Drilling as a Problem for Advanced English University Students in China
While being an exchange student, as well as a Teaching Assistant, at a university in China, there has been a certain problem for students that I have noticed. The problem that stands out the most is students trying to memorize every word they want to say while giving a presentation in class. While it makes sense to want to convey your message in the correct way, the problem I see is that too many times a student who has spent days memorizing their exact lines (even pacing outside of the classroom reciting it over and over until their presentation time) has difficulties in the actual presentation when the script is taken away. If even one word is missed while they are speaking, they seem to shut down while they are trying to regroup their thoughts. It leads to long, awkward pauses that they either bounce back from (with a lot of time wasted) or they have to pass on their section completely which leads to a low grade.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Samuel G. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
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I first noticed this problem when I was an exchange student from the US. Most students at the university I am at have been learning English for 12+ years, so they are quite fluent. When it came to group presentations in China I would meet with my group multiple days before the presentation and they would give practice speeches and time themselves. When it came to my part, most of the time I would tell them to skip me as too much preparation would cause me to lose focus and potentially have problems conveying my message when it came down to the actual speech. They were shocked. I explained to them how our brain can only hold so much information and with the added pressure of public speaking everyone is bound to miss a word here and there. As long as I knew the main points I wanted to get across, the rest was just filler that could be easily adapted or changed with different word choices. They were confused by that notion, as they have always been drilled to memorize things like English, and did not believe me. When it came time for the presentation, two of my group partners froze and couldn’t speak. After finishing the presentation, they spoke with me and asked how I was able to get through the presentation with little rehearsal beforehand and I reiterated what I had told them before. By the next presentation, my group aced it.
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I know the pressure to get the best grade possible is high when only a certain amount of each letter grade is allowed, but this complete memorization is inevitably detrimental to certain students. Chinese students are phenomenal at memorizing text for tests, with some students studying every day and night, but when it comes to having to recite a foreign language in a public speaking setting it becomes a lot harder. I now speak to students about the problem and try to ease their minds by telling them that I know that they know the material they want to convey and if they miss a word or two it is alright because the overall message will still be covered. Do not stress on memorizing every single word as long as your main message is clear. After discussing with them, by the next presentations, I notice a big difference in their demeanor and when they speak they can get through the whole thing with minimal mistakes as they are less stressed about being perfect.
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