Chinese teachers and American students

Posted on February 28, 2009. Filed under: American culture, Asian culture, chinese culture, cross cultural, education | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

My company ran a number of beginning Chinese conversation classes for one corporation, with locations in 5 states. While I was at first concerned about coordinating the multi-state program, what turned out to be the biggest challenge was working with Chinese teachers.

The differences in teaching styles, as well as expectations surrounding classroom management, were enormous. The instructors were not very familiar or comfortable with a communicative approach to language instruction (emphasizing interaction and real life communication; not grammar focused).  The Chinese instructors were used to top-down instruction, and were not as skilled acting as facilitators.

The American students (all adults) expected to be active participants in the class. They wanted teachers who were knowledgeable in the subject area, dynamic, creative and energetic. For the Chinese instructors, being dynamic and creative were not as important.

Our beginning level language classes use a great deal of  Total Physical Response (TPR). TPR is a fast-paced activity that helps students develop listening comprehension skills and increase their vocabulary. In TPR, students follow the teacher’s instructions to complete certain actions over and over. (think Simon Says). Commands grow in length and complexity as the course continues. Students can feel immediate success without having to produce utterances.

All of the Chinese instructors were unfamiliar with this technique, which is standard in ESL, and had to be coached. They found it very useful, but I was stunned at the lack of creativity and spontaneity. After a few class sessions, I got calls from some teachers asking if they could purchase flash cards of different pictures to use for the TPR lessons. They said they had “run out” of things to talk about. Run out!  That’s the beauty of TPR–you can’t run out. Even if you use every single noun in the room with every possible verb, you still have pronouns to run through, not to mention all those prepositions. And all of these, in an endless variety of combinations. Run out?

All of the teachers were committed professionals. They were eager to learn new teaching methods, and were willing to try out new techniques. At course completion, they all recieved excellent student evaluations. I wonder if the results would have been the same if they had not been coached in American teaching methods and student expectations?


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10 Responses to “Chinese teachers and American students”

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You’ve described the Chinese teaching method exactly. But it’s interesting how the Chinese teachers had to change to adapt to their students’ desires… not the other way around.

There were 2 reasons the teachers had to adapt to the students and not the other way around. First, this corporation we delivered training for was a paying client and it was our responsibility to meet their needs. Second, a good teacher adapts to the learning style of her students, and is able to differentiate instruction based on learner needs.

a good teacher adapts to the learning style of their students?? Then during my 5 years in China I was a bad teacher… because I certainly didn’t adapt to my Chinese students’ learning styles… I rarely made them memorize something. I rarely gave them a lot of homework. I made them speak in class… Oops!!

I said a good teacher adapts not adopts to the style of the students. For example, I know that many Asian students loathe the idea of being put on the spot to speak spontaneously in front of the class. To adapt to this, I often have them begin speaking in small groups, where they are less under the microscope. Once they develop confidence to speak, and the class builds an atmosphere of trust, I will ask them to speak in front of class individually.
I think any good communicator has a sense of audience awareness and identifies the best way to get their message across.

Regarding your question: “I wonder if the results would have been the same if they had not been coached in American teaching methods and student expectations?”

Definitely NO! Somehow I think it is the Chinese teachers who have to adapt to the american teaching style over there. But I do doubt if American teachers can use the same technique in China…. where teachers just spoon-feed the students the knowledge and skills.

And you also said “All of the Chinese instructors were unfamiliar with this technique, which is standard in ESL…”

I wonder if the same standards can be used to teach another language? What would happen if they use the same technique to teach a language back their country? Or would they have to be re-coached again back to the original style?

From my experiences, there are different kinds of English as there are different kinds of Chinese… for exmple the Scottish English, Irish English, Japanese English…etc. And there’s the Taiwanese Chinese, North China accent, South China accent, Singaporean Chinese, Malaysian Chinese…etc.

So it would be an interesting experience for students to know these differences after they mastered the basics of Chinese language (the standard one).

Sorry Angeline…But there’s no such thing as JAPANESE ENGLISH, IRISH or SCOTTISH… those are all accents. Good or bad.

Funny English used around the world:

The accent is one thing….. the way they use the English language and words that they created when using it is different.

Scottish English does exist.

Further information on International varieties of English:

I know exactly what you are talking about. As a language school owner (and Mandarin teacher) I have been overseeing Mandarin programs for years (among other languages). I can throw an Italian teacher with little experience into a class and somehow, through hand gestures, kidding and chatting they have all their students speaking in the target language by the end of the first class. But most Mandarin teachers experienced a very different learning process in their own country and being creative and “off-the-cuff” does not come naturally. Yes, I am sure the training helped a lot. If I hire an experienced teacher who is a bit old school, I give a little interactive training. But, really the most successful approach in getting Mandarin teachers to use more of a communicative approach is to hire Chinese actors, musicians, artists, or Chinese nationals who are more comfortable being creative with teaching. Doing a training on lesson planning, grammar, etc. is much easier as you aren’t attempting to change the very base of the teacher’s personality.

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