMid­dle School, one of the best in the city. Yet the “cul­tural revo­lu­tion” also drove her out of school and ended her lan­guage stud­ies.

“Many of the words and sen­tences I re­cited back then are still clearly in my mem­ory. They just stuck there,” Huang said with a shy smile. She is one of the top stu­dents in the se­niors’ class.

Now I’m see­ing the G20 come to my home­town. Who knows what’s next?”

“Wel­come to Hangzhou. Very good. Nice to meet you. Where are you from? Ja­pan? Amer­ica? China?” When asked to demon­strate her oral English, Huang flu­ently spoke out in one breath. Her pro­nun­ci­a­tion had a North Amer­i­can fla­vor, not what a for­eigner might ex­pect from a typ­i­cal Chi­nese se­nior.

FanZhilin, 56, was­not sent to the coun­try­side decades ago be­cause her el­der sis­ter went in her place. Yet she put lit­tle ef­fort into study­ing English when she hadthe chance be­cause she­had been told that “it’s not of much use”. Sev­eral years ago, cancer claimed one of her kid­neys, and she started to re­al­ize what she has missed.

“I went to a tra­di­tional Chi­nese doc­tor ev­ery week. One day there was an English class com­ing. I told my doc­tor to give the pre­scrip­tion to my hus­band and he’ll get my medicine. Then I rushed to the school,” Fan re­called. “I just don’t want to miss any classes.”

Be­cause of their en­thu­si­asm, Cai dou­bled the num­ber of classes and even de­signed some tests to keep ev­ery­body on track.

Wang Meil­ing about learn­ing.

“I can ask ‘ May I help you?’ That’s easy,” she said. “But how canI re­ally help if Idon’t un­der­stand what help they need?” is se­ri­ous

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