Friday, May 01, 2009

What's wrong with Chinese students?

I should probably preface this with the statement that most students are likable enough on a personal level but what I want to write about today are some of the endemic problems. Today is May Day a national holiday. So I have a little time to reflect on this subject. The first problem is that getting into a university can be a real grueling process. Once they are accepted only a few students proceed with the same vigor as before the final test that gets them to the university. I really don't have any knowledge about the rest of the subjects they take but from the perspective of an English teacher I can say that most of the students I have taught at the university level are mediocre at best some are downright pathetic.

I teach the same book in my sophomore class as I teach to a class of 12 and 13 year old students. Needless to say the level is not that difficult considering they have had ten years of English classes. My new class, the freshmen are quite a bit lower than my sophomore class. This means that 75 per cent of them can't respond to a question, listed in the book with a complete sentence. They are so used to fill in the blanks that they treat an oral English class like a test, responding with a one word answer. This happens time and time again even after instructing them that it is not satisfactory, meaning their listening skills are even worse. This is not difficult to understand as their former English teachers teach English in Chinese. The same backwards logic is prevalent in many aspects of their daily life. In my experience Chinese are the most illogical people I have ever come across.

They don't have much choice as they are required to take English to graduate. One major problem with schools in China is that nobody fails at the University. You pay your money you get your diploma, even if you never come to class. So if you are planning on coming to teach here you should realize that the propaganda you here in the west about how great Asian students are is a total crock of, you know what. For my last classes before this holiday 75 per cent had already left for home or decided to have a five or six day holiday from their classes. I literally have some students I don't know who they are as they have attended one class so far this semester. So in reality they are just shipped away from home and it is four years of play time. I can honestly say most students have more interest in their phones than in learning.

Did you know that the best university in China is not in the top 200 in the world? The sad part, or I should say another sad part about this situation is that the men, boys, will probably get the better jobs and the women will get the left overs. Of course this is a generalization but everyone knows there is preference for boys. Speaking of boys and girls, because that is what they are, 19 and 20 year old children, let me give you a picture of what boys are put through here. The one child law produces a sickening kind of doting from mothers that for most westerners are not accustomed to. The mother don't really seem to control them in one way, discipline, and then totally control them in other ways. Producing what we call in the west, Momma's boys. Everything from hand feeding them to accompanying them everywhere, resulting in no independence at all. Perhaps it is just an example of what is expected of them when their parents get older, total responsibility for them. Thank God, my 80 plus parents are still independent and have planned for their future. From what I see most don't have a lot of contact from fathers.

So, what is the product of this system? College grads who have never had a job, don't know how to do anything, have skated through college and are now totally unprepared for life, love and anything else life may throw at them. They will probably will live with their parents until they marry or even after. Of course the "lucky" ones will have their parents give them a place to live, so they wont' really have it much different than in school as some students bought their way into the universities in the first place. They are easy to spot, they have better clothes, never come to class, and attract nice looking women, who then don't come to class either as they know which side their bread is buttered on. The women will probably be divorced by the time they are through bearing children. You can see that life is not much fun when you walk down any street and look at the etched scowls of women and some men who have not been blessed to be born into the elite. The rest are smiling in blissful ignorance of an over extended childhood where everything is just given too them with little responsibility.

Next post, I will get into what kind of capitalism is in China.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Late Night Post

As summer approaches I look forward to spending some time on Center Street here in Harbin. Have a few of China's best beer, Harbin Beer and catch a performance at one of the beer gardens. Another simple pleasure of the summer is to have an evening meal on the sidewalks. Another nice aspect of the city is winter has it's IceLights and in the summer there are many nice sculpture of living plant shaped as dragons, pandas. For teachers who chose to stay on through the summer this can be a great time for travel or just to kick back and enjoy life away from the responsibilities of teaching. Or for those that are more ambitious, you can make some extra money if you have the right set up. As long as your paperwork is up to date, you can always pick up work at some of the local schools who usually receive an influx of students during the summer holiday. You know, Chinese don't get much of a break, they are constantly in classes. Too many in my opinion but it does work to my advantage if I want to push for more classes and therefore more cash. Hey the way the economy of the world is at this time I hark back to my roots, make hay while the sun shines.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Time Flies

It has been a long time since I posted, let's just say that I have been very busy. If you have read much of the blog you know I teach for a couple of different reasons. One, I like it most of the time and the other reason is to make a living. Nobody will get rich on a foreign teachers salary but it certainly is sufficient to provide a comfortable experience.

