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Category Archives: chinese students

Below is a link to six speaking samples of two college students. What score would you give them?

6 samples rar

Please listen to each sample carefully and score each individually. They may have been made at different times.

For business topics the student is speaking from a prompt card that had a topic and the student had 3 minutes to prepare. The student had no access to any materials to prepare, only time to think and plan. For personal topics the answers were spontaneous to the questions.

Give one score per sample. If you want to use the IELTS scale, you can find the band descriptors here: IELTS Speaking Band Descriptors. Please say what scale you are using.

Generally, it is expected that students can speak about familiar topics, like family or friends, better than unfamiliar topics like business. So the difficulty of the task has to be considered in scoring.

Now you can try it: Can you rate speaking?

Please do not discuss your scores on the List until all of the scores have been published after the one month waiting period. If you have any questions or problems, please contact Dave Kees at: davekees[at]gmail.com.

Write your scores in the “Leave a comment” section on the left side of this page or click here: Comments. All score submissions will be withheld for one month and then published. This way submissions will not be influenced by previous submissions.

Your score:

What scale?:

Sample 1:
Sample 2:
Sample 3:
Sample 4:
Sample 5:
Sample 6:

(Special prize for the submissions that are closest to the average scores. The prize is Uncle Dave’s Tie Score Tie. Yes, now you can be the envy of your school and own one of these specially designed high-quality silk ties perfect for teachers who do oral English testing. While the student is talking, the teacher can adjust the gold tie clip up or down to indicate to the student how he is doing and as a reminder to the teacher of how the student performed! Note: This offer is void in countries outside of China and in all areas inside of China.)

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By Dick Tibbetts – University of Macau, Macau, China

This is a fascinating study and so much rings true that I go along with all that I’ve managed to read so far.

On the Chinese side there is the view of education as the ingesting of information and lack of emphasis on the synthesis of information to create and advance. There is the xenophobia that assists the belief that one can teach a neutral English that allows learners to absorb information but not evaluate any of the values and attitudes associated with that information. There is the view of teaching as a job that is done between certain times with little thought of being more than a figurehead in front of the class and there is the inability of many teachers, in spite of official statements of aims, to move beyond the stage of reading the textbook to their students – pure information transmission that makes no attempt to involve learners and, when students already have the textbook, makes no attempt to come to terms with a new reality. This isn’t a problem of Chinese teachers alone; I’ve come across plenty of Western presenters at conferences who read from the handouts they have given their audience while displaying the same words with Powerpoint on the screen behind them. But experience in Chinese schools and colleges lead me to believe that “teacher holds the book” is a very common scene in the classroom.

The article also brings to the fore the inability of the Chinese administration to evaluate teaching except in terms that have little to do with learning and more to do with time keeping. This causes problems with foreign teachers especially because they tend to fall outside the criteria used by administrators to judge teachers and there is in consequence a bewilderment among the Chinese when it turns out that inadequate teachers have been employed but the administration is unsure even how to judge their inadequacy. The reaction described in the article is typically xenophobic – a shrug of the shoulders followed by “well, they aren’t Chinese”.

I read the potted descriptions of some foreign teachers. I may have missed some but of those I read none had much in the way of TEFL qualifications or TEFL experience. The teachers described had various degrees of enthusiasm for their work and various amounts of previous classroom experience but, in the absence of any real syllabus or teaching aims, they lacked the knowledge to design and implement effective courses. I’d say the university desperately needed experienced TEFL teachers with post graduate qualifications both theoretical and practical. A team with a few TEFL MAs and DELTAS coupled with at least 10 years solid TEFL experience for each member might be able to put togetehr an effective program, though the administration might well then swipe it aside as the administration would be unable to comprehend such a program.

