The Most Common Problems Students in China Face When Learning English
2018-09-18 Linda Dunsmore Teaching Ideas
Learning a foreign language in any part of the world is a demanding task which requires dedication and long-term commitment. It, however, can be particularly difficult for Chinese students. From a completely different alphabet to the lack of professional foreign expert training due to a high demand, Chinese students face a number of problems in learning the English language.
This post was written by our ITTT graduate Dovydas Z.
Few Opportunities to Practice Speaking Skills
In recent years, increasing competition among Chinese students has transformed learning English from an optional to a required course. In spite of this, the traditional teaching methodology applied at local educational institutions has, for the most part, remained the same. Due to a large number of students in a single classroom, there are only limited opportunities for practicing their language skills. Local educators simply do not have the resources to pay enough attention to students individually.
On the contrary, they focus on rigid syllabi that focus mostly on grammatical rules and expressions, which ultimately results in pupils getting high exam scores, yet poor communication skills. The obvious solution would be to implement a variety of techniques instead of solely relying on narrow grammar-translation based teaching. Taking into account the large number of attending students, the teacher could more often serve as a moderator of discussions and group-based activities to encourage the practical use of language. This way, the students get a chance to grow their confidence and familiarize themselves with the new materials.
Different Intonation Compared to Chinese
Although rich vocabulary and correct grammar are essential, the ability to express thoughts is the core of any language. It ought to be especially important for Chinese learners to begin applying verbal practice as early as possible, granted the two languages share very little in common. Mandarin alphabet, rhythm, pronunciation and word order, among other aspects, are completely different from those of English. Therefore, without a dynamic combination of several teaching methods and verbal practice, students are restricted from improving their fluency and apprehending the cultural aspects of English colloquial communication. For example, when students are presented with a verbal task they should be able to carry out the conversations with their counterparts without the teacher's input.
Inexperienced Teachers in the Classroom
Nonetheless, even with a foreign teacher's guidance, it would be wrong to presume that the success of Chinese students learning English well depends on a student's efforts alone. The English teacher also shares responsibility by having to adjust to the common issues of local language learners. Being able to apply appropriate methods and materials by taking into account the cultural aspects is a fundamental part of a teacher's job. Unfortunately, one of the problems in China is that due to the enormous demand for qualified English teachers, they are driven to compromise. More often than not, schools and language training centers hire inexperienced foreign teachers that fail to live up to a good standard of education. A feasible solution to this problem would be a shift in perception that merely being a native speaker versus a qualified and experienced non-native language foreign teacher is enough.
Pronunciation Needs to Be Drilled
Pronunciation is yet another major issue that causes a lot of difficulties for many local students of all ages in China. Neither Mandarin nor other dialects share sounds directly corresponding to the ones of English like /r/ and /l/, or /n/ and /l/. Among many others, these are the sounds that pupils in China must be taught from the ground up. A lengthy process in itself, it can often leave students struggling to differentiate between two sounds without proper guidance. I have effectively applied a method of physically showing how these sounds are made which is later followed by listening practice and spelling games in order to train the ears and stimulate the student's muscle memory.
Are you interested in teaching English in China?
All in all, pupils in China have an array of difficulties to deal with when learning English. Although, some of the issues like pronunciation are inevitable, others like teachers applying the old-fashioned "read, repeat and memorize" teaching methodology to large capacity classrooms can be changed.
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