Problems for Learners in ChinaTeaching English in china presents a unique set of difficulties to an expatriate teacher from a western country, as there are numerous difficulties facing learners of English in china. Some of these problems are cultural, while others are caused by lack of exposure to English and English speakers, or the enormous differences between English and Mandarin chinese (for the purpose of this article, it should be assumed that references to ?chinese? refer to Mandarin).
When working with adult chinese English learners, many expatriate teachers may find students frustratingly passive and unwilling to participate in classroom activities. This isn?t caused by a lack of desire to learn, but differences in expectations about the roles of teachers and students. According to Manfred Wu Man Fat, this hesitance to participate ?is caused by chinese learners' concept of the roles of teachers and students, in which teachers should be dominating, authoritative while students should be obedient and respect teachers who are at a higher level in the social hierarchy (Wu Man Fat 2).? In other words, a chinese student may not be holding back because he or she is bored or unmotivated, but rather because he or she is worried about usurping the teacher?s role as the leader of the classroom.
Along with not wanting to upset the expected social structure of a classroom, an adult chinese student may be worried about losing face if he or she makes a mistake. Many western teachers might feel as if the extreme anxiety their chinese students feel about looking foolish is irrational, but to chinese people face isn?t only about a single person?s ego: ?Face is collective, not individual for chinese. . . An employee?s error may cause the company to lose face (Dong 5).? An English teacher in china
must be aware of these cultural reasons for adult students to be somewhat shy or passive, and work to make students feel comfortable and understand that there are different expectations in place for English class. It is especially important to not single out students for ridicule if they make mistakes. Conversely, in my experience chinese children who are used to having teachers who demand complete silence, teach entirely through rote memorization and recitation, and physically discipline students who disobey may become extremely rowdy and talkative when being taught by a foreign teacher who encourages speaking out and playing games. Therefore, it is up to the foreign teacher to create an atmosphere that maintains discipline while still encouraging active participation.
Another source of potential problems for chinese learners of English is the enormous number of differences between English and their native language. Many vowel sounds in English do not exist in chinese, making it easy for chinese students to confuse and mispronounce words. A chinese student might, for example, have trouble differentiating between ?I am riding a bike? and ?I am reading a book.? Final consonant sounds, which are infrequent in chinese, also present difficulties. As Paul Shoebottom explains: ?Hill may be pronounced as if without the double ll but with a drawn out i, or as rhyming with killer.? These pronunciation problems can be aggravated by generations of chinese people being taught to speak English by other chinese people (often people who themselves can speak little to no English) and never speaking to native english speakers, creating a sort of negative feedback loop of poor pronunciation (Amity 1).
Along with pronunciation difficulties, the differences between chinese and English grammar are enormous, and often cause confusion for chinese English learners. In chinese, for example, whether something occurs in the past, present or future is almost entirely contextual, making the extremely complicated English tense system somewhat overwhelming for the chinese learner. A teacher, therefore, should take the time to break English grammar into small, manageable parts, and give students lots of time to practice actively using the grammar structures being taught.
Overall, it is true that chinese learners of English face more unique problems than are encountered by students from countries with a culture and language more similar to that of english speaking countries. However, this shouldn?t be looked at as an nothing but a series of headaches for a teacher. Instead, the teacher should take the opportunity to familiarize his or herself with chinese language and culture, so that she can understand what causes the hesitation and confusion she sees in her students, and work to find ways to directly address her students? unique challenges.
Dong, Qiumin, and Yu-Feng L. Lee. "THE chinese CONCEPT OF FACE: A PERSPECTIVE FOR BUSINESS COMMUNICATORS." New Mexico
State University. Web.
"Ma, Why Can't My English Teacher Speak English?" Amity Newsletter | The Amity Foundation. Web. 25 Jan. 2011. .
Wu Man Fat, Manfred. "Problems Faced By chinese Learners in L2 English Learning and Pedagogic Recommendations from an Inter-Cultural Communication Perspective." TELUS Internet Services - Member Services. 2004. Web. 25 Jan. 2011. .