Friday, February 23, 2007

Advice from a Chinese English teacher to a foreign English teacher in China

By Simon Wang

For most language teachers, the most frustrating experience is that you try so hard to get your students to speak in class yet they remain so (a)pathetic.

I am always amazed by the success of commercial tutorial schools in motivating their students. The same college students who were so passive in my classrooms got very energetic in the classroom of New Oriental and Crazy English. Maybe that explains why teachers there get higher pay?!

Nevertheless, I believe that it is not what you teach but how you teach it that makes a difference. And for expatriate teachers, it seems that we can probably put the exam issues aside and develop our own approaches to engage the students, for the FL departments seldom involved foreign teachers in the test-prep ordeal.

Here are a few things about teaching English majors I would like to share:

1) The Chinese curriculum for English majors is standardized and test-oriented. Try to promote diversity and individuality in your course.

2) Chinese students lack individual attention from their teachers because the student-faculty ratio is astoundingly high. So, if possible, eat lunches with your students and try to learn what they really need from you. I made the mistake that I tried to offer what I thought was best for my students but it turned out that they did not need it.

3) Career education: All English majors share a so-called "English-only course" in that the only thing they learn in their undergraduate program is English. It is possible that students from other departments can also speak English very well PLUS they have their own specialty. So one thing you can do is to help your students develop transferrable skills useful in many career settings and broaden their horizon beyond the four skills.

4) Part-time jobs for English majors: Traditionally, English majors take part-time jobs to help translate documents or interpret orally. Your course might help the students to explore alternative opportunities -- for example, helping foreigners to set up a corporation in China. Depending on your previous career, you can also share your own perspective with your students.

5) TIC and information gap: Remember the phrase "TIC -- This Is China?" Once some other teachers and I did a lecture on "Presenting China to foreigners in English". As a newcomer to China, you might encourage your students to talk about different aspects in China and you can also trade your perspectives on things with them. Please do NOT shy away from controversial issues such as governmental policy and political reforms. If you, as a foreign teacher, do not offer fresh ideas to Chinese students, who will?

6) Finally, people do not remember much. An American professor of mine told me, he only cared about what his students remembered ten years after taking his course. It all goes back to the old "give a fish or teach how to fish" cliche. Students can always practice their English in their dormitory if they see the need. As a foreign teacher, try to offer something local teachers cannot. And a good language teacher is always, first of all, a good teacher.

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