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How's My English?


Anyone who has spent time teaching English in China will no doubt be familiar with English Corners. Love 'em or hate 'em, they are a staple of life for teachers of English.

For those of you who haven’t taught in China, English Corners are events—sometimes spontaneous, sometimes scheduled—that give English students a chance to practice their English. They are often led by foreign teachers, but sometimes are organized by students themselves. There may be dozens of participants; there may be hundreds. I had an American friend who participated in a student-run English Corner on a campus and was treated like a rock star!

My first experience with an English Corner was in 1984, when I was teaching in Zhengzhou. I and my fellow teachers organized them for our students who, even though they were English teachers themselves, had never had the chance to actually use their English. As time went on, they became a regular feature of our teaching life. Some of my teammates loved them; however, because I’m not a great conversationalist, I came to dread them. Furthermore, I found myself tiring of answering the same questions over and over.

One thing that always frustrated me about English Corners was that, because of their curiosity in meeting a real foreigner, the students tended to just fire questions at the teacher. They would listen while the teacher talked (sometimes pontificated!).

But English Corners don’t have to be that way. They should be times when the teacher generates questions that engage the students and give them opportunities to express themselves in English.

Russell Bam Lumen and Joanna Alonzo have written a book called How’s My English? A Practical Guide to an Effective English Corner. In it, the authors not only explain how English Corners work and why they are beneficial, they provide 52 sets of questions that moderators can use to spark conversations. Some of the topics are light (adventure, eating, travel). Others are designed to lead to deeper conversations. These include building relationships, being thankful, forgiveness and patience, handling pressure, and identity.

If you’re into English Corners, and sometimes find yourself wearying of the same questions being directed at you repeatedly, this book will be helpful. And if you’re preparing to go to China as a “newbie” teacher, this book will give you a headstart!

This kindle book is available from Amazon for just $5.99.

Image credit: Students creating an English newspaper by sgcrawf via Flickr.
Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is senior vice president of ChinaSource and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University... View Full Bio