I will read the whole thing more carefully because I want to find signs for hope for the future. Many of the views and attitudes quoted in the article were identical to those expressed by Chinese emperors, diplomats and officials over the last three or four centuries and I believe it is these attitudes that changed China from a from an innovative civilisation with a technology well in advance of the West, a country that came within a whisker of starting an industrial revolution centuries before Britain and Europe, into a country where thinking and change are seen as risky occupations. There must be a way forward but so often I see Chinese in authority struggling to keep the status quo and effectively managing to turn the future into the past.

http://www.agelastos.com/disengagement/326-362.pdf

The ‘home page’ for the complete text can be found at:
http://www.agelastos.com/disengagement

Examinations are approached as if the pupils were enemies who must be attacked by surprise. All this discourages young people from energetically taking charge of their own moral, intellectual and physical education”. Mao was also greatly concerned by the health of school pupils. Immediately after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, he wrote twice to the Minister of Education, Ma Xulun, pressing for the schools to be given the following instructions: ‘Health first, studies second’. He returned to that theme on many occasions: ‘We must ensure that young people are in good health, study well and work hard’. A balance must be struck between studies on the one hand, and, on the other hand, relaxation, rest and sleep.

>By Kenton Sutherland – Emeritus Professor, San Mateo (California) Community College District English Language Specialist, United States Department of State

A teacher in Beijing states that “in China, many English learners will learn words directly from a vocabulary book by remembering the form and one or two Chinese translations of that word” and then goes on to ask if there is a more effective way to learn vocabulary.

This method of learning word meanings does not seem to me to have much value in actual English practical usage. Chinese learners are known to have phenomenal skills at memorizing, but unless they can use the memorized words in meaningful situations, the words are stored like dictionary entries, waiting to be “looked up,” many never to be used, drifting away and getting foggy in long-term memory.

When I was a schoolboy, I had to memorize the capital cities of all 48 American states — this was in the 1940s, before Hawaii and Alaska joined the Union — and I got an “A” on the test on capitals, but today I don’t think I can remember half of them. It was all a meaningless exercise that caused me some anguish at the time, especially trying to remember whether Bismark was the capital of South Dakota or North Dakota. Sixty years later, I still can’t get them straight, nor have I ever had the opportunity to use either Bismark or Pierre until now, even though these two names for the Dakota capital cities have somehow managed to stay in my long-term memory. Wait! Is one of them the capital of Nebraska? None of this memory “learning” was ever meaningful to me, and I suggest that similar memorization exercises in trying to learn English vocabulary are equally meaningless for Chinese learners and therefore pretty much useless, yet another blind alley.

So, what’s the alternative to memorization? Mert Bland hit the nail on the head when he replied: “The more a student is exposed to a word in diverse contexts, the firmer grasp that student gets of the word.” In effect, the students needs lots and lots of different kinds of activities in which to receive and use new words — oral practices, games, songs, rhymes, jazz chants, readings of all kinds, radio English, television, DVDs and/or videotapes, film, karaoke, drama and theater games, readers’ theater, conversation clubs, internet time, chat rooms, pen pals, e-mails in English computer-assisted instruction, talking with foreigners in English, travel outside China, lectures in English, etc. Sometimes it takes several inputs before a student grasps a word’s meaning and even more inputs before a student actually understands in what situations the word can be used. That’s why Mert stressed “diverse contexts” and “the more a student is exposed.” In short, the key to effective vocabulary learning lies precisely in providing massive exposure to English in as many different situations and contexts as possible.

>By Anna – Beijing, China

I think showing movies to the students is one of the best ways to teach English (if not the best). There’s almost everything in the movies. Everything is authentic. Students at all levels need to watch movies as much as they can, provided time and money affordable. Like in my school, which has primary and high school students, we have different movies for the students. For little kids, we have Tom & Jerry, Rainbow Fish, etc.; for high school students, we have Noting Hill, Antz, Men in Black and so on. In universities, they offer a course called “advanced visual-aural-oral skills” for graduate students.

Movies can be used for different purposes. As there’s almost everything in them, teachers need to direct Ss’ attention to some of them. As a Chinese myself, I find watching movies most challenging. There’s always a lot that I can’t figure out while watching a movie. That’s the exact area where the Chinese Ss need help from a foreign teacher because it has the least to do with grammar. It’s all live English for which we may not find any help or explanation from our textbooks or grammar books. Besides, it’s a rich resource of cultural things.

