For the past two Semesters, I have led the Southern University of Science and Technology’s Speaking Club, “Voice of SUSTech” through weekly meetings, assembling every Sunday night to practice conversational English in an informal environment. These gatherings – not classes – act as a practical platform for English language acquisition in an authentic setting, where rankings, competitions and tests are not part of the curriculum.
In an effort to underscore the notion of genuine learning opportunities I helped the students plan a field trip outside of campus, where they could practice their English conversational skills in a setting which pushed the boundaries of their comfort zone. Within language attainment, it is challenges which foster growth, whereas rote learning only promotes an adherence to bygone practices. Wishing to promote lessons that the students could utilize outside the classroom, we organized a “Foreigner Interview Project” at Shekou, an area with many international restaurants and shops, so that the students would have ample opportunities to speak and interact with people from across the globe.
Gathering at Noon in a Mexican restaurant, there were about 20 students, in addition to five staff, each of whom joined for this unique educational experience. Language is a part of culture, and even the introduction to Spanish language and Mexican food sparked curiosity, as during our lunch, Sophomore student Liu Changgao found an immediate interest, sitting down to interview the owner of the restaurant, creating an instantaneous cultural exchange between the two, bridging any division of separation through simple conversation, with English acting as the common language. Ideas and practices such as these were the goal of this project, and a Chinese student speaking with a Mexican business owner is a testament to this notion, and an example of the power of comfortability with language in an everyday setting.
Over the course of nearly two hours on a Sunday afternoon, the students and staff from the Speaking Club were able to interview people from across the globe, including Russia, France, Greece, the United States, and numerous other countries. Asking a series of about five questions to the respective interviewees, the SUSTech students reported back with positive results, meeting people such as a Ukrainian filmmaker, a Uruguayan professor, and a Dutch researcher. In many cases, the “interviews” turned into conversations, with dialogue flowing in each direction, adding deeper substance to the prescribed questions.
Part of my role as a foreign teacher within a Chinese educational context is not merely to espouse the importance of second language learning, but to similarly share the cultural aspects which encompass language. Through activities such as this field trip, students and staff alike learned not only communicative skillsets associated with conversation, but moreover through the dialogues, they learned about cultural aspects associated with South American and European countries and the complexities which affect their realities living and working in China. Not only were the student’s language skills enhanced through the “Foreigner Interview Project” but more importantly, their worldviews were expanded as well.