Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Chinese Learn the Meaning of 'Let's Do Lunch'

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Chinese Learn the Meaning of 'Let's Do Lunch'

Article excerpt

The 200 students crammed into tight rows for "Think in American English" class have mastered gerunds, prepositions, and past participles. But there's one skill that's keeping them from ultimate success: selling themselves verbally.

Student Xin Zhe grips a microphone, telling how his garbled speech cost him a chance to study biology in the US because he botched a phone interview with a professor.

Mr. Xin's teacher recommends a little more American- style assertiveness: In China, using the first-person singular goes against the Confucian grain of modesty. "Don't give us a story," he says to Xin. "Let us know about you." Chinese "think you have to be Bill Gates to [say you're] outstanding," says Victor Wang.

For the thousands of Chinese students eager to study in the US each year, a clumsy self-introduction is more than a social hazard. While many read and write well, their oral English falls far short. That can hurt in college interviews and ruin visa application interviews with overworked embassy bureaucrats.

It's that realization that has made the New Orient School perhaps the best-known test prep program in the country. It has tailored the usual GMAT, GRE, and SAT classes to the particular needs of the Chinese. The school pays close attention to areas in which Chinese students will be the weakest: cultural context.

Students like Chen Rong, an administrative assistant worried about finding a new job should she be laid off, shell out 500 yuan ($60) - about half a monthly salary - for the 30 hours of English lessons. They're paying for expertise Wang gained from his own sometimes humiliating experiences as a student in New Jersey years ago. Without anyone to guide him, he fumbled through faux pas that later became fodder for his classes.

There was the lesson about the simple greeting, "How are you doing? …

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