I guess it is just not in my nature to want to be an employee. It doesn't make much sense when you can build a good following and a good income from teaching. Currently I am doing about 24 classes a week. Which is an extremely heavy load. Most teachers at a university teach no more than twenty hours, averaging around 14 hours a week. So I work over a full 40 hour week. If you can navigate through the culture and get some help you can always increase your income here in China.

I'm currently getting my status from a business university and I have 6 classes freshmen and sophomores each class for two hours a week. Not really enough time for each class but one of the teachers had a mishap and could not continue his contract. So it seems they just adjusted the students schedules to the number of teachers available.

In future posts I will get into some of the challenges that you might face as a teacher. Hope it is not going to turn into just another rant. Ha ha.



Friday, June 08, 2007

Young students for success

I am now in my fifth year of teaching English in China and during that time my students have become younger and younger. I never really planned this, it is just the way things have developed. Because language acquisition at an early age usually depends more on repetition and drills, you can have a slightly larger class with the younger students. By doing this you can effectively teach up to about twenty students at a time. This means a good income. One of the problems you encounter in China is that by the time students reach middle school their schedule is so packed that they often drop out of English lessons. This is most unfortunate for the student and also for the school or independent teacher. You are always losing students to a busy schedule, right at the time when the students could really be making major strides in fluency. Another aspect that is on a more personal level is that you never really are able to have any kind of intellectual conversation, as the students seldom stick around for the the higher levels of classes. This has been a problem for me as my largest classes have over time become my smallest classes. Sooner or later, you must combine classes, or raise your prices. My highest level classes have about six students. So you are faced with some tough decisions. I want to reward my students who have been loyal but the reality is there is very little loyalty. When you can replace a class that brings in 50 to 60 rmb per hour with a class that brings in up to 250 rmb per hour there is little to consider. This will happen if you become a successful teacher. Getting students at a young age become effortless as word of mouth spreads and if you are independent that is a great thing. But eventually, those classes will start to get smaller as you move into their second or third year of learning.

There will also be some students who cannot move forward for one reason or another and that will make some parents question your ability rather than the study habits or capability of their own child. There is some truth to the saying that there are no bad students only bad teachers, but with some students you can just see the lack of connection inside by the evidence outside. In my experience there will always be three groups within a class, the standouts, the steady learners and the dullards.

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worldtour aka Larry Rhoe

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Teacher Torture in Beijing

I don't usually post twice in one day but I just had to today. I frequently search out other blogs and see what is out there on the teaching front. This post is from the front lines of the battle. If you are in the West you know that there are problems in Schools. It probably depends on your age how you relate to this, but surely all of us knew trouble makers or perhaps you were one of them. The behavior that you will see on this video is probably a teachers worst nightmare. What you have is an elderly Chinese teacher showing considerable restraint in a near hopeless situation. I'm not saying that all schools are like this but certainly this kind of problem exists in other parts of China and the world. One university I taught at which admitted anyone who had the money had similar problems but just to a lesser degree.

I don't have these kind of problems at my school but I do see a lack of discipline. I see parents who just let their kids run wild, climb on my furniture, put their dirty shoes on my walls. Chalk it up to the one child system, cultural differences or whatever. They are good kids most of the time but contrary to what we often believe in the west there are lots of young punks who just don't have any respect for their elders. We as teachers or would be teacher hear that teachers are respected in the East. I think this is generally true, but there are some really bad cases too, just like in the west. The difference the punks don't have access to firearms so there aren't as many headlines, like the recent massacre at Virginia Tech. Here are two links that will show it to you as it happened. It doesn't say much for the future of China, but it did draw serious outrage and an interesting reprisal. You can see it here at The Shanghaist and see some comments here at Global Voices online.

