5 Big Problems for English Learners in Beijing, China
It is generally agreed that education is one of the most important issues in every country these days and China is no exception.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Ekaterina G.
It’s a well-known fact that China is the most populated country in the world with a long and mysterious history, rich and varied culture. China recognizes 55 ethnic minority groups within the country in addition to the Han majority. Standard Mandarin is the only official language, though there are more than 200 hundred living languages spoken all over the country. While being China’s capital, political and cultural center, Beijing is also known as a melting pot where you can meet the representative of almost each ethnic minority group. All points mentioned above have an influence on Chinese learners while studying English.
My English name is Kate, I was born in Russia and at the age of 17 came to Beijing as a language course student. Later on, I got my bachelor and master degrees in one of the best universities of China. Teaching English was my part-time job through the years of studying and I’ve been teaching English in Beijing for ten years now.
English is a must to enter better schools and find better jobs in China.
First of all, let us try to understand that for Chinese learners English is not just a foreign language or an optional course, it’s a must which can help students enter better schools and find better jobs. Due to the overpopulation, the competition rate in China is much higher than in other countries, so it’s very common in big cities such as Beijing to start learning English at the age of 3 or 4.
Overcrowded classes lead to nonexistent English practice.
As I have already mentioned above, an existing high competition rate caused by overpopulation leads us to the first problem for Chinese learners: they don’t have a big opportunity to talk to the teacher during lessons because the classes are always fully packed, especially in public education establishments. An average amount of students in one class is 30-35, while in Russia, for example, is 20-25 students.
The Chinese education system doesn’t focus on English.
One must admit that Chinese education system is incredibly strong in exact sciences. On the other hand, the main methodology used for teaching English is memorizing vocabulary and grammar rules forms the next problem: Chinese learners have a rich vocabulary but poor speaking skills.
Mandarin Chinese and English have very few similarities.
What is more, the first language has great influences on pronunciation of Chinese learners which I find one more problem. Standard Mandarin consists of characters and tones while English has alphabet, intonation and stress. Although Chinese students belong to the group of learners without the Roman alphabet, Chinese characters are romanized using the Pinyin System, which is a great help for both the student and the teacher.
Different linguistic backgrounds of Chinese learners in Beijing have their own consequences as well. People who came from the southern part of China almost can not pronounce [ ʃ ] because this sound doesn’t exist in their dialect. Beijingers have their own specialities in pronunciation. Certainly, all non-native English speakers have an accent, but I find it harder for Chinese learners because some phonics are completely new to them.
The teacher student relationship isn’t very close-knit.
Furthermore, one should not forget that the teacher in Chinese society has a high status. From early childhood, Chinese students are taught that the teacher must be respected at all the times and the teacher’s words are to be taken as a gospel. Asking the teacher a question during the class is usually treated as a sign of disrespect and bad family education. This concept was spread from generation to generation and leads us to one more difficulty: breaking the ice is a tedious process. According to my experience, it may take several moths to make my students feel comfortable with me, to get used to partnership while studying, to feel more relaxed and treat me more like a good friend.
Are you ready to teach English in China?
To conclude, I should say that Chinese learners are extremely hard-working, greatly passionate in studying and respect their teachers a lot. Personally for me, it’s an honor to be a teacher in China. I do truly hope that with my help, support and encouragement, Chinese learners can overcome these existing difficulties and reach their goals in education and career.
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