Last Sunday, a colleague and I went to the Fujian Museum, which is a short walk from the hotel. I am the first to admit that I know very little about China, so I welcomed the opportunity to learn more about the province of Fujzou and China in general. Thankfully, the museum had quite a lot of signage in English; I learned more about Chinese culture and, in turn, the peoples of China while viewing various exhibits about natural and human history as well as sculptures and other works of art created in and around Fujian province.
What led me to SABEH in the first place is the reality that I have several dozen Chinese students in my Spanish classes each year at Acton-Boxborough Regional High School in Massachusetts. I truly believe that knowing about the cultural and social context from which a student comes helps me to better address their needs as learners. The Spanish saying "Dime con quién andas, te diré quién eres" ("Tell me who you hang out with, and I'll tell you who you are") comes to mind. One of the most obvious examples of this is when I learned about the importance of saving face here in China. Many Chinese would rather not say anything at all than risk being wrong in front of a group. Additionally, I get the impression that mistakes are generally not welcome in school, at work, or in general. This explains why many of my Chinese students back home are extremely reluctant to raise their hand to volunteer or to speak in Spanish in front of their classmates. On the other hand, their American peers are typically very eager to participate and are less afraid of making mistakes. The result is that my Chinese students generally do very well on written work but struggle more with spontaneous speaking assessments because they simply do not practice speaking in class as much as some of their more participatory peers do.
The reason for this is starting to click now that I have witnessed firsthand the general lack of class participation during my classes here in Fuzhou. However, as a result of this experience, I feel better prepared to design and implement proficiency-based lessons that include many low-stakes opportunities for speaking. I am not going to single-handedly change the attitudes of the Chinese regarding saving face and class participation, but I can be clever about encouraging students to speak the language while being sensitive to the practices and beliefs of the culture in which they have been raised.