>By Steven McMath – Guangzhou, China

“I live in a harmonious family…”

Apparently Chinese people actually say this in Chinese. I suppose it is similar to China’s harmonious society. A Chinese friend expressed surprised that it wasn’t good English. I suppose we just like to call a spade a spade more often.

“My home town is very beautiful, is very famous and the food is delicious… “

“Today I want to talk about my washing machine…”

Again, Chinese people actually say these things in Chinese, except the washing machine bit which came from an IELTS book co-written by an New Oriental Chinese English teacher and a Chinese ‘genius’ who went to Oxford. The book was full of grammar mistakes as well. It took me about 2 years to get the department to stop selling it to the students.

Surprisingly students do tell me that Guangzhou is beautiful. I tell them, as much as I like Guangzhou, please look out the window for a moment. They laugh. Luckily Guangzhou people have a sense of humour and can laugh at themselves which is one reason why I like Guangzhou.

I’m asking a Chinese friend for some insights as I write this. Apparently everyone has been singing songs about how beautiful and famous their hometown is since they were small children. My Chinese friend tells me that they talk about delicious food because their lives are boring so they focus on the food. I think he is probably
over intellectualising. I think they are just obsessed with food.

One girl told me once that her home town was famous because of bamboo. Apparently Zhongshan is famous because Bruce lee came from there. Except that he didn’t and having personally been interested in martial arts for years, I had never heard of that before.

I find I have no need to make fun of the expressions. They want to do well in the IELTS exam and I want to help them do so, so we have a real goal congruence. I did make fun of the girl who said her hometown was famous because of Bamboo though. I couldn’t help myself. I do sometimes make fun of what they say but only for a laugh.

“My hometown is located approximately 173.5 km from the centre of Guangzhou. It has a population of 376,472 people. And a dog. It is very beautiful. It is very famous. The food is delicious. Welcome to my hometown.” It gets a laugh.

The latest one that has cropped up in the last year in Guangzhou is “I come from a nuclear family”. When was the last time you heard a native speaker say that?

>By Karen Stanley – Central Piedmont Community College, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA

One effective way of having students ask questions, I’ve found, is to sit down/stand in the corner, not saying anything, and simply wait for the students to say something. This is often after I’ve explained something a bit complicated, and expect that it will take students time to absorb what I’ve said before they can even figure out if they have questions.

Sometimes I will ask *them* a question and wait. Once in a while, no one ever says *anything*, and after waiting quite a long time (I’ve learned to wait quite patiently), I finally take pity on them and begin myself. Of course, I don’t deal with classes of all Chinese students, and don’t know how that kind of waiting would work in that type of classroom.

I have thought about using the following technique for dealing with student questions (I heard about it in a presentation some time ago), but have never actually *tried* it. I keep thinking I should (someday, of course).

The teacher hands out index cards (or small pieces of paper, since I understand index cards are hard to come by in China) at the beginning of class. During the class, students have to write down a question about something the teacher explains during the class. The students turn in the questions as they leave class. The teacher can then go through them and use them at the beginning of the next class.

>By Pete Marchetto

I think the central problem with the teaching of English in China is that it’s an examination subject and the examinations here seem to have precious little connection with natural use of the language focusing instead on relatively or purely academic aspects. This is what I meant when I said that a solid grounding in grammar, language history and so on are all well and good but I feel I have been of most benefit here when I have released the pent-up ability to actually USE the language.

At my last place of work a fellow teacher – Chinese – told me of a friend of hers who got 19 out of 20 in an examination and was deemed to have failed for his one wrong answer though he was an excellent student. The question asked which of the following forms was correct – ‘The bird is IN the tree’: ‘The bird is ON the tree’. The student declared the latter correct and afterwards argued strongly that a bird perched on the exterior of the tree could be said to be on, rather than in, the tree – but this, unfortunately, didn’t concur with the Chinese Manual of Prescriptive and Occasionally Inaccurate English Grammar. I don’t know about everyone else in here but I’m on the side of the student in this one – I have no qualms about saying ‘The bird is ON the tree’.

