Teachers and parents joined together to express concerns over existing format of public English Corners at a recent City Board meeting in Qujing, Yunnan Province. Proponents argued that a division of spoken abilities amongst Chinese English learners is necessary to improve their spoken English skills.

Education is top priority in China. English Corners are conducted to practice conversational skills and fundamentals while having fun in the process. The Board accepted a barrage of questions and complaints from parents, stating that the English Corner is defeating its purpose as an educational tool for their children. As one parent stated, “Those who already know English keep getting better, while those who want to learn English, are losing confidence and becoming discouraged.”

Ann Freeman, a Qujing Normal University foreign teacher, and leader of the English Corner committee explained to the Board, “Attendees with lower understanding of English just stand around for two hours, rotating from group to group in hopes of being able to understand someone.” Freeman went on to express, “It’s not fair that the City conduct English Corners specifically for targeted groups…, we need more teachers so all can benefit equally.

Empathetic to Ms. Freeman’s statement, the Board defended their ground by agreeing that resources were not available at this time. One official stated, “…besides, you’re lucky to even have a public English Corner in the first place.”

The statement drew heated discussion with proponents reminding them that public English Corners were held on a voluntary basis by foreign English teachers at the request of the City to help students and others throughout the community.

Teachers argued that most foreign teachers have no desire to attend teaching functions during their free time. It was suggested the City consider providing teachers with a minimal compensation, in order to lure teachers to participate. More foreign teachers would enable more groups, resulting in the creation of more levels of English abilities. Parent’s voiced their opinions by expressing their desire to help subsidize teachers compensation if the City would pick up most of the tab.

English Corners are held at the same location in limited group formats with no direction guided for individual spoken abilities. Chinese attendees exceeds foreign teacher attendance every week, making it difficult for those of lower abilities to participate in conversations. The few who are higher ability of English, control the direction and conversation of each group.

Currently, English Corners are approved by the City of Qujing, allowing informal gatherings within a specific location at Qilin Park, every Saturday evening. English Corner has grown to over sixty attendees, most of which are students from local surrounding schools. Public transportation is relied upon by many who do not have the advantage of living nearby. As one attendee pointed out, “It’s a shame we have to travel thirty minutes to be confused.”

The next committee meeting held on September 2nd should prove to be standing room only with temperatures rising. All are welcomed to attend and express their opinions.