This evening I had the pleasure of conducting my first of ten classes with some of the teachers at the university I work with. These guys are pretty legit, doctorates and masters professionals, that the school has decided to send to Australia for a couple of months in order to improve their English! Boy was I nervous!

The school requested that we teach the IELTS examination, which I can see is important, as that’s what they’re going to study, but I also think that practical English is important too. Since they’re going to be doing an IELTS workshop in Ozzie Land, I decided that at least for this class we were going to work on things that would be useful for them once they get there. I think this will be a continuing theme throughout the next ten weeks. We first worked on formal and informal greetings and I filled them in on a bit of western-style classroom etiquette. Explaining that ringing cell phones were a big no-no in a western classroom led to a slew of not-so-subtle pulling out of the ol’ phone and putting it on silent as they giggled nervously. I tried to include any other cultural differences I could remember when it came to class time.

The real fun began when we started talking about food and restaurants. First I introduced some Australian slang for food such as tucker (food), grog (alcohol), and sanga (sandwich). Then we moved on to discussing ordering food in restaurants. Ordering food in a Chinese restaurant in China is quite different from any ordering experience in the west. First of all, they don’t really have starters/appetizers. You order all your food at once including your beverages and any sweet food you may be wanting. In China they don’t really differentiate dessert from the main meal. In class we went through these differences, how to order, and so on. As the school wants us to mostly focus on IELTS I then introduced some basic IELTS questions about food. I was pretty impressed by their answers and the detail they were able to give. After we had taken a break and finished the basic IELTS questions I went into the long answer questions. Wanting to give them some choice I posted two long answer questions related to food and asked them to choose one. Then their eyes got wide, they started to stare off into space with nervous looks on their faces, and I knew that disaster had struck and we had some things to review. Turns out that when you don’t use English for a long time you start to forget it, and these poor folks hadn’t used their vegetable, fruit, and meat vocabulary in some years. To resolve this issue we made lists of vegetables and fruit on the board. I would say the Chinese and they would tell me the English if they knew it, and let me know any additional words that maybe I didn’t know the Chinese for (still don’t know how to say broccoli, but can finally remember tomato!). We also talked about flavors: sweet, salty, spicy, etc. After this they looked far more relieved and I gave them some time to work on the questions before coming around the classroom to stand next to them and ask them for their answer. They thought this was hilarious (why? I don’t know) but I think it relieved them that I didn’t make them stand up in the middle of class and answer in front of all their peers.

My main goal for this first class was to establish a laid-back and comfortable feeling in class and I believe that we achieved that this evening. I’m looking forward to more classes in the future with this group.