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The Difficulties and Rewards of Teaching Chinese Students

The Difficulties and Rewards of Teaching Chinese Students | ITTT | TEFL Blog

For the past twenty years, I have had the pleasure of teaching English to Chinese students of all ages in both Taiwan and mainland China. The following are my observations:

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

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Ancient Culture

If one were to argue that Socrates was the beginning of modern Western Civilization, one could easily surmise that that modern Chinese civilization has its roots in the teachings of Confucius. While Socrates told his students that the unexamined life was not worth living and that students should question everything, even their teacher; the opposite is true with the teaching of Confucius. This has led to China becoming a hierarchical society, where every person has a place and should know his/her place. In China, the teacher is to be respected by students. Unfortunately, this respect ultimately has resulted in a lack of critical thinking ability, or even the ability to speak out at all in class.

Also Read: Common Studies of the English Language Variants

Differences in Students’ Behavior

The difference between any western classroom and a Chinese one is obvious and seen immediately. In a typical class in my country, students eagerly seek attention and try to please the teacher by raising hands and answering questions. This has the added perk of making them feel a sense of pride or even superiority. In China, more often than not, the teacher will lecture, and the students will listen. The teacher rarely asks many or even any questions. This has serious effects on ESL classrooms.

Lack of Confidence

Teaching English as a Second Language requires each student to speak. One cannot properly learn a language without the ability to speak it. I have met many students who were considered outstanding; they could read and write well. On the other hand, when it came to speaking and listening they were unable to carry on a simple conversation.

Also Read: The English Language and its Peculiarities


Another thing I should mention is that in China, the concept of 'Face' is very strong. Failure leads to a loss of face or a sense of shame. This leads to a fear of making mistakes.

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I always tell my Chinese students that mistakes are good. You can't learn anything without making them. A baby has to fall down hundreds of times before he can walk. This is the way it is with many things and learning a language is no different; so I try to encourage them in any way I can. I will speak my horrendous version of Mandarin for a couple of minutes at the beginning of a course to let them see me fail badly. I find this makes them feel less likely to take their own mistakes so seriously.

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