Are Chinese students different? – an unusual week in a teacher’s life
At the moment, Lodz University of Technology is hosting a group of Chinese students who are participating in an intensive Academic English course at our Foreign Languages Centre. The visitors are soon going to start their BSc studies at different faculties of TUL (the renowned International Faculty of Engineering, the Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Sciences, the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, and the Faculty of Applied Mathematics, Technical Physics and Computer Science).
I was one of the teachers who had the opportunity of working with our guests from the PRC. My role was to teach them for one week, from Monday to Friday, 8.15 – 15.45. Sounds challenging? Well, think of the students – they started in mid August and are going to finish at the end of September, and all the weeks have been and are going to be the same (except for one, when they had four hours of classes per day). This is what I would call a real trial.
Now, the question is: what was it like? Are Chinese students different from Polish students and in what way? Were there any language or cultural issues that we found difficult to handle? How did they manage to survive, having such a demanding schedule?
Let me put you in the picture J and make you acquainted with Yu, Chen, Yang, Han, Fan, Ming, Jie, Chang, Ling, Tong, Xuan and Xin.
1. They never complained, though there were quite a few things Polish students would definitely have had reservations about. For example, even if they were tired after 5 hours of learning English and during the remaining 3 hours had to write a sample TOIEC listening and reading test, they did it without protesting. They also never told me I was speaking too fast or that they didn’t like any tasks, topics or methods of teaching (although it must have been the case, at times).
The only time the students did dare to suggest something was on the second day of the course. I was a bit disappointed when most of the people came late to their fifth lesson at 12.15. Breaks after every two 45-minute classes were 30 minutes long, so I expected everybody to have eaten, freshened up, etc. by the end of each break and be on time in the classroom. When I asked those present ones what the matter was, they politely explained that it is common for students in China to have a long lunch break at 12. So, considering the situation, I asked them if it was ok for them to extend the break by 15 minutes, so that they could have 45 minutes for lunch and make the next break 15 minutes shorter. The proposal was enthusiastically accepted and the model proved effective for the next 5 days.
2. They like different learning / teaching methods than Polish students, for instance:
a. choral repetition (they like doing it very loudly and everybody participated without objecting, while my Polish students rarely enjoy it and I have to monitor them closely while they do it)
b. reading aloud (even if everybody was to read a text individually, some of the students would read aloud and nobody looked disturbed – they put a lot of effort into reading accurately and didn’t mind being corrected – they wanted me to do it, which is not always the case with Polish students)
c. asking a lot of questions to the teacher when we checked test answers together (they wanted me to explain everything and, in the end, desired to have all correct answers, whereas my Polish students hardly ever ask questions J when encouraged to do so, unless they want to test the teacher in some way J)
d. using dictionaries and note-taking during classes (Do your Polish students ever look words up on their own initiative or do you have to instill the habit into them?)
e. being praised – I did not realize how important praise was for them until I noticed how they react to my each ‘OK’, ‘good’, ‘great’, ‘well done’, etc. So, I used the tool frequently. I think praise is not that important for most of my Polish students (since they most often know they are the best without my telling them that J).
3. They are very brave. It is the first time abroad for all of them. They don’t know the Polish language and are very different from us – both when it comes to appearance and culture. Their English is by no means perfect – but still they have decided to come to study here. Most of the students are also hard-working and diligent. They would always do their homework (although I demanded a lot), pay attention to what I was saying (they NEVER chatted or interrupted me during classes) and, for most of the time, participate in all kinds of classroom activities.
Well, considering the fact that they have had to learn English eight hours a day, five days of the week since mid August, I wonder how they have survived for so long. I probably wouldn’t.
During our week together they had 100% attendance, everybody. Amazing. That’s very different from Polish students’ habits.
4. They were extremely friendly and polite. That meant saying hello to me several times a day, smiling, nodding their heads while I was speaking, asking me quite personal questions without being rude, etc. My Chinese students also enjoyed a trip we had around the campus and to some interesting places in Lodz (Herbst’s Palace, Źródliska Park and its palm house, Galeria Łódzka). I could see they were really thankful for my efforts. This is not usually the case with Polish students who tend to be more critical (though that doesn’t necessarily mean being impolite or unpleasant – in fact I like being rationally criticized by my studentsJ).
5. Despite difficulties, they were trying to become better speakers. Considering the fact that Chinese is a tonal language in which one-syllable words may be differentiated solely by tone (I learnt that while I was trying not to call Yu a ‘fish’ by mispronouncing his name), it is extremely hard for Chinese students to use typical English intonation. It is also practically impossible for them to produce some sounds (like ‘th’) in a manner close to the way a native speaker of English pronounces them. This makes it very difficult for a Polish teacher of English to understand Chinese students speaking English. It took me two days to get used to the accent and very specific intonation. When I managed to filter these out, I realized my students speak quite good English and, which is more important, are open to any suggestions for improvement and ready to implement them. I think it’s admirable.
6. Anything else?
Even though we spent only six days together, I can say we became friends. Ming would treat me to dark chocolate (99% cocoa) and ask me about different places to see in Łódź. While describing her plans for the future, Xin wrote: ‘I hope that Eva will invite us to her house’J. I was asked where it is possible to buy lamb, to-fu and soya milk in the city. We even attempted to teach one another some words in our native languages, like: ‘Poproszę bilet ulgowy’ or ‘thank you’ (in Chinese).
Considering all of the above, that was a very fruitful and inspiring week in my life as a teacher and, hopefully, it was also worthwhile for my Chinese students.
While getting ready for the new academic year and all its challenges, I wish us all lots of strength, inspiration and creativity at work.