Common Troubles of the Chinese Students You’ll Definitely Notice
English is one of the most widely spoken languages and it is taught in a lot of countries. Globalization, fast economic development makes many people study English. People learn English for different reasons: business, education, life abroad, traveling, personal interest. Chinese students are not an exception. With the growing economies of China, the need for learning English increased dramatically. What challenges do Chinese students face when learning English? What challenges does the teacher meet teaching Chinese students? What teaching approach can be found?
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Darya M.
Let’s talk about the most typical challenges when teaching Chinese learners and how to deal with them.
Most of the Chinese learners are obliged to learn English, because of the business or to get to a better university. But obligation does not motivate to learn, that is why the progress may be slow. The teacher has to be patient to the students, give them motivation. The teacher has to try to show, that English is not only useful but also fun and gives opportunities. Sometimes the absence of motivation is the reason for the different education system.
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Most courses in China are made for students to pass the test (written), but they have a fewer chance for interaction and speaking. They have strong writing skills, but speaking and interaction is something that a teacher might struggle with. The teacher has to find out the interests of the students, do a lot of role-playing, discussions, pair work activities and thought provocative discussions. Avoid sensitive topics!
3. National character
To avoid culture sensitive topics, we have to look at the national character of people in China. They are very shy by nature and they are afraid to ‘lose face’ by making mistakes. The teacher is considered to be a respectful job, students’ opinion is “teacher knows better”, they lack freedom for independent practices and not likely to experiment with language. The teacher must know ‘comfortable field’ for discussions and build students’ confidence. We need to make students feel relaxed, be positive and gentle. Avoiding using book too much and change activity into something more fun can help to make students feel comfortable. Fewer corrections, more support.
4. Language difference
Chinese and English languages have vast structural differences. Word order for instance. Words order in English is more strict, Chinese sentence is much easier and more transitive. It makes students feel difficulty with where to place the word in a sentence.
The Chinese language also has almost no inflections to indicate grammatical relationships (noun does not have a difference in singular and plural, the form of the verb in present tense does not depend on plural or singular noun). Morphological differences can also take place. If in English it is possible to make a different word using prefixes/suffixes (predict-unpredictable), in Chinese, it’s not likely to do so.
The teacher doesn’t have to speak Chinese but has to explain to students the core structure of words and sentences. Explaining parts of speech and fill gaps exercise will be useful.
Write around. Each student will begin a story that will be completed by the other students. Start with simple structures and gradually increase the number of sentence members. He likes ice-cream. What flavor? He likes strawberry ice-cream. When does he eat it? He likes eating strawberry ice-cream in summer.
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English grammar seems terrifying to Chinese learners. Chinese grammar does not have so many rules and exceptions. The most difficult moments are tenses and verbs (as verbs take major grammatical functions). Tenses in the Chinese language are indicated by words addressing to the moment of action (yesterday, in one week). English is different, it confuses Chinese learners a lot. The teacher can use activities like Hot potato (grammar), pair editing, crosswords.
English has many sounds and letters. Due to the difference in language, it is hard for Chinese learners to understand the process of reading. In English, we have letters, each letter has sound, we use transcription. Chinese also has a transcription, but syllables and sounds are different. The Chinese language is more vocal, it makes it hard to pronounce words with a combination of 2 or more consonants (STRucture). There are many letters we don’t pronounce ( hOUR) and have many variations of pronunciation (head-read/challenge-character).Stress and intonation also vary. English stress can be doubled, it can fall on different syllables(varIety-vArious). It brings challenges to pronounce English words. Teachers can make use of such activities as minimal pairs practice (ship-sheep), dictations, tongue twisters, letters vs sounds, listening.
Thus, major challenges for Chinese learners are lack of self-confidence and interaction, grammar and pronunciation.
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Example ESA lesson plan
I would like to show what techniques can be used for motivating Chinese students, making them feel comfortable and help practice pronunciation and grammar.
- Learning objective: At the end of the class, students should be to talk about chores and use Present Simple.
- Engage: teacher shows students pictures with different chores, students have to describe pictures and say chores they do every day.
- Study 1: teacher elicits vocabulary by asking questions: What housework do you do every day? What chores does your mom do? You dad? The teacher has to make sure sentences and pronunciation are correct.
- Study 2: teacher writes down key vocabulary and forms of verbs on the desk and explains Present simple.
- Study 3: Students in pairs do worksheets.
- Activate: students, in pairs, sharing what chores every family member does and present it to each other, allowing correct mistakes.
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These are the major reasons for difficulties students and teachers can face. There are other challenges, like lack of English practices and communication with English speakers, difficulty to access videos, audios, podcasts, etc. The teacher has to be aware of possible challenges in every aspect of language and use different activities and ways to achieve a successful learning environment.
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