Get this: I’m having to make them talk like real people.
I have three Chinese classes which are working at about the same level, and they’re all around the same age (11 – 13). I decided it was time to get rid of the “textbook conversations” so they stop sounding like they’re walking grammar exercises. Two of the classes can’t get enough: what does awesome mean? Can I use it in this way? How about in this way? Can I call you “dude”? Today, we were working on acronyms so I told them to look up lolcats. I hadn’t even finished the sentence when I could hear the typing on the keyboards.
But the third class… ah, yes, the third class. These guys are at the highest level – at least, when it comes down to right answers. They get 100% on all their English exams at school. They love quizzes and learning big words. They don’t love informal language.
“Why,” one of them asked me today, “would you use TTYL when you could just say “goodbye”?”
Um, just ‘cuz? No one says “goodbye” anymore. They say “Bye” or “Later” or “See ya”. Goodbye is an absolutely ancient word. As well, I’m sure if you understood the etymology, you wouldn’t use it anymore because you heartily object to using any other phrase which refers to God. But, hey, if you want to sound like you’re 100 years old, go ahead.
The ironic part is, I don’t really like the language of modern adolescents. While speaking lolcat has certain twisted appeal, I don’t think everything is totally sick and I really wish my students would learn to use random properly. No, I am not being random, so stop saying that.
So what do I do about my obstinate class? Do I drag them into the 21st century? Do I leave them in the 19th century where, quite honestly, they’re happy and I’m happy?
I’m gonna drag them. Why? a) It’s my job to teach them to speak English so they can communicate with other English speakers and b) there is some sadistic psychologist deep within me that really wants to see what happens. Why is it these guys despise informality while the other two classes thrive on it? How did they get so attached to a word like goodbye? Is it a black/white mentality, or just a resistance to change?
Shall keep you updated on the torture sessions.