There were twenty-six freshmen majoring in English at Beijing Language Institute in the Class of 1983. I was assigned to Group Two with another eleven boys and girls who had come from big cities in China. I was told that language study required smallness so that we would each get more attention from the skillful teachers. The better the school, the smaller the class.
I realized that my classmates were already all talking in English, simple sentences tossed out to each other in their red-faced introductions and carefree chatting. Their intonations were curving and dramatic and their pronunciation refined and accurate. But as I stretched to catch the drips and drops of their humming dialogue, I couldn’t 4 understand it all, only that it was English. Those words now flying before me sounded a little familiar. I had read them and tried to speak them, but I had never heard them spoken back to me in such a speedy, fluent manner. My big plan of beating the city folks was thawing before my eyes.