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Common Issues for Chinese Learners of English

Common Issues for Chinese Learners of English | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Over the decades, the English language has reached the status of a global language and is commonly known as the lingua franca around the world. It has become one of the most widely spoken language as a mother tongue, international communication as well as language taught in millions of schools around the globe. The use of the English language is widespread in many sectors in the global market as many organizations begin to adopt the language as an official language. In the economic world, the language plays a significant role in international trade/business between two of the most powerful global economic powerhouse mainly the United States of America and China.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate LAM P. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

English as a necessity

China has an estimated population of around 1.4 billion people as of the year 2018 and still growing as we speak. Due to China’s growing economic influence, more people in the country have begun learning the English language to improve their prospects in terms of career and business opportunity development. The English language is mostly taught as a second language in primary schools as early as the age of 10 until the completion of university graduation. Although the language is learned throughout primary until tertiary education system in China, core subjects such as science, civics, mathematics, and other topics material are still taught or conducted in the Chinese language. Therefore, most students are unable to use the language in their everyday lives and unable to utilize it when most crucially needed especially during job interviews in a multinational company or communicate effectively with a native English speaker.

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Demand in extracurricular activities

Due to this circumstance, a growing number of people from China are seeking external lessons to supplement their lack of English language ability. The growing demand in the English language lesson sector has prompted many language centers to emerge catering towards different ages and requirements. Some even travel abroad to take language courses in English native countries such as Australia, Europe or even the United States of America. Online English courses are also gaining momentum in popularity due to its advantage of reaching students at unfavorable demographical locations and only requiring an internet connection to perform lessons. Although with rapid technological advancement and providing gradual improvements in conducting language lessons, there are still proven challenges and obstacles to teach Chinese students the most widely spoken lingua franca in the world.

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Common challenges

For any non-native speaker, it is always tough to learn a new language and the English language is not an exception. Every individual will face unique challenges of their own such as language pronunciation, spelling and grammar rules errors because of the nature of relating the language to their mother tongue language. In the next paragraph, I will explain further on a few of the more common difficulties or problems that English learners in China face based on my teaching experience regardless of age.

chinese students

Pronunciation

One of the most common problems faced by learners in China is the pronunciation difficulty. Due to the nature of Chinese language grammar and word structure rules, it can be difficult for the same application in the English language. For a start, Chinese words uncommonly end with consonants. Words like “jump” are difficult for first-time learners to pronounce and tend to add vowels behind those words. The letter “L” or “F”, will be pronounced as “ell –a” or “eff-u” are commonly heard when they first learn the language. The reason could be these methods assist their learning in differentiating alphabets which has almost similar pronunciation. Letters such as “L” and “R” are also commonly mispronounced as they have difficulty articulating the word with their tongues to produce the accurate sound. Another issue faced when dealing with younger students which cultivate the habit of “parroting” during lessons. Students may only listen and repeat the words after a teacher, but simply don’t make any effort in understanding and learning the words.

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Grammar

Grammar is another issue as both English and Chinese are very different by nature. A very good example is the plural “S” because there is no plural form in the Chinese language. Due to this, it is difficult for them to understand the addition of plural in English sentences. So it is common to hear students pronouncing words with a missing “S” when describing items in quantities. Other difficulties that students faced include irregular plurals such as “mouse” and “mice” which is not so straightforward as only including an “S” in the sentence may sometimes confusing to understand. The Chinese language also does not have conjugation or tenses which brings to the issue of the English language having past tense and present tense. Words like present tense transiting into past tense is another obstacle faced by students due to the multiple situations/ conditions applied. A common example is “be” transiting into “have” in the present simple tense.

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Chinese firewall

Lastly, I would like to mention the exposure to learning information. Although China is at a rapid pace of technology and information advancement, most people still do not have a convenient excess of information from outside the country. Under the country’s internet censorship policy most of the most commonly used search engines and social media sites around the world such as Google, Facebook and YouTube are blocked. This limits the learner’s exposure towards learning material that could only be found using the above-mentioned search engine. A VPN service is used to bypass the censorship but it requires a fee hourly/monthly and usually has an unstable internet connection. Shall teachers want to share information and learning material from Google with the students, it is usually a hassle experience to go through. Not to mention some online English learning platforms or websites may also be blocked by internet censorship.

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To summarize all, English language learning will always have different obstacles or difficulties faced and it is not something that could be overcome overnight. But with proper guidance and patience, the English language learning experience for students can be fun and exciting whilst improving rapidly. Moreover, a teacher well-equipped with TESFL knowledge will certainly be able to overcome these challenges ahead given enough care, guidance, and concern towards a student’s learning ability.

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