One of the biggest blocks I suspect all of us have to overcome is the belief students have that they can’t speak English. Indeed, two of the teachers here have told me they can’t use English to express themselves. I pointed out to them, as I point out to the students when they make the same complaint, that they seemed to be doing a perfectly good job of expressing themselves to me. This is what I mean by a ‘pent-up’ ability; the schooling they’ve received in English is far from useless but the ability to use the language it creates exists merely as a potential until someone comes along and encourages them to use it. Not having used it they believe themselves incapable of doing so.

In releasing that potential I have to give the students the revelation that it is fine for them to make mistakes. Inevitably mistakes are made, and many of them given that students have so rarely been called upon simply to speak. Not being chastised for mistakes, however, seems almost alarming for some of the students. If they make mistakes, they ask, and aren’t corrected for them, won’t those mistakes become entrenched? I point out to them that the continual mixing of he/she, for example, if corrected on each hearing, will fragment any conversation beyond its value as communication and a promotion of fluency. It’s not as if the students don’t know the gender rules; it’s merely that lack of practice has those mistakes so oft repeated. Such problems will work themselves out, wrinkles in language that will be ironed out the more they use it and the more natural it becomes for them to use it. Correcting them each time negates the value of the practice and, ironically, of itself is liable to entrench the errors – along with many other problems – in their conversational English.

Students also worry that in having conversation with one another mistakes will become entrenched. On that issue I point out to them that parents don’t stop children acquiring their native tongue speaking with other children lest they reinforce each ‘s errors. With further exposure to the correct use of the
language at other times again the errors are ironed out. Do they think that a four year old Chinese permitted only to speak to adults who use the language properly and never allowed to speak to other four year olds even though adults are rarely available to them in comparison to other four year olds would grow up with a better or worse grasp of Chinese? Where I will make corrections – as far as possible at the end of conversations, not within them – is in other areas such as the inappropriate use of vocabulary and common errors where something is clearly misunderstood; the excessive use of ‘very’, the cultural error in the frequent use of ‘delicious’ are two examples; the pronunciation ‘clothIES’ or ‘clothESIES’ for ‘clothes’; a word poorly understood from a dictionary as recently where students in debate were gaily throwing around the word ‘moribund’ to describe a group of healthy dogs that were about to be put into a situation where they would almost inevitably die which fitted the dictionary definition of the word but missed out on some of its subtleties.

When someone tells me they want to improve their English I ask them bluntly whether they want to improve their English for use or for exams? If the latter I will gently suggest they find themselves a Chinese teacher. English exams in China are so abstruse that I suspect I, as a mere native speaker, erstwhile professional writer and ex-member of MENSA, would not only fail in teaching for those examinations but also be very likely – if faced with them – to fail the examinations themselves.

I realise that none of this holds anything new for anyone who has been teaching here for over six months but there are new teachers who might be saved some of the confusion all of us felt on arriving in China to teach for the first time. For those of you yet to arrive you are in for a treat; where else in the world can you get students who are unable to speak English and bring them up to the level of fairly fluent conversationalists in under a year?

>By Eve Ross – Beijing Institute of Machinery

I devoted half a lesson to “gestures” in my Oral English class last term. The lesson segment mainly consisted of a class brainstorm of all the gestures students could think of. I asked them to explain the meaning of each gesture, and I confirmed whether Westerners give it the same meaning or not. Most gestures they thought of were fairly universal.

When they were starting to run out of ideas, I nodded my head vigorously, and asked what that meant. They all said, “Yes.” I told them that in most parts of the world, that is the correct answer, but not in Bulgaria. When Bulgarians nod their head, they mean “no”, and when they shake their head, they mean “yes”. I asked the students to imagine the miscommunication that could occur between a foreigner and a Bulgarian who were not aware of the different meaning.

I then pointed out some gestures that Chinese often make, which foreigners may perceive as having a different meaning than the Chinese intend: (1) limp handshakes, (2) slightly sticking out the tongue, and (3) the Chinese signs for the numbers 6, 8, and 10. Holding hands with someone of the same sex should probably be added to this list, as well as hailing a cab; I hadn’t thought of either of these at the time. Can anyone else on the list think of more gestures that should be discussed?

