01 12 / 2013
24 11 / 2013
The Deck of Cards
Last month, I bought a deck of cards after reciting the Chinese phrase I had been practicing, “Where do I buy these?” (and pointing at the cards the women were playing with)
The design is strange. The eagle dominating the earth (from his main perch, which is a gloopy-looking North America) amid a psychedelic pink and purple aura.
It’s provided hours and hours of entertainment. First, I taught my Chinese friends at the wifi café the game of Bullshit, where you have to put down cards in a certain order—and if you don’t have the right cards, you try to bullshit so that you can be the winner with no cards left. Unless you are zealous called upon with “BORRSHEET” by my skinny male Chinese friend who has said about two other words in English since I met him six weeks ago.
This game is hugely popular. The owner, Zhang Yuan, proposes we play it often. We invite other café patrons to join us, and, though they know about as much English as I do Chinese, we laugh and have a great time.
When you put your card(s) down, you are supposed to say how many and of what kind of cards. The default language of the game is English (even though Matt and I will often say it in Chinese)—which means there are murmured translations to the other players after the cards have been announced. It also makes clear a big distinction between English and Chinese: in Chinese, when there is more than one of something, the word for that object doesn’t change. You say the number, and that is all. It is correct. It’s all you need, really.
So my Chinese friends often announce “Two six” instead of “two sixes” and “Three Jack” instead of “Three jacks.”
Zhang Yuan is so talented in languages, though, that she never forgets. She adds the s and makes the word six into sixes without hesitating. She is so aware of it, in fact, that she’s always muttering a correction when our friends say it the direct-Chinese-translation way. Ma Yi will proudly announce “Four ace!” (And it took several sessions for him to remember to refer to the card as ace and not A.) And, without skipping a beat, Zhang Yuan will mutter “Four aces.”
I have used these cards for educational purposes, too.
Every Friday night, the school hosts an English corner where students of English of all ages from the university campus and from the town come to talk English with us foreigners. The third week, I was told that I was required to go to English corners, from now on, because six of my students failed their English exam, and I was to do activities with them and grade them. This is mostly a source of annoyance because their English is poor, and I don’t know what to do with them. They stand and just listen to me speak, and I can hardly get a word out of them. Working with them also takes me away from talking with the students with very good English who actually want to be there.
Anyway, I brought the deck of cards with me and taught them how to play Go Fish. I taught them the proper phrases (“Have you got an ___s?” “No. Go fish.” “Yeah. Here you go.”) and watched them play.
I had never seen them talk so much. And we arrived at a point where they all added the s most of the time. And they had fun. They came to see English as a language they can actually use to meet certain ends, and it started to come naturally. It was repetitive and simple, sure, but I consider the lesson a success.
08 11 / 2013