I teach students English from the absolute basics. During the first class, the kids learn how to say, “hello”, “hi”, “how are you”, “I’m fine”, “good-bye”, and the names and sounds of the following letters: A, B, C, D, and T. They also learn “everybody”, “boys”, “girls”, “stand up” and “sit down” as comprehension items and learn how to spell single syllables with the above letters. While there are some false beginners (basically everyone who’s finished 3rd grade), the first class has been genuinely hard for more than half of the students I’ve taught.

Needless to say, I have to use quite a bit of Chinese at the beginning. Otherwise, explaining the new material would take a lot of time, and explaining what was expected, and how homework should be done would be impossible. Unlike many schools, my school doesn’t make it a goal to make the kids use as little Chinese as possible. They can ask questions. However, it is a goal to make the kids use as much English as possible, and so we have to make it inconvenient for them to use it as a crutch.

Starting in the second semester (i.e. after 100 class hours), students have to ask for permission to use Chinese in class and if they say something they’ve learned how to say in English, I make them do so. If I ask a question in Chinese or if I ask what something means, of course they can answer in Chinese. However, if they use Chinese in other situations without asking first, I take a point. The additional twist that makes the rule both brutally effective and fun for the kids is that if one can catch another speaking Chinese and tell me, then I’ll give a point to the student who told me. Here’s a common scene:

Jerry: Is Cindy an ugly pig?
Jackson: No he’s not. He’s…
Cindy:我是GIRL啦! (I’m a GIRL!!)
<30 hands are suddenly up>
Me: What do you want to say, Eric?
<Everybody who didn’t get picked to answer groans>
Eric:Cindy spoke Chinese!
Me: That’s right! Cindy, I’ll take a point!
Eric: 我加分! (I get a point!)
<30 hands are suddenly up and Cindy’s laughing>
Me: Michelle?
<Everybody else groans>
Michelle: Eric spoke Chinese! Give me his point!

It’s amazing. They’re becoming like vultures: anytime anyone makes a mistake, everyone leans forward, hands raised, vying to answer for the extra point. And when it comes to snitching on their classmates about anything, they’ll do it in a heart-beat… as long as points are involved.