The Most Common Problems Students in Hong Kong Face When Learning English
As English becomes the de facto global language, people all over the world are learning English for schoolwork, career advancement, or the ability to visit English-speaking countries. Even though the content they are learning is about the same, the problems they most frequently encounter are not. In this essay I will focus on the problems commonly encountered by English learners in Hong Kong. The reasons for this choice are twofold—one is that I am a Chinese American and thus familiar with Chinese culture and potential problems in English learning resulting from this culture, the other is that I want to teach English in Hong Kong in the foreseeable future and thus it makes sense for me to focus on the potential problems my future students may have.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Jerry C.
Mother tongue usage
First of all, Chinese students have a larger tendency to use their native language than students from other countries. This is largely a result of English and Chinese being from two completely different language systems—one being Indo-European and the other being Sino-Tibetan. This makes it extremely hard for Chinese students to adjust to the speaking of English and it is thus hard for them to form the habit of communicating in English, even in class time. In order to address this problem, teachers first need to make sure that their languages of instructions are easy and clear enough for the students they are teaching. After making sure this they need to encourage the use of English in classroom as much as possible. This can include only responding to English and reminding the students if they accidentally resort to their native tongue.
Modesty and fear of losing face
Secondly, Chinese students, along with other East Asian students, are known for the reluctance to participate in many class activities, especially the ones involving the practice of speaking. This is due to the East Asian culture in which modesty is valued as a virtue and people are afraid of losing face. The potential solutions include pair work, controlled practice, role-plays, and allow students to record their speaking on tape outside class time. Pair work minimizes the exposure of students (partner instead of the whole class) and the risk of losing face; controlled practice makes it less likely for students to make mistakes and thus lose face; and role-plays allows students to assume an identity different from their real one and thus lessens their stress level.
Also read: Evaluation and Testing of Students in the ESL Classroom
Large class sizes
Thirdly, classes are often large due to the densely populous nature of China. This is unlikely to be altered but the harmful effects of it can be mitigated by the use of worksheets that reduces the differences between large and small classes, and pair work or group work that divide the large classes into smaller groups or pairs. Moreover, teachers can utilize choral activities such as choral repetition, for which large classes can only be advantageous.
In conclusion, I have addressed what are the common problems for English learners in Hong Kong, why they have such problems, and how to resolve these problems in this essay. As I am about to begin my teaching career in Hong Kong, I believe that it is vitally important for me to have some knowledge about the specifics related to the English language students there. Hopefully this essay can serve as a useful guide for me.
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