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Problems for English Learners in China versus Zulu-Speaking Learners

Problems for English Learners in China versus Zulu-Speaking Learners | ITTT | TEFL Blog

I have been fortunate enough to have taught English in South Africa to Zulu speaking learners and for the past six years to Chinese students. The ability to acquire the language differs greatly between the two. There are multiple reasons for this which I will briefly discuss.

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

School timetable

The students in China have a much longer school day than those in South Africa, however, they have fewer English lessons. Students receive a total of eight forty-minute lessons per week solely focused on English. Drama lessons are also taught in English, but it is only one 40 minute lesson per week. Social studies are co-taught so students are also exposed to some English academic language during these lessons. This is for our primary students, Year 1-5 in a private school. Public schools in China only begin formal English lessons from Year 4. In South Africa, students are taught English from Year 1 and for approximately 2 hours per day. All other lessons were also taught in English.

Also Read: "Teaching in South America: The Pros and Cons"

Family support

A vast majority of students in China do not have parental support in learning English, as many of their parents have limited or no English skills themselves. This becomes problematic when it comes to assisting students with homework tasks. It is therefore of the utmost importance that homework tasks are appropriate to the student’s level of understanding and they can complete them independently. We use an online reading program which enables the student to listen to the story, while seeing the words, then reading the book independently, they can also record their reading to send to the teacher, and then there is a quiz on the book to establish whether the student has understood what they have read. Students in South Africa do not have the technology available at home for this reading program and were given books to take home and read independently after a group guided reading session with the teacher that day.

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The lack of English environment

For most Chinese students their only exposure to the English language is at school. Once they leave the school premises everything from road signs, advertisements, radio, and television is all in Mandarin. The people they interact with outside of schools, such as shop keepers, waiters, bus drivers, and family all speak Mandarin, so there are limited opportunities outside of the classroom to practice speaking and listening to English. In South Africa the second language learners are exposed to English everywhere, all road signs, advertisements, TV and radio are in English, although there are some TV and radio stations in their home language. Many of their parents can speak, read, and listen to English and can help them with their homework tasks.

Also Read: How Parents Can Take Part in Their Childrens’ Education?

Extra-curricular activities

Chinese students also spend much time after school doing various extra lessons such as piano, violin, Math, and extra English lessons. They often only get home around 8 pm, sometimes later leaving little time for school homework. The trend over the past 6 years I have been here being that students complete their Chinese and Math homework and spend little or no time completing English homework tasks. The Chinese Government in Guangzhou, where I reside and teach, has declared that from August 2019 no online courses can take place after 9 pm. I believe this ensures that younger students can hopefully get to sleep earlier, and have a more successful day at school. Long school days and excessive extra lessons after school impact greatly on their ability to focus in the classroom.

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Having spent over 10 years teaching mostly second language learners in South Africa and 6 years teaching students in China, I have realized how the environment outside of school plays an important role in the acquisition of English. In conclusion, more, time needs to be placed in learning English skills for Chinese students to develop their understanding of English. They have to put much more effort into their learning outside of school due to the lack of English media surrounding them and fewer lessons during the school day that focus on developing English skills. Whereas the Zulu speaking students are immersed in English both in and out of school.

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