Today we held Talk Time, a once-a-month group for adults from other countries who want to practice their English, which three of us lead at a local elementary school. Apropos of the launching of the winter eating season, we opened with a game related to foods. Everyone had a card taped on their back with a food name on it — pancakes, pizza, spaghetti, soup, salad and a few fruits, vegetables and beverages. The object was for participants to get to know each other and ask questions that would help them identify their food. I wrote a list of possible questions to get them started. Confusion reigned as soon as I let them loose with my list.
Imagine the people trying to answer questions of a Japanese woman who had “rice” on her back. “Do you eat this for breakfast?” she asks an unsuspecting classmate from Vietnam. “Uh…uh…yes,” the classmate says and then looks to me for guidance. Oops, I think. This is tricky one. They both probably eat rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Let’s go on to the next question. “Do I eat my food with a spoon? No? Do I eat it with a fork? No?” Who would have thought to put chopsticks on the list of questions? But chopsticks are probably the tool of choice for most meals they eat at home, so chopsticks isn’t an answer that will help distinguish among foods. This game was getting more complicated.
I moved on to the Chinese man who had only a simple vegetable name on his back: eggplant. By the time he and I spoke he knew he was a vegetable and he was not black, red, or green. “Am I purple?” he asked.
“Yes. You are. Great job. All you have to do now is think of an obvious purple vegetable.”
“I don’t know any purple vegetables in English. In Taiwan we eat a purple vegetable cooked in a black oil.”
“Sesame oil?” I asked.
“No.” Time to loosen the rules.
“You can give more than yes or no answers. And you can try to help your classmates. Feel free to give them hints.”
One of the other facilitators, specifically the one who made up the cards with the food titles on them, guessed her food last: popcorn. Next time she can make up the questions.