Here is how I explained the three gestures in my lesson:

(1) I demonstrated an especially limp handshake, then showed my wobbly hand to the class, “Doesn’t it look like a fish that came out of the water and died? When you shake hands, don’t give the person a dead fish. They don’t want it. They will think it shows disrespect. The stronger your hand, the more a Westerner will think you are friendly and honest.” Then I had each person shake hands with a partner as I went around the room doing random handshake firmness checks.

(2) I told a story in which I was supposed to go to my husband’s office to bring him a paper with urgent information on it that he had left at home. I rode a bus, I took the subway, I walked to the office building, and when I saw my husband, I reached for my bag to hand him the paper,…and I realized I had forgotten my bag and the paper! I flicked my tongue out, then asked the students, “What is the meaning of that gesture?” They all recognized it as embarrassment. But then I told them that was the first time in my whole life I had made that gesture. I have only seen it in China; it doesn’t exist in the West. The only gestures Westerners make with their tongue all show disrespect. So a Westerner might perceive the Chinese tongue gesture as disrespect, rather than embarrassment. If Westerners were extremely ashamed, they might lower their head or cover their eyes. But mild embarrassment is usually just laughed about.

(3) I demonstrated the numbers 1-5 by holding up the right number of fingers, then asked the students how to show me how to do “6”. They all made the gesture of index, middle, and ring fingers folded down, with thumb and pinky extended. I showed them that Westerners show “6” by holding up all 5 fingers of one hand, and one finger (or the thumb) of the other hand. The Chinese gesture for “6” means “telephone” to most Westerners. I then held my hand in that form near my head, with thumb by my ear and pinky by my mouth. The students thought that was really funny. Also, the index finger and thumb extended in an L shape means “8” to Chinese and “gun” to Westerners. And crossing index and middle fingers means “10” to Chinese and “good luck” to Westerners.

To sum up the lecture, I divided students into groups to create conversations using at least 5 of the gestures mentioned in class– with the meanings that Westerners attach to those gestures, should there be a difference.

>By Dick Tibbetts, University of Macau, China

A teacher discussing common errors by Chinese English students shared some examples: “’Because he felt ill, so he went to the doctor’ instead of ‘Because he felt ill, he went to the doctor’ Because … so and Although …. but are common errors caused by an overemphasis on translation. ‘How to say…’ instead of another gap filler, eg: ‘How can I put it’, ‘What’s the word’, etc.”

How to say? and How to spell? have both become entrenched. Students often know it’s not standard but it’s hard to change.

Some more:

Heavy overuse of connectives – therefore, moreover, furthermore, nevertheless etc. These are used some 80 times as frequently as native speakers writing äcademic English essays. I’m teaching students to make more use of referential pronouns, synonyms and other devices for cohesion and also to use the topic and content for cohesion rather than throwing connectives in at the beginning of sentences and paragraphs. I should say that they use the connectives (apart from “on the other hand”) with a correct meaning, it’s just that the overuse of these marked forms makes their work harder to read.

Misuse of referential pronoun “It” in:

“Some travellers catch diseases. It is because they do not take precautions.”

I teach that in these sort of cases, Statement followed by explicit reason/explanation, it’s a good rule of thumb that initial “It” refers forward, initial “This” refers back.

False passives with certain verbs:

“It was happened yesterday.” “He was arrived yesterday.”

Again an error caused by over reliance on translation. These are all common errors with Cantonese speakers, by the way. I don’t know how relevant they are for Chinese with Putonghua as their first language.

I notice an extension of the verb “play” to cover an area much wider than its common use in English. This also happens with the use of school to cover tertiary education, but I think that US English accepts this more than British so I don’t worry too much except when I’m trying to get a more adult approach to education.

Another: “This is base on ….”

I think the passive is hard for Chinese students because they only know the form, not the use so it’s hard to recognise and fit it in.