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Category Archives: chinese teachers

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.

The ‘home page’ for the complete text can be found at:


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 Tan Chong Ling

I am a chinese and I am bilingual and presently in China.

Many western teachers in China are sincerely trying their best and doing a good job in teaching English .BUT there are also many unqualified ones coming over to teach in China who do not even have proper training in teaching or a major in English or education. They may speak and use the language well but they do not know HOW TO TEACH to the Chinese people as a second language. They do not even understand what Chinese language is and how the Chinese learn their mother tongue.

If they cannot understand the vast liguistic difference and cultural difference between Chinese and English, how on earth would they be able to help the students handle the problems effectively? I think it is both a teaching experience and learning experience for the western teachers coming over to China to teach English. You have to know them, understand them, before you can teach them, right?

Are all the western teachers in China “qualified” to be English teachers? Do they really know how to teach English as a second language in China? Do they understand the Chinese?

I do not claim to know more English than you but as long as I can communicate clearly and concisely my point to anyone in English, I think I have achieved my objective of learning English as a second language . And I did not take any lessons from any Western English teacher – all my English teachers are Asian….

In fact, there is nothing so special being able to use English, it is just another international language..for us to COMMUNICATE.

>By Dick Tibbetts, University of Macau, China

A teacher asked: “Did anybody else read the article about small classes in the November issue of Scientific American? Basically it said that class size reduction was a waste of time and money, usually because teachers changed neither their materials nor their methods to suit the new class structures. This is definitely something I agree with. How about everybody else?”

This came up in Hong Kong back in the late 80’s – early 90’s. They halved some class sizes because they thought it would lead to improved language learning. The teachers, as Sci American says, carried on as normal, confronting their classes with the microphone of power held in front and being as teacher centred and exercise bent as usual.

But those of us who are used to a range of class sizes tend to adapt our approach to suit the situation. If I could get my classes of 30+ down to 20 I’d be teaching in a somewhat different way. If I had them in groups of 12 it would be different again.

Hong Kong teachers seem to dislike change more than any group I’ve ever come across, partly because there is a lack of commitment in the profession and partly because the teachers’ English is often not good enough to cope with the demands of more communicative English that are more difficult to brush aside in smaller classes.

>By Eve Ross – Beijing Institute of Machinery, Beijing

A teacher asked, “Did anybody else read the article about small classes in the November issue of Scientific American? Basically it said that class size reduction was a waste of time and money, usually because teachers changed neither their materials nor their methods to suit the new class structures. This is definitely something I agree with. How about everybody else?”

I took a beginning Chinese class at my school in which there were 4 foreign students, including myself. The teacher sat at the front of the room, and read the textbook to us (with her face hidden behind the book so that we could neither see her mouth move nor hear her very clearly). She asked us sometimes to answer the questions at the end of the chapter, but whether we got the answer right or wrong she would say, “hao” and continue. There was no oral practice other than this. There was no written work. She did not call on us when we raised our hands to ask questions. She came to class just as the bell rang and left just as the bell rang, leaving us no time to speak to her before or after class. She never even learned our names. The three of us who were auditing stopped going after a couple of weeks. The one enrolled student continued to attend, and told us that there was no change in the teaching method even when there was only one teacher for one student! This may be an extreme example, but it is true.

I would change my teaching method if given smaller classes, though. I know because I taught classes of 10 or 15 before coming to China, and I now find myself unable to do with 35 students some of the activities I did with the smaller classes.

>By Pete Marchetto

My favourite new vocabulary taught to me by my students is ‘operose’ meaning onerous. My least favourite is ‘autocade’, a variation on ‘motorcade’ which, when you look at the word parts, is an ugly one. I advised the students to use ‘motorcade’ instead, not that I can see them having much use for it. I also found myself getting confused by the word ‘bimonthly’; did it mean twice a month or once every two months? It transpires, to my surprise and disturbance, that it can mean both.

‘Bimonthly’ aside, ‘operose’ and ‘autocade’ demonstrate something I’ve long felt in the repetitious complaint amongst some that foreign teachers are regarded as mere window-dressing. I flatter myself in thinking that even if that is how I’m regarded – and I sincerely hope I’m not – then the reality is very different. It’s clear from talking to the students that they have comparatively little understanding of English as a tool for general communication having had it taught to them like Mathematics as some other purely abstruse subject.

