What Problems Do English Learners Face in China?
2019-05-03 Elizaveta Pachina Alumni Experiences
In recent years, the most popular destination for EFL teachers all over the world has been China. China is the country welcoming many foreign teachers, native and non-native, and is probably the country with the most rapid development of the English teaching industry. Online teaching has become just as important as face to face teaching and has been a teacher for an online company for a long time, I have experienced a variety of students, levels, and groups. Therefore, in this essay, I will write about the most common problems Chinese students face and some ways of dealing with them.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Aleksandra Đ.
If you are ever in China, you will notice that you will often be required to focus more pronunciation practice than anything else. This may seem odd, but it is plausible once you have realized how difficult it is for Chinese students, who are used to very short, mostly monosyllabic words (consonant + vowel or consonant + diphthong) to pronounce even the shortest of English words! The most common mistake is an addition of a sound resembling schwa /ə/ at the end of English words ending in a consonant, such as “ten”, “pack”, “like”. Another common mistake is the inability to hear a difference between schwa /ə/ and /e/ in words such as “Ben”, “ten”. Students have the tendency to replace /e/ with /ə/. A usual problem for most students, including Chinese students, is the pronunciation of “the”, be it /ð/ or /θ/.
So, how do you correct this? The answer is simple – you must repeat the correct pronunciation yourself, allow the students to clearly see the position of your speech organs, no matter how funny it appears, and finally have the students repeat the sounds after you! It is simple, yet effective. Students are also fond of tongue twisters, only make sure to embarrass yourself first as it will ease their fear of being embarrassed. Finally, choral drilling has proven successful for large groups.
Chinese and English have no common ground as languages – the phonics, orthography, and even grammar could not be more different! This is a rather troublesome area and some mistakes are so ingrained that it takes a lot of time and patience to correct them.
The error that occurs extremely often is – no concept of plural! As Chinese nouns do not take a plural form, it is very difficult for students to understand the addition of –s for plural, let alone irregular plural such as man – men. The best solution for this seems to be realia: you could show your students an apple, ask them what it is, and once you’ve elicited the answer, show two apples, then three, and so on. If your students can read, you can write down: “appleS”, but if they can’t, the only thing to do is to pronounce the –s /s/, /z/ very loudly and clearly and make sure they repeat it correctly.
Just as usual as a problem is a conjugation. The Chinese language has no conjugation or tenses. Tenses are indicated by particles (not always!), so students find it very difficult to even understand the fact changes occur not only in the past tenses but also in the present tenses! Just as they get used to changing the verbs “be” and “have” in the present simple tense and adding –s in the third person singular, they have to learn how to form the past tenses of regular verbs and to make things worse – irregular verbs exist as well! There are many different ways of dealing with this particular issue and it is nothing that has not already been addressed in the TEFL course itself: first, you need to explain the situation which the certain tense is used for. Let us say you are supposed to teach the past simple tense: the best warmer is getting the students to talk about what they did “yesterday” or “a few days/years ago”. They will most certainly make the mistake of using the base form. Once the mistakes have been made, you can go on to say the correct form and write it on the board, and they should be able to understand that verbs change when we talk about the past.
Problems outside/inside the classroom
There is something teachers in China refer to as “parroting” – this means the students got very used to having to simply listen to the teacher and repeat after them, which results in them shutting off any effort to understand. They genuinely do not try to understand, but rather, they repeat every word in the lesson, know every piece of vocabulary, but once you put it in a different context, they will most certainly not be able to use it.
It seems to be ingrained in the Chinese culture that not knowing something is shameful. You can see how this can represent an issue in language learning as students find it shameful not to know something and not to make mistakes, so many will be afraid to speak out. It is up to the teacher to make the students feel comfortable enough to speak and allow them to see making mistakes is a part of the learning process and that even if it may not be acceptable elsewhere, it is welcomed in your classroom.
Parent pressure is also a common occurrence. Many students are very young learners who do not choose to attend English lessons and probably do not care about them at all, so it is possible you will face a lot of reluctance. Engaging, interesting activities, and giving the student a purpose for learning, making them feel intrigued – these have proven to be a good way of dealing with this problem.
Are you ready to teach in China?
To conclude, the problems are not too different from the problems you can potentially face in other countries! There are many more, but these are the most common ones I have encountered in my teaching career.
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