Sunday, November 18, 2007

Teaching language through culture

Thanksgiving is approaching. It’s an American holiday and is usually celebrated on the second last Thursday of November of each year. Its tradition dates back to the first Thanksgiving by the Early Pilgrims who celebrated their first successful harvest in the new land with the Red Indians who had helped them to adjust in the new land and taught them how to plant and fish.

Today, Thanksgiving in the States is celebrated usually with families, much like the Chinese family reunion dinner on the eve of the Lunar New Year. The signature dish seems to be the Thanksgiving turkey.

In China, most American teachers celebrate the occasion with their students. Although I’m not American I did the same with my students in order to expose them to American culture.

I remember in one Thanksgiving, I had the class think of one item to be thankful for. Many of the young ones said they were thankful for their parents, but three comments stood out and these were from those who had experienced the Cultural Revolution, first hand.
Cai Xu, an associate professor said he was thankful for Deng Xiao Peng who re-opened the universities. Otherwise, he would have been a carpenter. In those days, intellectuals were discriminated against and his mother put him in a carpentry school to avoid being stigmatized. He attended one day of carpentry class but quit the next day when the universities re-opened.

Monitor Fung was thankful because he and his siblings were never short of food since his mother was in charge of the ration cards during the revolution.

Mary had a hard time during the Cultural Revolution. Her family suffered hunger and cold. From her sharing, one could tell her family had no guanxi or connection. In China, good guanxi can make the most difficult task a piece of cake!

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