By Pete Marchetto
This is an idea I've come up with; if anyone else wants to follow this as a blueprint then go ahead. I should be interested to know how you get on.
I set up the 'English Naturally' idea in the first instance with printed sheets giving a broad outline of the idea for circulation amongst the students; if they email me this is what they get in return:
Two English people once told me how they learned French. They had gone to a college in France and the two of them - sharing a room - decided to try doing EVERYTHING using French and French alone. They only spoke French with each other and with other students who would let them do so. They watched French television and listened to French radio. They only read French books.
They didn't know much French before they arrived at the college and at first their idea proved a considerable strain. For a few months they fell over their words and their grammar, became frustrated, were tempted to stop altogether and start speaking English again... but they persevered. At the end of that few months they realised - to their surprise - that using French had become perfectly natural for them. They thought in French, spoke French without realising it, had come to enjoy their own favourite French television programmes and reading their favourite French authors - they were using French naturally as part of their daily lives as if it was English.
I know that many students on campus have tried to follow similar ideas with English but failed. That failure, again and again, comes from the fact that too many other students in their classes and dormitories are not willing to persevere with the idea. It's hard enough to do as it is at first, without trying to do it in a room with everyone else there speaking Chinese!
Although there are easily enough students on campus who are willing to persevere to make the idea work you are all in different departments and don't know one another. The idea of 'English Naturally' is to put you all in contact with each other.
Once you've made contact then it's up to you. You can arrange to meet other members for lunch or dinner in the canteen; meet together of an evening in the square; arrange a football or basketball match; go shopping with one another at weekends; meet one another in the holidays if you live close enough or email and telephone each other; anything you can think of, doing it all with the agreement that, whatever you do, you do it in English. The idea is not for all of you to meet as a group - though that would be good from time to time - but for all of you in the group to know who one another is and to agree that your friendships with one another are to be in English only. You can all make a list of the English language books, videos, tapes, VCDs, magazines etc. that you own so that other members can borrow them, finding things that interest them that they want to see, read or hear. There are dozens of things you can do with other members of 'English Naturally'; anything, in fact, that you would usually do in Chinese, only doing it in English instead.
That, however, is an important point - to do things in English you would usually do in Chinese. 'English Naturally' should use English NATURALLY. Don't set up speaking competitions, conversations with set topics, study corners or exchange text books; use English to communicate what you WANT to communicate; to read things you WANT to read and watch things you WANT to watch; to meet people when you WANT to meet them to do the things you WANT to do. Use 'English Naturally' to use English as you would use Chinese and not to do more work. Use it for fun and fun alone. It will help your studies, of course - tremendously if you do it enough - but don't think of that while you are doing it; just enjoy it.
'English Naturally' should be arranged BY students FOR students. It will be up to all of you to find other people who want to join in and to arrange things for yourselves. If you are dedicated enough to the idea it should work really well but you must be willing to BE dedicated. Start speaking Chinese with 'English Naturally' members and the whole thing will fall apart.
For 'English Naturally' to work, your commitment is everything. If you have felt the need for an English environment, now is your chance to help create one but you must do it properly and be willing to focus your time and energy on it. Remember, 'English Naturally' doesn't involve more work as such; all it means is you doing things you would naturally do - playing games, going shopping, chatting in the canteen, reading books, listening to the radio, watching VCDs - only in English and not in Chinese.
If you've always wanted an English-speaking environment then now is your chance but remember - it's not for me to create it. It's for you.