My one class of 14-year-olds understands most of what I say. Their speaking abilities are way below their comprehension so I try to get them talking a lot. Today I began class with a hypothetical question. I started by drawing an island.
"Da-bien," Tony, the boy on my right, said.
The first thing James ever taught me to say in Chinese - upon my insistence - was "I like to eat poop." So shit is one of those rare words I immediately recognize when I hear it in my students' native tongue.
"POO POO HE SAY POO POO."
"Yes I know. But this isn't poo poo. This is an island."
Then I drew a palm tree on the island.
"OH OH I KNOW!" Boris yelled.
He couldn't come up with the words, but Boris rubbed his thumb and index finger together and then held them to his mouth and sucked in like he just rolled a fatty.
"NO! NO! Teacher!" Boris did it again. But this time with more emphasis.
"No. This is a tree. It's a palm tree. We don't smoke a palm tree."
"Ok class. This is an island. Your mom is on this island. If she stays, she will die. There is a doctor on the island too. He is the best doctor in the world, but if he stays on the island he will also die. If he leaves the island, he will cure cancer. Do you know what cancer is?"
"It's a disease that lots of people get. A lot of old people get it."
Still no signs of life.
"For example, there is skin cancer (I point to my skin), brain cancer, ovarian cancer..."
At this moment, there was only one other type of cancer I could think of:
The boys laughed and gave each other the "hahaha, she said breasts, hahaha" look.
"Oh ok. We know what is cancer."
"You have a boat. But you can only take one person. You can take the doctor or you can take your mom, but you can't take both. Who do you take?"
I asked Wilson.
"Wilson, who would you take?"
"Because I don't like doctors."
"Oh really? Fair enough."
"Actually, I wouldn't take either."
"You wouldn't take your mom or the doctor?"
"Okay. Who else?"
About half the class picked mom. The other half reluctantly picked the doctor. So I switched the question:
"What if the doctor was on the island with your boyfriend or girlfriend. Who would you pick, Emily?"
"I would pick doctor because I can get lots of new boyfriend."
"Very good. And you, Boris?"
"I would take doctor, because I ...*Boris propels his leg outward as if to jam his toe up his hypothetical girlfriend's ass*... I ...*kick, kick, kick* ... girlfriend!"
"Oh so you dump your girlfriend and leave her to die on an island?"
I draw a broken heart on the board to clarify.
Boris: "YES YES YES!"
That time around everyone picked the doctor. Mom vs. Cure for Cancer is a toughie. Boyfriend vs. Cure for Cancer, not so much.
Next we moved on to vocabulary:
"Who can tell me what 'appreciate' means?"
"I appreciate you so beautiful," muttered the same boy who called my hypothetical island a piece of shit.
They don't talk so well, yet, but they're certainly charming.