Cantonese/English: My teacher/student

I’ve been doing sessions with a 15-year old Hong Kong student, who needs to improve his English. On most weeks he comes over on Mondays and Tuesdays, and we play one hour of English, and one hour of Cantonese. It’s a medium problem that it’s after school, and he’s quite tired afterwards, but he’s very motivated, and so we both are steadily progressing.

Today were especially good sessions :) In the first hour, I spontaneously put up a jar of peanut butter, a tin of peanuts, and a spoon. The last English sessions had not gone so well in my opinion, mainly due to me running out of ideas on what to do. This changed during this lesson though :) First, it appeared to me that “peanuts” is a dangerous word for Cantonese speakers, as they tend to drop the “t”. Great reason to practice it! :) So first we talked about opening/closing the jar/tin, and about the colors. Then we went into materials: plastic, paper, metal, glass. After that, I asked him about some colors, eliciting “mainly” and “all”, eg. »Is this cookie box all blue?« – »No, it is mainly blue, but it is also white and red«. From there, we went to materials, like »Is this table made of metal?« »Yes, it is made of metal, but it is also made of plastic.«;

He didn’t know “spoon”, so we played with that a bit, then I added a fork and a knife. Cantonese speakers often pronounce “fork” as “frog”, so we practiced that a bit as well. Then I asked him how to make a peanut butter sandwich. In order to complete it, he had to tell me about opening the freezer, getting out the bread, opening the fridge, getting out the margarine, opening the peanut butter jar, using the knife to spread the margarine and peanut butter on the slices of bread. Great setup! :) Because we had tried to spread the margarine with the spoon, it was even dirtier than the knife, while the fork was untouched. So we played “Which one is dirtier?”

After about an hour we switched to Cantonese, and I tried to use many ideas from the previous English session. We did several materials, I learned how to ask what something is made of, if it’s the only material used, and some very interesting details of Cantonese that were new to me or that I had forgotten. I used a napkin and the dirty spoon for clean/dirty, mainly because the two almost sound the same, a great chance to practice to distinguish between the two!

In other news, we did a short session at a McDonald’s with nine people some days ago! We wanted to go to some quiet café, but it was full, and so we tried to get some space at McD, and while not perfect (table too long mainly, and a bit loud), it was amazing how undisturbed we were, playing about an hour without even ordering anything, with keys, pens, mobile phones etc. on the tables :) That session really whetted my appetite for doing larger groups, but I still have not figured out how to do these on a regular basis.

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