There’s a boy in my fifth grade class named John. He’s one of the smallest kids in the class, but he’s funny and charming and is always seeking my attention. I overheard the other boys teasing him in Chinese about supposedly wanting to take Teacher to eat dumplings because he doesn’t think I’ve ever had dumplings before. But then how it’s not ok because “Teacher boyfriend will angry.”
John’s English isn’t great, and he struggles to get complete sentences out and often will switch to Chinese in the middle to replace the vocabulary he doesn’t know. It all started when he tried to ask me if we were having an English activity day, and he said, “Teacher, today we ka (開=open) pah-ty?” He caught himself, laughed it off and referred to it as John-English, so now as a class, it is now a common vernacular.
John-English is also used when they speak Chinese sentences in an English manner i.e. omitting the tones and saying the words together very quickly. They think they can get away with it when they talk to each other in class, but you see, I know Chinese, so I know what they’re saying even when they’re trying to be clever. Although I try not to allude to that, I just pretend to know enough that it’s not English. John does this often when he’s trying to ask me a question or tell me something but he can’t quite form the words. Therefore, he’ll just spit the Chinese out as if he’s asking in English. Sometimes if I’m not paying attention, then I’ll answer him as if he had asked it in English which doesn’t help.
My fifth graders have personalities, and they’re mostly boys. Sometimes, they can be really funny. I’ll catch them joking around with each other in Chinese and something will be hilarious, I have to quickly pick up a book or pretend to write on the board to hide my smile. But most times than not, they have caught me laughing at them.
I think my fifth graders have discovered that I know Chinese.