Monday, September 24, 2007

A Feast and a Humbling Experience

This is a typical meal for a group. Lots and lots of yummy choices. The empty spot on the table was soon taken up by a delicious fish dish. I shot the photo too soon.

First the feast... Last Thursday we were invited by the International Office to a "Welcome Dinner" for the KMUST foreign teachers/administrators. There are three campuses. On one campus, there is a younger single American man, along with a older Spanish man and his Chinese wife. This is Matt's second year in Kunming and Arturo has been in China for 10 years. On another campus, there is an older man from New Zealand and a twenty-something American boyfriend/girlfriend. Nate has been in China for 5 years and it's his third year in Kunming. Brady and Catherine are from Idaho and this is their first year in China, too. On our campus with us, is a thirty-something single man from Canada. Ken, however, was born and raised in Tiawan, and came to Canada in his early twenties. This is also his third year in Kunming. Also joining us was Gary, head of the IO and Kiri, is the woman who "takes care of" us foreigners. So that means, on a campus of 10,000+ students, we are the ONLY FOREIGNERS and I am the ONLY NATIVE ENGLISH SPEAKING person! Well, maybe we can count Carlos and Elena...

Now the experience... I was invited to be one of the judges of the annual English Speaking Competition that was held on Sunday. Do you think being the only native English speaker on campus had any bearing on my invite??! This particular competition involved 17 finalists from the three campuses and two winners were to be chosen to represent KMUST at the Yunnan Province competition in October. The two winners from the October event will represent the Province in the national competition to be held in Beijing in the Spring. The topic was "What it means to be a global citizen". Each student gave a three minute prepared speech, then was given an impromptu question scenario and had two minutes to respond, and finally given a question to answer from the moderator with also two minutes to respond. Most of the students were third or fourth year English majors. All of the participants were fantastic! Such poise, breadth of vocabulary and the ability to THINK QUICKLY AND ACCURRATELY in English was amazing.

I thought about the third and fourth year foreign language majors that I once was a part of - most of us could barely manage a decent conversation in the second language, let alone think fast and accurrate. It just saddens me that the U.S. places so little importance on world languages and that people in general, do not VALUE bilingual/trilingual skills. Wake up America! China's 1.6 BILLION people begin learning English in preschool! There is also TV English lessons daily and language video snippets on the buses. And what does the U.S. do? It CUTS world language program funding and discourages the use of native languages in the home!! Please encourage your children/grandchildren to learn/maintain a world language in addition to English. Their future depends on it. Or your kids may end up working for the Chinese... or for my kids! **

**Please bear in mind that this biased rant of frustration comes from a language teacher and a mom who has been and will be trying to raise her bi/tri-lingual children in an unforgiving monolingual culture.


Anonymous said...

Ann you are so correct. I took french in high school and can barely order breakfast in that language! I am dependant when I travel on others knowing english! Thanks for the wake up advice.

mimifrancoise said...

What a great post. I, too believe that our children/grandchildren must learn at least one language besides English. My granddaughters, Zoe and Maya go to Chinese school on Saturday afternoons, and I hope they will retain the Chinese they learned while in Xiamen. I speak some French to them when they come to see their Mimi, and they are learning French too. I love reading your blog. Your pictures are good too!
Fran (aka Mimi)