Lost in Translation: American Halloween

Article excerpt

As Halloween approaches, I am once again haunted by the cultural ghosts I accidentally released in China.

The school year had begun at Jiangxi Normal University, where I was teaching English to 40 Chinese English teachers from rural secondary schools. The teachers were eager to learn, knowing that the intensive one-year language study would increase their English skills and introduce them to new teaching methodology.

But soon, October arrived. The damp, autumn chill invaded our unheated classroom and everyone's spirits plummeted. Cheerfulness was replaced by the homesickness of men and women, far from family and friends. Even I felt the tug of loneliness. I began dreaming of sunny fall days in my hometown and evenings curled up on the couch with a cup of hot chocolate. In mid-October, a package arrived. Inside it were festive Halloween decorations. A card read, "Have fun with your students! Love, Mom." Her advice was not taken lightly. After an evening of planning, I created a series of Halloween lessons bound to put the pizzazz back into our classroom community. But more important, I wanted to model an innovative English-language unit that the teachers could use with their own pupils. The last week of October was devoted to All Hallow's Eve in our classroom. I zealously whisked my students through language and hands-on activities centered on American Halloween traditions. FOR the unit's finale, the students came trick-or-treating to my decorated apartment Halloween night. …