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The biggest challenge in teaching English

By MichaelM ( Updated: 2015-01-14 17:26

A little more than 20 years ago, as part of the great 'opening up' of China, Chinese educators realized the need to teach English and to employ native speaking English teachers to come here and teach. Along with foreign teachers coming here, companies such as New Oriental, have also flourished because of the need and desire to learn English.

Presently, there are tens of thousands of native, English speaking teachers living in China. The demand for foreign teachers far outweighs the supply of teachers willing to come here. They personal reasons for coming here are many. Some want to come here and experience the Chinese culture. Some have had some kind of negative experience in their own country and simply want to get away from there for a while. Perhaps to rebuild their lives away from pressures they experienced in the past. A few simply have a college degree and want a job abroad. They can pay for their own foreign experience while having it.

I semi-retired in 2005 in the U.S. I had sold a school that I had there for 15 years and wanted to write books. I did in fact write seven books, one of which sold quite well to my surprise. I traveled to Europe and spent a lot of time in Russia and Italy from 2005 until 2009. I came to China in 2011.

When I got here, I wanted to experience as much time as possible in the classroom. As I've said in other blogs, I started out teaching more than 30 classes a week. I didn't care much about the money so long as it paid for my living here. I never had any problem with that. Like others, I wanted to pay for my stay here with the work that I did.

There were many things that astonished me about coming here. During my second month here, I approached some Chinese English teachers and started talking to them. I never expected their response to me. My only experience was with foreign language teachers in the U.S. Most of them that I knew gained fluency in the language and could converse with anyone who also spoke their chosen language of study. The teachers at my school were fluent in Italian, French, German and several other languages. Most of them at traveled abroad and had lived in the countries whose native language was their chosen language.

When I approached these two English teachers, they couldn't understand anything that I was saying to them. To say the least, I was very surprised. They asked me to speak slowly, which, consciously, I already did. Again, to my surprise, they couldn't understand me. I also felt bad because I felt that I'd embarrassed them (unintentionally). I learned a big lesson about Chinese English education that day. In fact, this particular school was widely known and quite famous as a 'foreign language school.'

During those first few terms, I learned a lot about English education here in China. I learned their weaknesses and their strengths. I discovered where I could help and where I could help them. I learned that many of the teachers were taught things that were wrong and I determined to help them too while being very careful to try not to offend or embarrass them.

The biggest obstacle I've encountered in teaching English here is when I encounter teachers who are so deeply set in wrong understanding about word usage, pronunciation, punctuation and sometimes, definitions of words. There are many teachers like this and who will defend the things that they've learned wrong. Sometimes I just simply walk away and leave them with their wrong understanding of certain aspects of the English language. It isn't worth an argument and does no good. They were taught what they know by professors in colleges and universities and they are self-convinced that they are right.

Let me end this blog on a very positive note.

I've also encountered Chinese English teachers who are open and honest in learning. They want to know more. They ask questions often. On occasion, I don't know the answer and will tell them so. However, I always offer to find the answer for them and help them. Part of our Western thinking is integrity and trustworthiness, especially when you are a teacher and are teaching others. If you don't know something, there is no shame in saying, "I don't know the answer to that. But, I'll find out." I find that there many, especially younger teachers, who are also like this. They are more concerned about the truth than they are in looking good or 'face.' So I've found many teachers who are like this too. They are open to correction because they don't want to just 'look' right; they want to 'be' right and get it right.

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