Fang Xuan, teaching Chinese in Hungary: “I taught my students Chinese language and culture; and they taught me a lot, too. They shared their attitude toward life and their views on education. Our communication showed that there are both differences and similarities between Western and Oriental cultures”
Fang Xuan, Volunteer Teacher at the Oriental Language School, Hungary
In the autumn of 2008, I was chosen by Hanban as one of the first three volunteer Chinese language teachers to go to Hungary. I taught at the Oriental Language School. Harmony reigned at that school; the teachers were friendly and the students enthusiastic. I found working there a joy.
Before the first class, I came to school very early. I was surprised and delighted to see pamphlets about the Beijing Olympics and Chinese editions of Cosmo and National Geography on the desk. Clearly teachers and students here knew something about China. Then three youngsters danced into the room. Not shy with a stranger, they greeted me enthusiastically in Chinese: “Hi!” I was told they were sophomores in the Chinese Department of Eötvös Loránd University. Each of them had a Chinese name. The boy was Bai Lunuo. The two girls were named Bing Lan and Liu Qing. Bing Lan had blonde hair and a snowlike complexion, easily reminiscent of the winter in North Europe. I thought the name fit her well. But she said she disliked it. She told me her parents and friends often called her Nuo Qi. She liked this name but did not know how to write the two characters; so, I wrote the characters for her and explained that Nuo means “promise” and Qi “pretty jade”. She was glad to adopt the name. In the first few classes, I found that the students forgot the newly-taught words very quickly. This problem troubled me for a long time. After careful consideration, I decided to teach each new word with more example s . Because there were few exercises in the textbook, I started de v i s ing mor e exercises myself. To enhance their memory of the new words, I designed exercises such as fill-in-the-blank, sentence making, and word linking all using the words and grammar in the text. My method worked and the students found the exercises very helpful. But they knew little of the hours I spent in front of the computer racking my brain about the exercises. Because we became more comfortable with each other, class went more smoothly and the students learned more effectively. To correct their tones, I used techniques like tongue-twisters and Chinese songs. To improve their speaking skills, I helped them develop oral compositions and organize in-class debates. To achieve better class involvement, I encouraged them to play entertaining games like Word Link.
Occasionally my students would be very funny in class. So hilarious were they that I can not help bursting into TEACHERS’ VOICES laughter at the mere thought of them even today. During one debate, for example, Party A held that women have to work outside the house to achieve equality between the sexes; while Party B held that women don’t have to. In the heat of debate, a member of Party B suddenly said, “The cow’s milk of a mother is the best nutrition for the baby; so, it is an important duty for the mother to look after the baby at home.” I burst into laughter at the words but the student didn’t understand my amusement and looked at me in his puzzlement while I nearly fell off my chair with laughter. At other times, their answers were often very witty. Once I asked them what suggestion they would give to a person troubled by obesity. “Break the mirror,” was the novel answer which left me at a total loss. The class was so full of joy that I found my work enjoyable. I taught my students Chinese language and culture; and they taught me a lot, too. They shared their attitude toward life and their views on education. Our communication showed that there are both differences and similarities between Western and Oriental cultures.
Published in Confucius Institute Magazine
Number 05. Volume V. November 2009.
View/Download the print issue in PDF