English Olympics might conjure up thoughts of a gymnastic language contest in front of a captivated, cheering audience like a spelling bee, but in reality it’s a cerebral, intense, quiet, mostly written examination. There are different sections of the written test including fill-in-the-blanks listening, multiple choice vocabulary, open-ended questions, and reading comprehension. Afterward, students sit before the judges for a speaking test that involves direct and open-ended questions like tell me about your family or compare and contrast five given pictures.
Here are some examples from the 10th grade written test:
- When I was younger I _(used to)__ swim in the river.
- I have had this book since ___________.
a. one year b. three months
c. April d. now
- What are you going to do this summer?
Our first experience with the language-off season came a few weekends ago. Friday was an event at our friend Tysen’s business school among his teachers. It wasn’t the most polished group of competitors, and it seemed as though almost no one took it very seriously. Much like their students’ competition a few weeks later, the teachers were able to prepare written remarks ahead of time, but almost no one really did more than a few minutes in advance. As a result, the competitions dragged on a little and were sometimes ruled by flush-faced awkward silences. Even still, those who chose to compete bravely performed through charades and a Jeopardy-like answer and question game.
Sometimes, waiting until the last minute to do things yields a team name like, "We Wish Raining."
For our continued support in judging competitions, the business school had a cake made for us with the "Thank You" in English. It was totally unnecessary, though completely welcomed.
Our second round of competitions was the next day and involved sanctioned tests for 9th graders, 11th graders and the teachers. Winners from this round will go on to Ulaanbaatar (the capital) next week to compete nationally. Each of our three high schools and those in some nearby villages had vetted and registered their best candidates for the two hours of writing and 15-20 minute verbal interviews, which we Americans exclusively administered. There were a few real stand-out students and some unexpected results from the teachers. The latter created a bit of a fall out with one teacher who was perhaps the favorite to win. Though his written scores were far above the field, his verbal scores were nearly the lowest. Apparently he talked a lot and eloquently, but he failed to answer the questions, perhaps expecting a “gimme” from the volunteer judge. Instead, the teacher disappointedly accepted the bronze medal, and for the next few days he verbally and via text message accosted the judge. Thankfully, the sour-grapes teacher won the Russian Olympics the next day, putting him in a better mood. After the dust settled a few days later, he humbly apologized and we’ve all tried to move on. Obviously, he was among the competitors who really took the Olympics seriously.
From the competition, Nathan has asked two graduating 11th graders (Mongolia goes to 11) to collaborate with him on a project he’s working on to build their resumes for college. The project will aim to reclaim a dust bowl portion of the countryside left gutted my illegal mining activity. As that project develops, we look forward to telling you more about it.
The next day was a genuine joy to administer. It involved 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 10th graders, many of whom speak English better than their teachers. On this day, we only verbally interviewed the top five scorers on the written test, as opposed to needlessly interviewing everyone as we were required to do for the sanctioned test. Nearly every student we talked to was composed and confident resulting in some fun and interesting interviews. Though this round of tests won’t send anyone on to compete at nationals, it introduced some exceptional students to us, who have subsequently asked for private tutoring.
Students wait for and receive medals for their efforts. Noticeably missing from the competition for us were parents.
Leslie has been successfully holding English Movie Night every Friday at 6 pm. Only 2 students showed up the day before the English Olympics because their teachers said they needed to study for the next day’s event. The ones who did show up were two of the gold medalists.
Next week, our 11th grader pal, Bilegt, will be showing his skills in UB. We’ve been working hard on phrasal verbs, how to write an essay, and verbal test techniques. We have our fingers crossed for him!
All and all our 11th month in Mongolia was an interesting one, and we kept very busy working on plenty of work and community projects. May will be our 12th of 27 months.