project on Asian Christians took me to Tainan Theological College
and Seminary (TTCS) in Tainan, Taiwan, during my sabbatical leave
(2001-02). There I was invited to teach some courses to the students
at ttcs. The medium of instruction at ttcs is primarily Taiwanese
with a generous use of Mandarin every now and then. Since I speak
neither Taiwanese nor Mandarin, a ttcs faculty member was asked
to translate in each of my courses. This was my first experience
in a classroom where the students and I did not share a common language,
and thus I had to depend totally on a translator to conduct my teaching.
While I knew what I was saying to my students, I had no idea what
they were hearing through the translators, especially when the translators
were not professional.
This new situation somewhat limited my teaching style. I normally
watch my students body language and facial expressions while
I am speaking, both to monitor my communication as well as to be
inspired by the students. Here I was receiving no signals at all
from my students while I was speaking, and could only watch their
reactions during the translation. Moreover, I had to pause after
every two or three sentences to allow for the translation into Taiwanese.
I was required to do two things at the same timewatch the
students body language during the translation and get ready
for the next two or three sentences. This meant that if I was not
attentive, I could lose my own line of argument!
At TTCS, I could not expect the same level of back-and-forth discussion
that I had come to take for granted in my classes here at Emory.
Though we had some good discussions in class, the process of translating
every sentence cut the time available for lectures in half. Another
difficulty was the impossibility of organizing the course around
readings since the readings I could require or recommend were all
in English. I ended up giving brief English passages that they could,
with great difficulty, read as preparation for class.
It was indeed a great challenge to overcome these difficulties and
hope for some creative teaching. In searching for ways to make up
for what I was losing due to
translation, I was led to the idea of finding a third
language or medium for instruction that I held in common with my
Taiwanese students. I discovered two such third languages.
The objective of one of my courses, titled Images of Christ,
was to expose students to a variety of interpretations of Christ
from around the world, thus enabling them to construct their own
image of Christ. Whenever I taught this course at Emory, I would
assign only a couple of sessions for examining the artistic images
of Christsuch as paintings and sculpturesfrom different
parts of the world. The rest of the time we spent with written materials.
In Taiwan, however, I discovered that these pictures conveyed much
more to the students than my lectures, which were often poorly translated
into Taiwanese. These pictures became the third language
this course. I began every class with a PowerPoint presentation
of pictures of Christ related to that days theme, thus significantly
assisting their learning.
I was also invited to teach a course titled Music in South
India. Listening to various types of South Indian musicclassical,
popular, and folkand singing along became the third
language for this course. We listened to various Indian artists
sing classical and popular pieces. We began each session with the
students singing along with me some bhajans (chants) set to
South Indian classical music. We also ended each session by singing
some of the exercises that a beginner in South Indian classical
music would be expected to sing over and over again. By singing
these exercises, the students gained a much deeper insight into
the ethos of South Indian music than they would have through the
Now back at Emory, I have begun to look for a third
language in all my classes. Surely when I offer the course on the
images of Christ in World Christianity in spring 2003, there will
be plenty of PowerPoint presentations with pictures of Christ from
around the world. Further, the Blackboard system and other information
technologies are providing a third language as well
in my current courses. For example, I invite my students to post
a brief autobiographical account to assist all in the class, including
the instructor, to come to understand one another better. I find
that students engage in
such an exercise more readily in cyberspace than face to face in
a discussion group. The discovery of a third language
has transformed my teaching into much more fun.