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4 Main Challenges for ESL Students in China

4 Main Challenges for ESL Students in China | ITTT | TEFL Blog

I have been in China for four years; I came here on 15, September 2015, as a student. During this time pursuing my Master’s degree, I taught English as a foreign language in training centers, elementary school, high school and currently teaching in a Polytechnics.

English has become one of the fastest growing subjects in the country. Many Chinese students study the subject at schools and training centers. It is also interesting to note that most of the universities teach some other subjects in English. This attracts many students from other countries to study in China or have an exchange program.

Life in China is very convenient because of the developed infrastructure. There is affordable housing that enables teachers to save up. Many schools provide teachers with accommodations free of charge.

However, effective teaching of ESL students faces problems that hinder success. These problems range from culture, management, motivation and some other factors I will explain in this article.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Ammaadi P.

Weak Language Foundation

The foundations of most students learning English in China are quite weak due to a couple of reasons explained in the points below.

Late Start:

Most students in China begin to learn English at quite late or at an older age. Predominantly they begin to have their first English lessons when students enter the middle school at the age of thirteen or later, at this stage students face have weaker language acquisition device and teenage development problems.

Weak Language Acquisition Device:

Child development studies opine that every child has the ability to learn new languages easier when they are younger. Teenagers acquire languages tougher than children at the age of 6-10. This is quite obvious in the sense that my younger students in training schools learn the language faster and can recall the materials learned easier than my middle school students.

Teen Development Problems:

Since students begin to learn the language at a quite late age makes it difficult to implement some teaching techniques that will facilitate the learning process, because some of the students in the middle school are at the adolescent age hence refuse to perform activities, they regard as childish though effective to facilitate the learning process.

Curriculum Structure

The curriculum has been structured in such a way that only engages students to answer questions that are intended to help them pass the final high school English exam, therefore, some important areas of the English language are ignored hence students are not exposed to a certain aspect of the English language.

Combined Topics Per Lesson:

In each lesson, many topics are taught, since most students are beginners thus from grammar to comprehension to essay, reading, and writing. All these require special skill that needs to be mastered well in order to properly assimilate the knowledge associated with each topic. Although students perform the tasks involved, however, they do just a small part of a broader topic that could be taught if the contents were separated and treated holistically to its full extent.

Student Placement:

Students with different strength levels are usually placed in one class, though it must not be a problem for learning in the class it usually makes it difficult for students to get the independent attention of teachers to get the needed clarity. The major cause of this is the mass promotion of unqualified students into certain higher classes they ought not to be.

Course Materials:

Teachers and management of English training centers and schools adopt contents and methodologies suggested in authentic materials without adopting the contents to suit the level of the students engaged. Some of the contents need to be broken down or need to be reviewed before they could be applied. However, the contents are passed to students as they are given in a book without cross-checking. Students language level makes it hard to get the information. Students, therefore, take it as they are taught without the right understanding of the subject. Hence, they cannot effectively apply the knowledge to similar language points.

Lack of Motivation

There is a limited opportunity for students to practice English because they use their first language in their everyday life. All social and business conversations are conducted using the mother tongue. Most documents in restaurants or any business setup. This gives students less motivation to study English language compared to other countries where both English and a native language are common media of communication.

Testing of Students:

The testing conducted for students is not challenging enough to encourage students to retain and reproduce knowledge acquired in the classroom. Usually, homework consists of “fill in the gaps” tasks with options translated into Chinese. Students need to copy answers right away without rigorous thinking. The same trend takes place in exams.

Student Placement:

Students in China are placed based on age other than the ability to learn, comprehend and maintain study level. This causes a lot of problems in the classroom where the needs of students are not the same making it extremely difficult for teachers to teach effectively. It slows down the pace of teaching and as well takes a chunk of the time thus wasted to teach prior knowledge. This impedes students study speed and progress. This doesn’t motivate students since students are not promoted to the next grade based on achievement but rather based on their age.

Poor Language Training Institutions

Poor management of training language institutions by staff and teachers have had an adverse effect on the quality of English learning and teaching environment. These emanate from the unprofessional behavior of management and employees engaged in service delivery. These can be grouped into two parts;

Teaching, Learning, and Business:

Management fails to separate marketing activities from teaching and learning: Thus, most schools have been running the school system as a business and forget to focus on education. They are more concerned about money. As a result sales staff sells false hope to parents.

Unprofessional Teachers:

Many unprofessional teachers come to the country due to the Chinese white skin cult. Parents and language institutions teacher preference is based on this cult. Some schools even pay attention to body size into consideration: if a person is plus size, he or she is considered to be not active and hence cannot teach.

This causes the influx of unprofessional teachers hence nonnative speakers without formal education in English. They teach students English in training centers and schools, this act has destroyed the basic foundation of most students, they missed out on right principles and rules of English. Students are doubtful in class and see the subject as too complicated.

Lack of Regular Training:

Though some nonnative speakers without formal English education are employed, there has been inadequate training scheduled to train these teachers to have a better understanding of the subject but rather the teachers are left alone to use personal experience to teach which for the most part doesn’t fall in line with the language rules or procedures. In the end, students rely on such information for as long as he does not find a teacher who will rectify these errors.

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