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WHU retired teachers making their way towards English learning with the assistance of volunteers
Author:Zhao Jianghan, Lv Hangyu & Li Jing  Date:2021-12-27  Clicks:

“I bless the day I found you; I want to stay around you....” Cold air in autumn was heated by beautiful melodies. On October 18, at the University of the Elderly, retired teachers from WHU learned the English song Let it be me with the help of volunteers from the WHU’s School of Foreign Languages and Literature.

Arranged in neat rows, about fifteen elders each held a handout of the English song. “The song we’re learning today is about a charming love story, which holds the belief that someday you’ll meet someone whose color brightens your life,” said Lu Mi, the leading volunteer, as she taught the lyrics and rhythm of the song to her seasoned students. During the session, key phrases and casual abbreviations were carefully explained. SubsequentlyWhat followed were sounds of word practice and sweet tunes of singing enveloping the room, emanating a vibrant atmosphere.


An elderly teacher checking the pronunciation of a word

“Is this word pronounced as “for-e-ver?” I’m not really sure.” “What is the tune of this line? I can’t match it with the lyrics....” Following the teaching session, answering questions was the most interactive part of the activity. Volunteers made their way across the aisles and approached the teachers with keen enthusiasm, trying their best to resolve their doubts.


Volunteers instructing the teachers on the pronunciation of words

This magical identity-exchanging experience has turned out to be a traditional activity called “Hand in Hand with the Elderly” held by the Youth Volunteer Association of the School of Foreign Languages and Literature (YVA SFLL) regularly since 2012. Volunteers seek advice from their elder students every time a class comes to an end. “Following years of practice, we finally chose the teaching of English songs instead of phonetics and grammar,” said Zhao Jingyuan, a student in charge of the activity.

Compared with traditional methods of teaching English, singing songs is clearly a more effective way to arouse teachers’ interest. In autumn of 2019, the teachers even selected the English song You Raise Me Up, which the volunteers taught them for performance at the Art Festival held by the University for the Elderly.


Teachers singing You Raise Me Up on stage

However, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 interrupted this long-lasting promise all of a sudden. Volunteers were unable to switch to offline classes and were deeply concerned about the teachers alone in their houses. They canvassed suggestions widely, hoping to provide the elderly with ample materials and flexible methods of English learning. “We never thought about giving up. Whether it was to develop more connections with their children living abroad, or to enrich their retired lives, they wanted to continue learning English without interruption, even during the pandemic,” Zhao said in astonishment.


Volunteers’ teaching materials and teachers’ responses in the WeChat group after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic

Finally, volunteers decided to teach using self-made videos, whose scenes vary from library to supermarket. Every line was carefully chosen, and every gesture was elaborately designed to be intelligible to the older teachers. Later, many “audiences” expressed their heartfelt gratitude to the volunteers in the WeChat groups. This special company through the Internet chased away their loneliness. “This activity is absolutely fabulous,” said Ms. Chen, the monitor of the elder class, “I really appreciate their devotion towards helping us learn English.”


Videos filmed by volunteers and released through the WeChat account of YVA SFLL

“Having spent much time with them, we gradually realized that what the teachers were looking for was not just considerate care in daily life, but the ability to fulfil their unrealized dreams of learning English.” Zhao Jingyuan stressed. Just as the proverb goes, “Knowledge is boundless,” it’s never too late to learn anything, as long as one possesses an enthusiastic and curious heart. The dedicated learning spirit of the elderly teachers is a precious virtue, which all youngsters should learn from and look up to.


A teacher checking the words on the handout carefully

Chen Binqi, one of the volunteers, smiled self-consciously when asked about the reason for participating. “I just love meeting and helping them. Their fervent eagerness for knowledge always cheers me up.” As for the retired teachers, they also enjoyed the youngsters’ company. Ms. Wang, one of the older students said, “Being with young people always enlightens me. Their enthusiasm for learning influences us in a powerful way invisible to the eyes.”

Without doubt, the activity is a huge success, benefiting both the elderly learners and the young tutors. “Hopefully more people will be stimulated by our voluntary activity and pay attention to the actual needs of retired teachers,” Zhao Jingyuan noted, while waving goodbye to the teachers at the end of the activity.

Photo by Wang Jiayu & Young Volunteers Association of WHU School of Foreign Languages and Literature

Edited by Zheng Zicheng, Qin Zehao & Liang Tong, Sylvia and Hu Sijia


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