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Re: Running an English Corner
By:Martin Wolff <holisticenglish@yahoo.com>
In Response To: Re: Running an English Corner (Martin Wolff)


If I had the authority, power and money, my first transformation project at the training center would be as follows;

Purchase 5 flat screen TVs and permanently tune each one to a different English news channel.

TV #1 and #2 – locate on the second floor of the campus cafeteria, one in each room.
TV #1 tuned to BBC news.
TV #2 tuned to CNN news
(These channels are available through local cable service)

TV #3 and #4 should be located on the first floor of the campus cafeteria.
TV #3 should be tuned to Al Jazeera English news
TV #4 should be tuned to Russian TV English news.
(These channels are available through a 1,000- rmb satellite dish.)
Al Jazeera extensively covers the Middle East and Africa , both destinations for our trainees. Russian TV covers the Russia , the former Soviet Union block and the “…stan” countries bordering China and to which our trainees are assigned.

TV #5 should be located in the 1st floor lobby of the teaching building and should be tuned to CCTV 9 International.

The sound on all sets should be set just above the din but not so loud as to be intrusive beyond the target audience.

The first thing people entering the teaching building would hear is English and the last thing they hear before leaving would be English. People waiting for the elevators would have the opportunity to watch and hear English, great preparation for their further activity on upper floors.

The 4 TVs in the cafeteria should be available throughout the work day and not just during the meals. People should be able to watch anytime they have spare time or leisure time.

Subsequently I would want to create an English reading room that contains free choice English reading materials exclusively. These should not be academic reading materials but general interest and at varying English levels. For instance, the newspapers should include China Daily, Shanghai Star, 21st Century, South China morning Post etc. Magazine should include Marvel Comics, 16, Ms. Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Modern Mechanics, P.C., Auto trends, Home and Garden, better house and Garden, Vogue etc. Books should include romance novels, mysteries, detective stories, BUT NOT THE CLASSICS.

A video library should be available with English movies and English subtitles or no subtitles, BUT NO CHINESE SUBTITLES.

An English karaoke room should be established where everyone can enjoy singing English songs BUT NO CHINESE SONGS.

All computers and sound labs must have English programming NOT CHINESE. The computers can add Chinese language capability to the English programming so that communications may be prepared in a bilingual format.

The above is my preliminary assessment of the facility needs of primary importance. It is not intended as an exhaustive list.

Then we must have a comprehensive plan to deal with the human resource on campus. These must be divided into faculty and staff, service workers and incidental people. Two separate plans will be required.

The faculty and staff will require mini-seminars on language learning versus language acquisition, immersion, how to create an English speaking environment. They will need to learn their importance in creating an English speaking environment.

The service staff (bus drivers, hotel clerks, to cafeteria waitresses) may need basic English courses.

Then there are the incidental people. One large segment of this group is the children who live on campus. I would suggest, at the very least, a Saturday morning English cartoon hour where the parents can take their babies and young children and older children can attend on their own.

Another large segment of incidental people are the spouses who live on campus. I would suggest that every on campus home be provided with English TV channels.

The third and lowest of my priorities would be English activities such as speech contests, debates etc. Such activities are English speaking opportunities but do not create the English speaking environment and are least important.

An English corner is a tacit admission that there is no English speaking environment so a special time for speaking English is set aside. And then it is relegated to a “corner” not the center.

The above are my preliminary ideas after spending a few days on campus and speaking with numerous staff and students. The above is not intended to be exhaustive and the staff and faculty should be encouraged to give input. Make them partners in the transition work and they will be more willing participants.

Students added the following suggestions for creating an ESE:

English movies in dorm by closed circuit TV – no Chinese TV
Bi-lingual signage on campus
English electronic sign on Hotel
English music on Public Address system
Bi-lingual food signs in cafeteria
Cafeteria staff should speak basic English
Ability to check out English books from library
English magazines such as fashion, beauty care, home decoration, new autos, popular mechanics etc.
Speech contest
Campus radio station should be all English
Saturday or Sunday English Movie Theater
Every classroom should have English signage


Assuming the threshold decision has been made to try creating an ESE, step, by step, what is the first step? Again, there is no single simple answer for every situation. The following is a first step taken at a Guangzhou institution of higher learning very recently:

Yesterday the foreign teachers convened a special staff meeting with all of the Chinese staff in attendance. This was a first for me. I mean I have never heard of the foreign teachers successfully demanding a staff meeting nor have I ever heard of 100% attendance at any staff meeting. The Chinese Dean, being fully aware of the meeting agenda, approved of the meeting.

A foreign teacher presented a complaint received from several students. “The Chinese staff does not speak to us in English outside the classroom.”

The foreign teacher pointed out that we are teaching English majors in an English program and are employed by an English department. She also pointed out that all of the staff has very good English skills and there is no apparent reason for the staff not communicating in English outside the classroom.

We then listened to an hour of excuses.

Another foreign teacher was called upon for comments. He walked to the front of the room wearing a red baseball cap with yellow letters that read “SPEAK ENGLISH.” He just stood there for two minutes until the laughter died down. Then he turned his back, took off the red cap and replaced it with a black cap. He then removed his outer shirt to reveal a black undershirt that read “ENGLISH ONLY” on the back. More laughter.

Then he whirled around displaying the front of the shirt and the cap, both of which read “ENGLISH POLICE.” Both hands were cocked like pistols and he yelled “WE ARE SERIOUS.” Then all of the foreign teachers displayed their black shirts and caps.

After the laughter died down, it was explained that every week arrest warrants would be issued for teachers who spoke to students in Chinese outside the classroom. Then the room went very silent. It was explained that every week a letter would be sent to the President identifying those teachers who were hindering student development by refusing to speak to students in English outside the classroom. Then every teacher was issued a red cap. Everyone put their cap on and agreed that they needed to speak to the students in English outside the classroom.

This morning, as the Chinese teachers went to their classrooms without their red caps, they were met by a room full of students wearing red caps reminding the teachers to “SPEAK ENGLISH.” The teachers were very surprised and taken aback. The students explained that they refused to speak with any teacher who spoke to them in Chinese.

The next few weeks should prove very interesting.

The Dean is now suggesting that red caps should be issued to all freshmen at the orientation each September.


An ESE provides an essential element for English acquisition while an English Corner is simply a tool for more English learning. Consider the definition of EC again, “…informal periods of instruction in English ….”

The existence of an English Corner is a present danger and imminent threat to the effective creation of an English Speaking Environment. It not only constitutes an impediment, it enables the excuse makers.

Kill the English Corner and create an English Speaking Environment.
The great unanswered question is; why does China continue to implement a process that is without scientific basis and shows no appreciable benefits? After 25 years of English Corners, Chinese college graduates are still unable to produce comprehensible output.

Messages In This Thread

Running an English Corner -- Rosalind
Re Running an English Corner -- Teacher#12,123
Re: Re Running an English Corner -- Turnoi
Re: Running an English Corner -- Martin Wolff
Re: Running an English Corner -- zombie5
I need advice on how to run an English Corner for beginners -- Chimmy
Re: I need advice on how to run an English Corner for beginners -- Turnoi
Re: Running an English Corner -- Martin Wolff
Re: Running an English Corner -- andi
yeah. -- ali
Re: yeah. -- Amanda R.
What Else? -- Rosalind
Set a topic -- May
Re: Set a Topic -- Dr. Yanni Zack- ESL Teaching Tips and Strategies
English Corner -- Dr. Yanni Zack- ESL Tips and Strategies
Re: English Corner -- Jim Ely
Sounds good ! -- Rosalind

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