Teach English in China: Foreign Teachers in China: What Should Foreign Teachers Teach
What is the Foreign Teacher's Job?
How to Improve Oral English in China.
This is the 12th article in this series that I have published at King's Calendar in relation to teaching Chinese students to speak English, but it is perhaps, one of the more important.
The Most important article that students should read is No. 17. (Conversational English: Breaking Through the Chinese Culture Barrier) which talks about why students have such a hard time learning to actually speak English in a natural way.
In this article, I present my own opinions about the Foreign Teacher's job description, and will discuss why my opinion and therefore my approach to teaching English is important.
What do the Students think is my Job?
When one asks students to describe the foreign teachers job, they reply with one or more of the following:
1. To teach us English
2. To teach us correct English
3. To teach us Oral grammar
4. To tell us about foreign culture
5. To Improve our English
6. To correct our pronunciation
7. To get paid a lot of money for talking talking talking
You may well laugh at that last point, but I have heard it from students. It is a great answer, and an ironic one at that.
You see, in my 4 years of teaching so far, I have found that students hate to talk to the Teacher in English, and yet hate listening to the teacher talk talk talk! One day after class, a student approached me and asked: "Why did you teach us that lesson?"
I replied: "For the same reason I teach anything, because you guys won't talk, and I have to do something to earn my salary.
So the first point to notice is that:
Foreign Teachers are not paid to Talk Talk Talk!
They are paid to help students improve their own talking.
If students won't talk, the teacher has no job to do!
Looking at points 1 to 6
No 1. To teach us English
Really? What have your other teachers been doing for the last 5 to 8 years?
Foreign teachers are not there to teach you English.
No 2. To teach us correct English
Really? What have your grammar teachers been teaching you? Incorrect English?
Point No. 3 To teach us Oral English.
What does Oral mean?
It means by mouth.
No foreigner can teach you to open your mouth and speak.
If you can't do it at your age, you will never learn to do it.
Point 4. To tell us about foreign culture
Can't you learn this from a book?
Western Countries are multicultural. How can a teacher from one culture teach you about other cultures?
Does a foreigner really need 1 or 2 semesters at 45 or 90 minutes per lesson to teach you everything he knows about culture?
Point 5. To Improve our English
Now we are getting somewhere.
But tell me: How can I improve your Spoken English?
The only person who can do the improving is the student.
Point 6. To correct our pronunciation
Finally something solid.
Yes! The foreign teacher can correct your pronunciation.
Then again, so can listening to a tape recording!
So What is the Foreigner's Job?
All of the points listed above including point 7, have something to do with what the foreigner's job really is, but when one asks students how does the foreigner achieve the task, the answers are either not forthcoming or too vague to qualify as definitive answers.
If there is one thing that I know it is that if Students really apply themselves to their grammar studies, and constantly practice speaking what they learn, they will never need a foreign teacher. Unfortunately, the percentage of students who do this is quite small.
So the Foreign Teacher's Job is: To get the students to put into practice what their grammar teachers have taught them.
There is only one effective way that foreign teachers can do this, and that is to teach the students to have group discussions. Unfortunately, whilst all textbooks provide exercises to that end, students do not actually learn to think and use English when they do these exercises. Instead, they just memorize preplanned conversations. This does nothing for the students ability to hold a conversation.
Why are Group Discussions Important?
They are important because they force students to rely on their knowledge of English, and as that knowledge of English is imperfect during conversations, the physical act of having a real life conversation creates the situation in which the foreign teacher can be the most effective at his job. He or She can
Correct Grammatical construction
Point out and Correct Chinglish
Point out and Correct Ambiguities
Point out and Correct Slang
Offer more direct methods of stating ideas
Provide cultural information revelant to the topic under discussion.
In order to achieve all of this, students need to learn the basic skills of conversation covered in this series of articles.
The difference between an Oral English Class (Conversational English Class), and a tutorial or teaching lesson, is that it is hands on and/or interactive. This means that students learn the correct way to express their ideas, whilst they are having meaningful conversations.
I use the words "meaningful conversations" deliberately, because a real life conversation requires not only some interest in the topic under discussion, but the necessity to follow changes in the topic as they occur as a result of some persons interest in a particular aspect of the general topic.
Such occasions provide opportunities for students to learn the skills of conversation in a practical 'hands on' way, and forces them to drag up forgotten vocabulary necessary for the new conversational direction. In Short, it forces students to begin thinking in English.
Whilst a foreign teacher can listen to students reading and then correct their pronunciation, or teach them some theory of conversation, the only effective way to make students improve their conversational ability, is to make them actually have real conversations.
To prepare students for such conversations, I usually give them a list of questions that derive from some generally stated topic. As one follows the list of questions, one can see the topic changing. I get students in groups to discuss and understand the questions, and to find suitable answers. Then they have a week to think about the correct English to use in answering the questions.
The following week I will call different students from different groups to discuss the issue. This becomes difficult, for while students might have tried to memorize conversations with their original group, in a new group, they are forced to recall the English they have practiced, and to put it into a new conversation with new students whose conversational direction may not be the same as was originally practiced.
This process forces students to think in English in Real Time Conversations. You know if you send emails to someone, your conversation is spread out over a period of time that may include some days, but if you chat on line your conversation is immediate, or in real time. This is what I try to teach the students to do in the English conversations.
Students Learn from Each Other in Group Discussion.
In addition to all of the ways in which a foreign teacher can assist students to learn and improve during group discussions, group discussions provide great venues for students to learn from each other.
During Real Time Discussions, students often forget how to express themselves in English, and so others in the group can translate a Chinese word or phrase. At that moment, everyone can learn something.
It is truly amazing how much students improve once they begin to engage in Real Time Unplanned English Conversations. Students begin to believe what I keep trying to tell them, that
They have a wealth of knowledge stored in their heads.
All they need to do is to get it to come out through their mouths.
Once they do this, they progress very rapidly.
So next time you are in class with the foreign teacher, remember that the success or failure of a foreign teacher depends upon how willing you are to speak and be corrected.
Students must begin to Learn, as opposed to waiting to be taught!
R.P.BenDedek is from Brisbane Australia and is the author of 'The King's Calendar: The Secret of Qumran' at http://www.kingscalendar.com His academic articles set forth Apologetics for and results of his discovery of an "artificial chronological scheme" running through the Bible, Josephus, the Damascus Documents of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Seder Olam Rabbah.
He writes photographic 'Stories from China' and social editorial commentaries, both at KingsCalendar, and as a contributing newspaper columnist. He currently teaches Conversational English in China and in addition to his English Lessons at KingsCalendar, he has created specific sites for Students of English.