The night I arrived at Shantou University, I went to a mandatory evening for freshmen. It was the English Language Center (ELC) Orientation Night. Earlier that day they had taken what probably was the first English test of their life and that evening they were celebrating that fact because Shantou University promotes the idea of being “global scholars” which means learning English, what was proposed as the most universal language currently. As elementary school students learn Mandarin in the States, here at a Shantou U, they are learning English as if their futures depend on it. I was unsure of what to make of the evening because it was so focused on the “wonders of English.” While the talk by Jun Liu, head of the ELC, sort of scared me by being so score based (for instance, he matched each level of English with a certain TOEFL score…), I was quickly reassured by the fact that Shantou U is being the innovator in English language education. Instead of teaching students how to pass the TOEFL which is just a written test, they teach students how to speak English and then follow up with the written skill. That way they can make use of the English abilities and pass the TOEFL with flying colors.
Older students have already bought into the program and mostly speak very decent English. Well, the least I can say is that I can understand them most of the time. They have programs set up to foster an English environment. The English Corner and English Lounge both cater to casual conversational English and oral practice. The Creative Expressions Club, which I am doing the musical in conjunction with, practices English through creative means such as drama. The Shantou Beat is the English school newspaper.
The best thing is that students are totally into it and that’s all a teacher can ask for!