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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Singer

Online English Corner

Three months and counting! I have been leading a weekend online English Corner with Liana and her friends in Central China. English corners (informal outside gatherings) began in China forty years ago, not too many years before I first traveled there to study. The photograph is of the famous English Corner at Renmin (People's) University in Beijing (credit:

Our online group started with seven, but is down to three regulars. Each of the regulars has a grown child living in either Canada or the U.S. While we still slip into Chinese more often than we should, the idiosyncrasies of American English are becoming more apparent to me as I sometimes struggle to explain contractions, verb tenses, slang, and those pesky "a, an, the" before nouns.

We have our technical challenges. An occasional fourth attendee often needs to drop off because it is Sunday morning at his home (my later Saturday night) and his young children are running around in the background. The microphone on his cell phone picks up all, and the rest of us cannot hear each other. Another regular seems to be an early bird who is frequently out walking during class. Again, road and wind noise can be disruptive. Our sessions are held via WeChat. Our tiny phones are not nearly as conducive as Zoom would be, but we have tried and logistically failed to pull that off.

For me, our digital English Corner is fostering friendships and cross-cultural connections, and that is what it is all about.


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