China-focused Satire, Social Commentary, Comics and More

Where is it? It is an English Programme for Children

Where is the oversight? This fall my boss rented me out to a kindergarten where her sister-in-law is principal. My new duty involves teaching four and five-year-olds to embrace the most important aspects of Western culture (for two half hour lessons each week). At first I thought they said I’d be teaching English, but evidently I misunderstood. I also thought that they said the children would know the alphabet and basic numbers. But when I tried to go over them the first day I got a lot of blank stares and, from the more precocious students, the Chinese equivalent of an American child’s “ching chang chong,” mocking English sounds.

After my first uncomfortable and unproductive class I found out this lack of foundation was irrelevant. By my Chinese helper Ms. Li I was given a book, a VCD and a packet of giant flashcards all bearing the label of a company calling itself X.T.D. English Programme For Children, along with these instructions penned in careful English from a higher up:

Monday New Words
Wednesday Chant and VCD

To make certain I understood she pointed to the alphabet on the chalkboard, shook her finger at it and said “No” in clear English before pointing at the paper with the instructions with a slightly less confident, “Yes.” This is the schedule and not adhering to it is apparently an insult to someone who frightens Ms. Li. So much so that during the second class, the first Wednesday, we skipped the vocabulary and went straight to the chant, putting to use the five new words the kindergartners had not yet been taught. What simple vocabulary had I missed supplying these curious young minds with my first week? What words had been chosen as the principal building blocks for the next 13 or so years of English training to come? From Unit 1: Visiting: “hotel, hospital, library, restaurant, cinema.”

Not even “school,” since we were going with places. Or “yes,” “no,” or “girl” or “boy” for that matter. Those words are so basic that they’ll figure them out eventually. Why waste their foreign teacher time on fundamentals? To prepare for the VCD I needed to teach them the “chant” from the book.

The kids seemed as skeptical as me. They eagerly yelled each word individually, but when stringing them together preferred to slur the noises into an unintelligible sludge. Maybe it’s better if they only learn the words and not how their book puts them together:

Where is it?
Where is it?
Where is it?
Do you know?
Do you know?
Yes, I do.
Yes, I do.
It is a hotel.
It is a hotel.


Each line is followed by a bar code, as though to prove with each spoken syllable that money is being well spent. When I told Ms. Li this was no good she looked at me like I was crazy. It’s as if someone doesn’t want these kids to ever understand English. Is this some sort of elaborate sabotage scheme orchestrated by less educated older people who are frightened by the opportunities offered to the youth of today? What kind of illegitimate business have I gotten myself mixed up in? Why are they making a foreigner perform this dirty work?

It became all that much clearer when Ms. Li turned on the VCD. Here’s the chant from my second week, a triumph in the field of reinforcing gender roles and stereotypes (boys, keep your hands OFF your yo-yos), the innocently titled Unit 2: It’s time to play:


After class I went to the website on the back of the book, hoping to find contact information for X.T.D. English Programme for Children. I wanted to help them correct the English in their book for future printings but the website they provided was unrelated to their company. What other important aspects of Western culture do I get to look forward to teaching? Look for Unit 3: In McDonald’s next week. Seriously.

2 Responses to “Where is it? It is an English Programme for Children”

  1. ChinaMatt says:

    And I thought some of the textbooks I had to use in class were bad. That video is hilarious. I’m sure it’ll be very helpful to the students in the years to come.

  2. MMM says:

    Now I have to know, what is the chant for “In McDonalds? and what sounds do the children make to mock English sounds? I’m very curious.

Leave a Reply