My Experience of Teaching at a Chinese University
Teaching English at a university and in a foreign country entails different considerations and expectations which vary from country to country. University students have often studied English for numerous years, but have not had many opportunities to practice it with native speakers. For China specifically, tests and textbooks have often been seen as the ultimate achievement, not a means to the actual production of English (Wen 2016). With this in mind, it is crucial to utilize the often large pre-existing pool of knowledge of English that many students already have into productive tasks that allow students to creatively and critically apply their knowledge to practical application.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Natalie F. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
A method of implementing such a target is the production-orientated approach which focuses on three main objectives: motivating, enabling, and assessing ( Wen 2016). This method modifies the teaching method of ESA (engage, study, activate) into a method that tailors to Chinese undergraduate students’ strengths and weaknesses. Both methods strive to engage students and translate that engagement into an activity that enables students to practical production of English. In China, like many other countries, the necessitation of English in the workplace and social spaces often incorporates activities of utilizing receptive skills such as listening and reading into skills of production such as speaking or writing (Wen 2016). Thus, the POA methods strive to encourage students who have often been discouraged from asking questions or discussing their interests and opinions in the classroom by providing activities that do so and enables students to continue these activities independently from the classroom. The role of the teacher should not be diminished to simply the role of facilitator, but rather the teacher’s role is meant to assess, guide, and encourage students’ production of English.
In addition to different cultural norms in the classroom, there exist different cultural expectations and norms in campus life. Unlike most Western universities, it is considered taboo to openly criticize the Chinese government. Discussion of Chinese politics and comparing them to Western politics may come up in conversation with students or coworkers. While the candid conversation is not prohibited, it is advisable to remain civil and discuss differences not whether not one is better than the other. That being said, it is common for many teachers, especially those who have just graduated from college themselves, to spend time socializing with students as many may being your age group. Universities do have strict campus rules such as no drinking on-campus and having strict curfew so this should also be kept in mind when socializing with students.
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In conclusion, Chinese university students have varying levels of proficiencies, goals, and motivations concerning learning English. However, many come from the same cultural experiences in high schools such as focusing on rote memorization for tests such as Gao Kao or lack of encouragement for students to ask questions in class. While it may be more difficult to engage Chinese students in conversation in the classroom than in other Western countries, it can still be a rewarding experience. Teaching in a foreign country whose culture is quite different from one’s own can provide a learning experience interacting with students that are used to thinking and learning in different ways than your own. Mutual learning can be achieved as both student and teacher experience interacting with a person from different cultures often for the first time.
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