What we expose the students to far better than their Chinese teachers sometimes seem capable of is English as it is used 90% of the time, ie: in daily conversation. I am slowly weaning my students off the idea that there is some perfect ‘answer’ as to how to express oneself along lines of 1 + 1 = 2; that ‘often’ might be pronounced with a ‘t’ and might not; that the simplest words are usually the best; that ‘delicious’ used repeatedly lacks sincerity; that they, with their Chinese accents, are often more understandable to most of the English-speaking world than, say, a native English speaker who has had the misfortune to be have been born in Yorkshire and perhaps it’s not worth the dozens of hours of effort to change when a certain level has been reached for that fraction of a percent of ‘improvement’; dozens of things that move English away from the purely academic and into the realms of practical use and more intuitive understanding.

It’s much the same with my culture classes. There is no point at all preparing facts and figures for the class because every time I do I find they know everything I’ve researched already and then some. That said they’re still hung up on the idea that it’s compulsory for meeting British people to talk about the weather, that London is perpetually foggy, that we all carry umbrellas, that Christmas is a joyful time of the year and similar nonsense.

Back to oral lessons and, when discussing them with my students, I liken them to someone learning how to paint. After a while you have to move away from learning how to mix pigments, which brush to use, how to prepare the canvas, the rules of perspective and just PAINT something. Heaven knows they only get an hour or two a week with me to do it in; the rest of the time they’ll be crammed with still more book-larnin’.

I still think / hope that I’m appreciated by my department. I KNOW I’m appreciated by my students. Above and beyond that, I know the job I’m doing is valuable and so do my best to do it well by making it interesting, challenging, amusing, realistic and so on.

Two of my most pleasant memories in China are of oral lessons. One of a very slow student lacking in confidence suddenly discovering he was able to make his fellows laugh through his sense of humour in English. From that lesson on he bonded better with classmates from more sophisticated backgrounds, (his family being cave-dwellers), and became enthusiastic about expressing himself in lessons. He advanced tremendously in the months that followed.

The other was a debate in class where people became heated. I was tempted to wade in and stop the arguments but held back. To my surprise no one lapsed into Chinese and the argument came close to abuse. Things calmed down, the belligerents made up… and I realised that the instinct that had led me to let it run had been a good one; for the first time ever the students had used English out of a desperate URGE to express themselves in a genuinely emotional situation which had then to be resolved through delicate negotiation.

For those of us who don’t feel valued, it doesn’t mean that what we’re doing isn’t valuable. Just a thought…

>By Nancy Bushwell

I was amazed when I was told at my second school that teachers were fined if they sat down during class! This explains why there are no teachers’ chairs at my school.

I was also told that I was a foreigner, so this didn’t apply to me. After I hurt my heel from too much walking, I bought a folding chair and a bicycle chain, and locked the chair to a desk when I wasn’t in class.

Sitting down was doctor’s orders, though I still got up and walked around at times. I couldn’t teach oral English without walking around but, on the other hand, I would have difficulty teaching two classes in a row without sitting.

To this foreigner’s eyes, I think it’s unfair to the Chinese teachers that they can’t sit, especially when they have two classes in a row. I wonder if they have ever complained?

>Hong Xiu Ping, Gateway Language Village, Zhuhai, China

I have often heard comments from Chinese teachers that foreigners do not know how to teach English. They are hired by many schools just for the face value. Even some Russians are teaching English in a private school in Shenzhen because they look western. Parents are paying top dollars sending their kids to this kind of school and they want western looking teachers to teach their kids. Asian looking teachers, whether native speakers or experienced Chinese teachers are often treated as second class teachers. This is not healthy but it happens often.

We have a very mixed team. We have Chinese teachers from China as well as from Hong Kong, USA. We also have a few teachers from India. One of the most popular teacher we have is from India. We use Chinese teachers to teach beginner students and we use native speakers to teach elementary and above. Yes, native speakers without qualifications and esl experiences are used as teaching assistants to act as conversation partners for students. Once they gain enough experience, they can be promoted to teacher positions.

As we only admit adults or youth above 16 years old, we normally do not need to deal with some ignorant and prejudiced parents who demand for western looking teachers with American accent or British accent. Students are not allowed to choose their teachers in our school. They are assigned to the class according to their level.

Personally, I believe native speakers are indispensable for language study. To be fluent and proficient, one needs to learn many things from native speakers, not just vocabulary and grammar. No matter how experienced they are, non native language teachers can not provide all the language elements the students need. A good native English teacher is one who can teach different level students, even the very beginner