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My thoughts about . . .

speaking english?

CHINA | Sunday, 5 August 2007 | Views [832] | Comments [1]

By the time I leave here next Friday, I will have taught roughly 200 students about American higher education. We are working on a rotating basis. Each teacher spends 8 or 9 hours with each group before meeting a new group and teaching them the same thing. We do 3 hours in the morning and then go back in the afternoon for a couple of hours after a 3 hour lunch break.

The long lunch break was unexpected. I have come to learn that the Chinese like to 'have a rest' in the afternoon, in the same fashion as Italians. My impression,however, is that the Chinese have a much quicker lunch. No sitting around the table for a couple of hours.

The weird thing is that even if they do get a nap, my students often nod off during my lesson. Can I be that boring?! Or maybe it isn't me but the topic . . . As I pondered these questions, I came to learn that the same thing is happening with other teachers. So, no! I am not boring.

Most of my students live in tight quarters—6 in a room with each set of bunk beds an arm's length from the next. Plus, there is no a/c. In a city known as 'the furnace' a fan doesn't help very much. That's why they nod off—they are not getting much sleep at night.

The students are very kind and respectful. Sure, there is occasional chit chat while I am teaching but there is absolutely no comparison with my Italian chatterboxes. And, when I ask them to do group work, they actually speak in English to their peers! A delightful oddity for me.

Academically these students are very well prepared. They have large vocabularies, strong grammar skills, outstanding writing abilities and listening comprehension isn't too bad. That leaves fluency and pronunciation. I guess you can be fluent but completely incomprehensible . . .

One lesson, a student spoke on and on for a couple of minutes, confidently and without any hesitations or hem-hawing and --giving me no chance to break in. He spoke fluently. The only problem was that I didn't understand a single word he said. I actually wondered if he was speaking English.  Don't laugh. I am not joking.

Pronunciation is the major weakness for a lot of my students—for some, it is their only real weakness but it's a biggie! Admittedly, I have neglected pronunciation work in my EFL teaching. I never thought it was that important. Boy, was I wrong!

“What did you say?” “ I didn't catch that.” “Could you repeat that?” “Could you spell that word/verb?” “The air conditioning is too loud I didn't hear you.” “I missed the last part.”     I have uttered these phrases continually. At a certain point, I am embarrassed to ask again for clarification. Fortunately, they understand each other. So, usually someone with better pronunciation 'translates' for me.

I feel for the students--hey, I am in the same boat when I pronounce those (very) few Chinese words that I have learned.  Absolutely no one understands me and I only get a blank stare back in return.  At least I smile at my students when I tell them to repeat it 20 times! :-)

Tags: Teaching and the students

Comments

1

Okay, so now I know your students are technically "advanced" yet they cannot be understood. Hmm, quite the challenge. The stories of sleepy students are also hilarious, as is the outing for massages. And yes, I continue to be amazed you haven't been cringing in revulsion over things like ants in your pedicure water... see you in a week!

  Anna Aug 6, 2007 3:09 PM

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