Tackling ESL Myths: Tips for Teaching English in China

Culture | by Matt Schiavenza
Posted: August 4th, 2009 | Updated: November 1st, 2010 | Comments
Many of us received formal or semi-formal training in the field [of English teaching] prior to walking into a classroom for the first time, an experience rather like being told about bungee jumping before experiencing it. Everything ones learns from teaching comes from trial and error.
For newbies to the field, here are a series of statements regarding the craft that were uttered to me at one time or another. How valid are they? Let’s find out. 1. Knowing Chinese won’t make a difference, and in fact it’s better that you don’t so you can foster an English-only environment in the classroom. Wrong An effective teacher anticipates a students’ frame of reference and acts accordingly. For example, your approach to teaching an eight-year old won’t be the same as your approach to teaching an adult. All of your Chinese students have one thing in common: their native language. A little knowledge of Mandarin can help you understand exactly why all your students seem to make the same mistakes, why they feel comfortable with certain words and not others, and why certain skills in the language come more easily while others don’t come at all.  Lesson plans can be adjusted accordingly, and paying attention to what your students say and write can actually make your Chinese better. Furthermore, an English-only approach can be extraordinarily inefficient. Issuing a command or explaining a concept in Chinese will likely save you the unnerving experience of talking to a group of people who have no idea what you’re going on about. 2. Learning lists of vocabulary isn’t helpful. Try to work around vocabulary by getting students to explain concepts in simple terms. Only to an extent Everyone has had that student who sits with her pocket dictionary and practices million-dollar words that even you don’t know how to use. This same student, invariably, will have trouble stringing together the simplest of sentences. Western education experts scoff at the Chinese focus on vocabulary, and to be fair the Chinese habit of waging a war of attrition against the dictionary isn’t the soundest method of learning English. Too many teachers, though, go out of their way to avoid the teaching of vocabulary at all. These same teachers, when studying Chinese, will then ignore their own advice and write lengthy lists of Chinese characters. At least this is what I did! The best way to teach vocabulary is to choose a group of words similar in meaning and teach students subtle differences between them. It isn’t important that your students know how to use “antidiluvian” in a sentence. Learning how to differentiate watch and see, though, is something that they’ll take away with them. 3. Always plan your lessons meticulously, and include contingency plans. Definitely Every teacher has this story. For whatever reason, whether it be a bad hangover, or a phone call from home, or some other distraction, you just go into the classroom and wing it. Can’t be too big a problem, can it? CONTINUE reading the complete article Tackling ESL Myths on Lost Laowai.
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