To Translate or not to Translate, that is the Question

If you have taught ESL for any length of time you have probably seen some very interesting translations, or perhaps you have tried to make sense of some instructions for some kind of electronics you may have purchased. That is a real challenge. One reason that I enjoy teaching younger students is that they learn a new language in much the same way that they learn their first language. If a student writes in their first language and tries to translate it into English it surely will be a mangle of bad grammar, word order and vocabulary. Some languages follow similar word order and sentence structure, others do not resemble English, so I always recommend that students do not translate writing from their first language. When a student writes in English they can usually produce a far superior piece of writing. This idea is also true in the oral area of language acquisition. Chinese is quite "flowery" and I'm sure it possesses a very poetic nature, but it just does not translate well without high level skills. So you must insist that the student write from what they know in English.

This brings me to another point that I feel is critical to the development of the students language skills. Many students want to be placed in the more advanced classes, before they have really mastered the basics in the beginning levels. This is really a big mistake. Surely, it is easy to understand that they want to attain higher levels but moving into the more advanced classes is sure to stunt their growth. They frequently cannot comment on the lesson or the concepts. Here in China this is especially true because the system of education does not foster that kind of critical thinking. It does not mean they cannot think for themselves, it only means they are unaccustomed to extrapolating information and forming an opinion, since most of their classes have only one point of view, the teachers. So it is often quite difficult to start or maintain any discussions that require personal opinions. The culture promotes a certain don't talk don't tell attitude. This is quite normal considering the history of free expression. It is not that they can't it just is drilled into them socially. This is changing somewhat as information and ideas flow into their world via the net and other sources. There is a new generation of students who have access to a more worldly view. A few years ago it was practically unheard of to have a student disagree with a teacher. This old view of education, the Greek idea of a discussion between the teacher and the student perhaps is making a comeback. It will certainly be a challenge to the teachers in China as they will have to reeducate themselves in how to teach in this way.

So don't be tempted to place students in higher level classes before they have mastered the easy classes, translate only for vocabulary, and conduct your classes in a way that creates a never ending flow between the text and speaking about it out of the book and your students will begin to think in English and develop good grammar. If you get them at a young age the will be learning in a similar way that students learn in their first language, which translates to accelerated learning.

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worldtour aka Larry Rhoe

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Why Chinese Children drop out of English Classes

For anyone who has taught English as a second language, the problem of turn over, or drop-outs, is a never ending battle. There are many reasons for this which include, scheduling problems, learning problems, differences in ability, teaching styles, and the most difficult one to deal with, parents. I continually have problems with parents who for some reason or other think they know how their children should be educated. Perhaps they have a unexplainable faith in the Chinese system of learning, rote learning, or they site inability to understand, or sometimes it is just overbearing individuals who must enforce their will on all around them. These are the worst type. I told one of my classes that had a mother like this that I was not going to let anyone dictate to me how to teach. Logically this should be easily understood. They come to me as an expert, which has been certified by the authorities, but then they want me to be more like the Chinese teachers. "They don't understand you". Well yes, at first they don't understand much but neglecting the oral side of learning and the listening means they will never be able to have a conversation, other than one that is read from a book. It's such a simple concept, language first and foremost is spoken. The majority of high school and even college graduates cannot have a meaningful conversation beyond "where are you from" and "can you speak Chinese". For those people that have a chance to travel to a English speaking world, this becomes painfully obvious as they are not able to talk to anyone, even after studying over a decade. Many schools cater to the wishes of the parents, reasoning that it is a good business practice. This is a fatal flaw in thinking. There is no reasoning with this sort of person. It's just the wrong thing to do. Stick to your guns. You are the expert. There will be drop-outs no matter what you do, so just conduct your classes in the way that will foster all of the skills needed to become fluent. You really can't teach English by teaching it in Chinese! This has been proven beyond a doubt by the vast majority of students who study for ten years and cannot understand a basic conversation or speak about anything beyond the mundane.

If you are a good teacher, you will receive excellent word of mouth advertising. Of course, this may just fill your bosses pockets with cash or if you're smart and willing to make teaching a full time job for yourself it will fill your own pockets. Fortunately, good teaching will be reflected in the marks that your students receive in their schools, if your grammar lessons are effective. Unfortunately, speaking is not yet tested, but that is changing as the Chinese testing system begins to realize it is just as important as being a good test taker.

worldtour aka Larry Rhoe

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