Start­ing with greet­ings

Chi­nese and over­seas stu­dents share impressions of their very first for­eign lan­guage class

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - FRONT PAGE - By Huang Yi­ran and Ka­trin Büchen­bacher

If you ask a Chi­nese born after 1980 about his or her mem­o­ries of their first English class, they may prob­a­bly tell you two names: Li Lei and Han Meimei. These are the names of two vir­tual char­ac­ters in the English text­book pub­lished by Peo­ple’s Ed­u­ca­tion Press in 1991, which has be­come a col­lec­tive mem­ory of the post-1980 gen­er­a­tion in China.

On douban.com, a Chi­nese so­cial net­work site, there is a group called “Li Lei is so awe­some. Why Han Meimei doesn’t like him,” where many in­ter­net users share their mem­o­ries of this “al­most love” from their ju­nior high school English text­book.

How­ever, if you ask stu­dents nowa­days the same ques­tion, their an­swers can vary from school to school. With the re­form of text­books, Li Lei and Han Meimei said good­bye to Chi­nese stu­dents in 2001, and a se­ries of new text­books were pub­lished to meet the de­mand of teach­ers and stu­dents. Schools in dif­fer­ent prov­inces have dif­fer­ent ver­sions of text­books, and their mem­o­ries of English classes also dif­fer.

“I still re­mem­ber the main char­ac­ters in my text­book: a Chi­nese boy Li Ming, a Cana­dian girl Jenny, and a clumsy but cute dinosaur called Danny,” says Yin Xuey­ing from Baod­ing, North China’s He­bei Prov­ince, who was born in 1993 and started learn­ing English since the third grade. “The first text­book I used is pub­lished by He­bei Ed­u­ca­tion Press.”

“The very first les­son is about greet­ing and self in­tro­duc­tion, ‘Hello, my name is Danny, what’s your name?’” she says.

“I love Danny most, he loves donuts and al­ways tum­bles. Every time he falls, he says ‘ouch!’.”

Dif­fer­ent from Yin, 19-year-old Wang Xin says her English text­book is much more bor­ing.

“What I can re­mem­ber now is that there are many Chi­nese nick­names, like Xiaom­ing, Xiao­hua, Xiaoli, or Ms Wang, but there is no sto­ry­line,” says Wang. “And I learned how to greet peo­ple by say­ing

‘How are you?’, ‘I’m fine, , thank you. And you?.’”

Say ‘ni­hao’

Dif­fer­ent from Chi­nese stu­dents, many for­eign stu­dents started their first Chi­nese lan­guage les­son after they en­ter univer­sity. Anas­ta­sia, a 20-year-old ex­change stu­dent from Rus­sia, started to learn Chi­nese three years ago when she was a fresh­man.

“We start from very sim­ple words, like ‘ni­hao’, ‘Mama’, ‘Baba’, and also num­bers,” Anas­ta­sia told Metropoli­tan.

“My text­book is pub­lished by Bei­jing Lan­guage and Cul­ture Univer­sity. In the text­book we have Aide­hua, which is Ed­ward ac­tu­ally, and Luoma, which is Rome. That’s all I can re­mem­ber.”

“In the class we usu­ally do gram­mar, lis­ten­ing and speak­ing to­gether. These

cour­ses are not di­vided. And we were of­ten amused by learn­ing Chi­nese,” she said.

For Ka­trin from Switzer­land, who started learn­ing Chi­nese five years ago, she still re­mem­bers her first Chi­nese class vividly.

“I can still re­mem­ber the first di­a­logue

is ‘Ni­hao.’ ‘Ni­hao.’ ‘Ni­hao ma (How are you)?’, ‘Wo hen­hao (I’m fine.)’ ‘Ren­shi ni

hen gaox­ing (Nice to meet you).’, ‘Wo ye

hen gaox­ing (Me too),’” she laughs. “And the char­ac­ters in my text­book are Li Na and Da Wei.”

She later added that one of the classes that had the most im­pact on her is the Chi­nese idiom “Guai wan mo jiao,” which is the lit­eral mean­ing of go­ing around the curves and skirt­ing the cor­ners, and it im­plies speak­ing in a round­about way.

“Western peo­ple like to ad­dress a prob­lem di­rectly, while Chi­nese peo­ple tend to say it in­di­rectly. The cul­tural dif­fer­ence from one sim­ple idiom leaves me with a very deep im­pres­sion,” she said.

Text­book mat­ters

Not ev­ery­one has a pos­i­tive im­pres­sion of their lan­guage learn­ing class. Wang Haozhe, a 22-year-old univer­sity stu­dent says she feels learn­ing English is dif­fi­cult.

“I think the most im­por­tant rea­son is lack­ing a lan­guage en­vi­ron­ment,” Wang said.

Xu Yi (pseu­do­nym), an English text­book plan­ner in Bei­jing, told Metropoli­tan that a lan­guage en­vi­ron­ment and text­books are both nec­es­sary for lan­guage learn­ers and can’t be re­placed by each other.

How­ever, lack­ing a lan­guage en­vi­ron­ment doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily lead to poor per­for­mance in lan­guage learn­ing.

“I think a good text­book should help stu­dents cul­ti­vate a think­ing model of that lan­guage. But most text­books fail in this as­pect. This is one of the rea­sons why many Chi­nese stu­dents can’t mas­ter English even though they start learn­ing it from a very young age,” Xu said.

As a grad­u­ate ma­jor­ing in English lan­guage and lit­er­a­ture, Yin thinks in­ter­est is the best teacher for be­gin­ners. A wellde­signed text­book is like a seed, which can in­spire stu­dents’ in­ter­est in lan­guage learn­ing.

“After so many years, al­though I can’t re­mem­ber clearly the con­tent of my English text­book, I can still speak out the char­ac­ters’ names and re­peat the sto­ry­lines. It’s like a small seed in my heart, which leads me to ex­plore a wider world of lan­guage,” she says.

Photo: VCG

For many lan­guage learn­ers, the first les­son they had was about greet­ing peo­ple.

Photo: VCG

A well-de­signed lan­guage text­book is a guide, which can in­spire stu­dents to ex­plore a wider world of lan­guage in the fu­ture.

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