Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Biggest classroom in world?

English is the lingua franca of the world, so goes the old joke. Proof: this year China will become the largest English speaking country in the world, where it’s taught in the 3rd grade by law! 

Perhaps the strangest aspect of the massive English language business in China are the Disney schools. Yes, Mickey Mouse teaches English (while brainwashing impressionable kids with Disney product). There’s an oversize Mickey Mouse sculpture in the foyer and the teaching material is seriously Disnified.

What’s even stranger is that Chinese students chant English in huge crowds in stadiums and town squares. Li Yang’s Crazy English events get students to SHOUT English at the top of their voices. This guy teaches to ten thousand people or more in stadia. Ticket price $250 a day – a month’s wages for most.

And why not? In schools we are obsessed with classroom sizes of 30 or less, too big to allow individual attention, too small to make it a huge exhilarating experience. They do it in assemblies, where the whole school turns up, so why not for other teaching, after all the assembly hall is empty most of the time. Does it make any difference in a University lecture theatre? Just rename it a conference and people would be pleased with larger numbers.  Does it really matter whether there’s one or one hundred people. I’d say 100 is better. I’d say 1,000 is even better. So why not 10,000 or 100,000?

Why not broadcast to thousands if one can. All you need is a microphone and a sound system and a big screen. I see no reason at all why good speakers and teachers shouldn’t get huge crowds together to learn a language or other subjects. The advantage of these huge crowds is the excitement that can be generated. Go to a football match or rock concert and feel the intensity of the experience and psychological attention. Chanting, repeating and singing a foreign language in this context is great. For mass drill and practice, why not?

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