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Saturday, March 5, 2011

"Silent reading" and saving face

Those of us who teach in China have an advantage over those teaching in the US.. We can easily tell when our students have finished a "silent reading". We can do this because it is NEVER silent. As soon as you ask a class to begin reading "to themselves", the buzz starts. With some, it's whispers. But usually it's at the level of soft talking. Occasionally a student will "read to himself" just as loud as if he were talking to the teacher. One student was so loud yesterday -almost shouting -that a fellow student asked him to read more quietly; that's the first time I experienced that.

Of course, the student immediately said that he had finished reading. It's likely that he had not finished, but said that just to "save face". I see "saving face" most often when a person knows he is wrong but will not admit to it. For instance, sometimes I'll ask a student a question in class and she starts babbling an answer which is in good English, but which has nothing to do with the question. They'll usually go on until I stop them. It wasn't until recently that I realized that it's not usually that they don't understand the question, but that they don't know the answer. Rather than say, "I don't know", they'll give any kind of answer. Everyone in the room (except me until recently) realized they were just saving face.

This can be annoying, such as when a person is telling others how something needs to be done and they realize they are wrong, they may simply not admit it and will not let everyone know the right way. Everyone goes on doing it the wrong way rather than cause embarassment to this one person, until eventually everyone figures it out. Lots of time and effort may be wasted in the meantime, but we can't let that one person lose face.

Another example is how one of the local teachers was teaching me Chinese. She'd tell me one meaning or pronunication of a word, which I would make a careful note of and repeat. She would then say, "No it's this way". I'd say, "But you just said it's this way." She'd just just "No, it's this way. Say it this way." It's maddening. No, this isn't the same as in the US. These things happen in the US sometimes and with certain people, but in China it is Standard Operating Procedure and carried to absurd lengths. Can you say "Cultural Revolution"?

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