Teaching English in China As the language of business, English is
As the language of business, English is necessary all across the globe, from South America to Africa and Asia. China, the most populous country in the world, is fast becoming the leading world power. In trying to blend more efficiently into the Modern World, characterized by high technology and the privatization of financial institutions and corporate monopolies, China is adapting many of its practices to accommodate these changes. One of those changes is the fervent desire for the educational system to teacher English. However, due to its very long history and relatively recent emergence into the corporate world, this sometimes creates more hassles than their worth, especially for an international TEFL teacher determined to provide students with the opportunity to practice English.
Because China has shied away from the world for so long, the younger generations carry a passionate thirst for a means to achieve in the global community. In many ways, TEFL teachers become walking advertisements of the English language, people with whom anybody on the streets may practice their English. Karen Bond says that this mob mentality comes from the fact that 'they have no contact with native speakers of English and have little reason to speak it,' with their own people. With examples like this, one might be inclined to assume everybody in China is so eager to learn English.
The working environment often tells a severely different story. In many ways, China is still very much a third world country. Financial allocation to public schools remains far behind schools of the west regarding resources available and curriculum. In some instances, the available resources consist only of a blackboard, chalk, and a teacher's imagination. On the flip side, it also provides the teacher to customize his or her own curriculum. Because there are such few opportunities for Chinese locals to speak English, the classroom truly becomes an interactive setting, where writing and reading take a back-seat to spoken expression and viable use.
Whatever the situation is, it behooves the prospective teacher to prepare some form of curriculum before the classes begin. Despite this advice, knowing just what the students' level is can be a tricky procedure, especially when most Chinese administrations are so relaxed when dealing with foreign teachers. My first day at one school, my supervisor took me to the class I was scheduled to teach. When I asked what level they were and with what areas they had problems, he shrugged. 'Teach them English,' was all he said. Sadly, this is the norm, rather than an exception.
With so much of the Educational context revolving around rote memorization of words and their definitions, a high disparity exists between functional English and read and written English. In other words, many schools see English as something to be taught by the native Chinese teachers, where the methodology directs all attention towards written examinations that would make the GRE blush in confusion. What little spoken English is verbatim from a book with a poor emphasis on pronunciation. In the eyes of the school administration, so long as the students are capable of answering the questions on paper, their inability to speak the language is immaterial. This puts a huge weight on International TEFL teachers to encourage their students not only to think dynamically, but to correct their inability to make an effective 'th' or 'l' sound.
A major impediment in the success of this task is the propensity for schools to jam fifty to one hundred twenty students into one classroom. According to results uncovered by Zhichang Xu, many students complain that these large classes hinder their ability to actually practice the language; they are unable to ask questions, to discuss various topics, and complain that the whole learning process 'has nothing to do with [the student].' For certain, simple mathematics would support this conclusion; if a fifty minute class period is broken up among a class of 50 students, it leaves one full minute of speaking time for each student. That hardly constitutes effective opportunity for most students wishing to practice the language.
Often the administration could care less. While the English language is critical for China's populace to learn to some degree of effectiveness, they do not expect foreign teachers to teach it. Not really. Because foreign faces are so uncommon there, many schools, universities and private tutoring programs use the 'lao wei' as a means of recruiting students to the schools. In many ways, International teachers are treated as public figures more than they are teachers. But one should not be sucked completely into this trap. Because when it comes time to teach, it is a teacher and a classroom of students. Whether the teacher is merely a 'dancing monkey' to the school's administration, once the teacher enters a classroom, the students are hers, and every second becomes as valuable as gold.
Bond, Karen M.A. 'Teaching English Online' originally published in the Guardian, Friday, 27th June, 2003
Xu, Zhichang 'Problems and strategies of teaching English in large classes in the People´s Republic of China' 2002. ' Curtin University of Technology
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