ITTT tefl internationale

All you need to know about teaching English abroad!


The Typical Challenges for Chinese English Learners

The Typical Challenges for Chinese English Learners | ITTT | TEFL Blog

This essay answers the question for number 10 “what are the main problems for learners in the country of China?” I am a professor at Jiangnan University in Wuxi, China and share my observations. Our students are in the North American College (NAC), with partners in Canada at Lambton College and Northwood University, USA. Three areas are most interesting to their learning challenges: college preparation, listening and writing.

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

Exam System

Students enter NAC with a low score on the national gaokao entrance exam. The student body represents a culture where the system is much different than in the United States. In China, high school is most important for the national test. In Chinese colleges, there is a belief that the student has succeeded in high school and will successfully graduate the university. That is not the case in the USA, where undergraduates can be expelled for poor academics or ethics. Thus, the learner's attitude is that sometimes they will do the minimum to pass, and eventually will be passed by teachers or administrators.

Also Read: Where do schools provide free airfare for English teachers abroad?

Lexical Units

Learning English is difficult for students whose native language is Mandarin Chinese. Some of the issues include a lack of English vocabulary for the content courses. Our English program is freshman year, yet most students do not come to the business content year two with skills and readiness to learn. For example, the majority would not understand business terms such as an “agenda” and “minutes” or “line.” What this means for faculty like myself as I am teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL) vocabulary words and slowing down the course. This is why I call what the business faculty do ESL-infused curriculum.

chinese kindergarten kids

Also Read: How much can I earn teaching English in Greece?

Digital Autism

A second challenge, and the biggest issue, is the students are usually on their phones and struggle to pay attention and listen. The population, ages 18-24, has a low attention span, of about 10 minutes. To address, I break the class into segments of 10 to 20 minutes each. As a result of this course, I might think more critically of this time and call it to Engage, Study, Activate (ESA). I suspect a lack of engagement is due to the cell phone. This issue is related to verbal directions as most students do not listen to hear, thus I must write some information down in my presentation. This course has created the awareness to use the chalkboard as a teaching tool. Typically I would use the board for students to give answers. Now, I am trying to write more using chalk. I may be speaking too fast, which is also an obstacle to listening. The students would not tell me to slow down, thus I must self-regulate. In Chinese culture, it is wrong to question a teacher. Except for a few, the majority won’t ask questions or speak in class. I often must repeat myself three or more times and be patient.

Also Read: Are there any age limits for TEFL teaching?


Chinese people read from top to bottom and right to left is new. Most Chinese can read English, yet speaking, writing, and listening are gaps. As a result, indenting a paragraph and APA margins is a major step. They also must learn APA which is difficult for natives. Some of our students may come to class without the book, a folder, paper, pens, and pencils. Many bring their book, phone, and pen. It is very new for them to be organized. This impacts learning when I meet with teams on writing, the student won’t have a pen to correct mistakes. The editing and feedback are also new as is learning in a small group. Typical Chinese professors lecture from the front and are not trained in participatory methods. From this analysis of experience, I hope to have advanced your understanding of the challenges that Chinese college students have to learn English.

Do you want to teach English abroad? Take a TEFL course!

Apply now & get certified to teach english abroad!

Speak with an ITTT advisor today to put together your personal plan for teaching English abroad.

Send us an email or call us toll-free at 1-800-490-0531 to speak with an ITTT advisor today.

Related Articles: