CHINA EFL: English Corner
If we are to believe the single definition of English Corner produced by Google and Google Scholar searches, English Corner is unique to China.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The phrase English Corner commonly applies to informal periods of instruction in English held at schools and colleges in China. These sessions are sometimes lead by native Chinese teachers or less often by teachers who are native speakers of English. The emphasis in these sessions is on improving the oral English skills of the participants. Often the activities in primary and secondary schools focus on cultural activities such as Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas among other festivals and holidays common in English speaking countries. As an informal session the topics can be far ranging. Usually English Corner activities are held on Friday afternoons after lunch in many schools.
HISTORY OF ENGLISH CORNER
We were unable to find any English written history of English Corner (EC). However, it is commonly believed that EC began in Shenyang City, Liaoning Province, some 25 years ago when one Chinese student observed another Chinese student reading an English book while waiting for a traffic light to change. It is said that they struck up a conversation and agreed to meet back at that corner, next week, same time, same corner.
The authenticity of this oral history must be questioned in light of known Chinese culture. First, Chinese are loathe to read English, even as a class assignment. It is suspect that a Chinese would be reading an English book on a public street. Second, the reported “corner” intersection is a circle surrounded by small public parks. There is no “corner.” Third, Chinese are not known for their compliance with traffic signals and it would be highly unusual to have someone actually waiting for a green light to cross. This historical account sounds more like a foreign interpretation of a Chinese oral historical account.
It is undeniable that EC is unique to China. What began as an alleged chance social meeting on a public street has morphed through the years into several different formats.
China now has the formal EC where a foreign teacher addresses an assembled group of Chinese students. In the west this is simply called a voluntary lecture. Then there is the informal EC where students are encouraged to ask questions after the lecture is completed. Then there is the EC assigned to a room where students can congregate and chat in English with a foreign teacher. There is the open air version held in the public square of the school. Sometimes the open air EC is advertised in the media or at other schools to encourage participation beyond the local academic community.
Then there are the variations including an “optional coffee hour.” Under this version, a class is herded into a small cramped room with no air conditioning when the outside temperature is 32C and told to sit on stools. They are offered coffee and Chinese snacks. Then they are instructed to chat with the foreign teacher. When the foreign teacher asks “What would you like to do?” The unanimous response is “LEAVE.” The foreign teacher is later criticized for dismissing a “class’ without permission.
The original social nature of a chance street corner meeting of two people with similar interests has been institutionalized and bastardized by an exuberant but misguided academic community. The institutionalization or organization of English Corner has converted an English acquisition experience into an English learning classroom extension.
An ESE provides an essential element for English acquisition[iv] while an English Corner is simply a tool for more English learning.[v] Consider the definition of EC again, “…informal periods of instruction in English ….”
The existence of an English Corner is a present danger and imminent threat to the effective creation of an English Speaking Environment. It not only constitutes an impediment, it enables the excuse makers.
Kill the English Corner and create an English Speaking Environment.
The great unanswered question is; why does China continue to implement a process that is without scientific basis and shows no appreciable benefits? After 25 years of English Corners, Chinese college graduates are still unable to produce comprehensible output.
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