Expectations From Teaching English in China
As someone whose parents and grandparents are ethnically Chinese, but lived in Canada ever since I can remember, there has always been a disconnect in terms of the two cultures I am stuck between. I hope to use my background as an advantage to find TEFL jobs in China, and this task will be part of my research to learn about the problems learners and I may face while engaging in English lessons.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Joseph Kevin Y. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
Speaking is a dominant skill in communication; even individuals who have never taken English lessons may know some words or phrases due to pop culture and songs. However, in Chinese, there are fundamental differences when enunciating; the English language have variable stress, where the stress pattern of words in a sentence is unpredictable - in Chinese, there is a lack of word stress, as every syllable has the same stress and timing, with little variation from the start to the end of sentences. Therefore when teaching speaking skills, I have to introduce this idea of variable stress, where certain words are unstressed and almost skipped - articles like “the”, “a”, and “an”.
Also, Chinese students may have trouble with certain sounds because they do not exist in their language. Some examples include the differentiation of /l/ and /r/, /v/ and /w/, and /th/. To teach these sounds I would have to show the shape of the mouth of making the sounds, and utilize drilling exercises to instill the feeling in the students. For example, the tongue should be touching the roof of the mouth for the sound /l/, while the tongue should be down and the mouth round for the sound /r/.
Attitude Toward Teachers
The Chinese see teachers as masters in their crafts and hold high degrees of respect towards them. This attitude, in turn, influences the way Chinese learners behave in the classroom; the students should not challenge or question the teacher, and in exchange, the teacher should tell students exactly what they need to know and do. This may be an obstacle to young teachers like me who may find such stiff respect uncomfortable, as I may want to create a more relaxing and casual classroom atmosphere. Also, the students may be reluctant to point out any mistakes I may make on accident or purpose, as a way to test the students’ understandings. I can only slowly address this cultural gap by communicating with students, to add a layer of familiarity and friendliness in addition to the layer of respect.
Different from western societies, the concept of face is greatly ingrained in Chinese culture; it is difficult to define it other than a combination of pride and prestige. The act of giving face is present everywhere when interpersonal relationships are involved. For example, I could give face by praising someone in front of their superiors, be it a student in front of their parents or a coworker in front of our boss; actions that cause people to lose face include openly criticizing and/or embarrassing someone like a student. It is easy to see this as the people being thin-skinned, but it is a lot more nuanced than individuals being sensitive. Chinese culture values group identity above individual gains; it is less important to prove oneself correct and above others, and more important to show humility and preserve harmony in relationships.
It should be noted that the face is collective, as causing an individual to lose face means causing the individual’s family and acquaintances to lose face as well, which should be avoided at all costs. The concept of face puts additional pressure on the students because they are studying not just for self-improvement, but also to avoid losing face for themselves and their families. This also means as a teacher, I have to consider the face of my students and avoid causing them to lose face. This is partly done by being positive in the classroom - praising students for their work and providing hints when they are struggling to answer questions.
However there are unavoidable situations like students struggling to pass classes or students misbehaving; by telling the parents of these issues, I may be seen as not giving them enough face and embarrassing them. This is necessary however as within all the positiveness, I have to remain truthful about the abilities of my students. This problem doesn’t have a clear solution as it is difficult to maintain a manner of face-giving while exposing the shortcomings of an individual. I am not sure how to approach this problem other than being positive during my addressing - I can only learn through experience and asking seniors who have been through the same thing, should the situation arise in the future.
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In summary, Chinese students may struggle with speaking English due to differences in rhythm and enunciation of words between the two languages. To address this as a teacher, I have to explain the differences, then use visual aids, repetition, and drilling to instill these differences in the students’ minds. Chinese culture also puts great importance on saving face, something I must follow to preserve relationships in the country; I can partly satisfy this need by being positive and giving praise, however, I may expect difficulties from parents when addressing students with unsatisfactory behaviors and/or academics. There is no one solution to this issue, as it depends on the personalities of the individuals involved. I can only seek advice from peers should be situations occur.
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