Sunday, March 18, 2012

Starting to Teach English at a Chinese University --Two (or Three) things I wish I had known

 I think the two (or three) things that I wish I had known when I started teaching English at a Chinese university that I did not are:

First, Chinese students are trained to think of English as a subject that is used to pass tests, not for communication. Many will focus on the grade, rather than focus on communication. The good ones will try to do "A level" work, but this is not alway the same thing as displaying good communicative English skills.

In other words, for instance, when I started, I found that when students were assigned to give a presentation on a specific subject, they would often simply memorize lengthy tracts, often only tangentially related to the subject, and then recite these memorized tracts in class without taking the time to look up words they did not know or taking time to learn the underlying meaning of the tracts they recited. In other words, when I assigned a presentation on "using English, travelling and doing business in Israel" (one of several countries that I used for this topic) it did not surprise me terribly much when a student stood up and recited "IF you visit a synogogue you should dress modestly" without having any idea whatsoever as to what a synogogue was.

If you emphasize communication in your classes, you need to state this and state it often and repeat it and show that you mean it so much that they eventually realize that, unlike most of their previous English teachers for many years, you actually mean it.

Second, plagiarism is endemic.This has several implications, one of which being that if you give homework assignments that involve writing, many students will turn in plagiarized work. One of my colleagues gives his written assignments primarily in class because of this. I feel this is not the best use of classtime, but he, his boss, and the students all like it. Dealing with a plagiarized paper is a major waste of time and energy and a real downer. Googling phrases to see where they come from takes a lot of time.

Thirdly, Chinese students are trained to "receive knowledge from the scholar at the front of the room." This is how they are educated. In ESL when the teacher says "Bobby, what do you think?" such actions do not follow this pattern. OTOH, if the traditional method worked well for ESL their English would be better. But if you use a lot of what they would describe as "free talking" then this requires an adjustment for them.

I use a book called "Harvard Business Essentials --Business Communication" and assign work and try to use the Socratic method (as I understand it) to see if they have read and understood it. So basically we are using English to learn public speaking. (then they practice.) I bought the original copy off of a pirated book cart and they get their copies down at the local print shop.

I hope that's some help. All the best.

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