Classroom Implications for Teaching Chinese
1) Are there any significant differences
in the educational system of your country of origin and the U.S.
that would affect teaching an English language learner? What challenges
would these pose both for teachers and students? Are there any
advantages of coming from that educational system for your people?
Confucian tradition emphasizes the importance of
education thus academic success is a matter of fact not choice
for many Chinese families. Children are expected
to excel in school because it is the norm. Oftentimes, families
feel ashamed if their child is not succeeding in school and see
this as a reflection of their own shortcomings as parents. In
China, students learn through observation, reading, and imitation,
while the U.S. educational system places an emphasis on the importance
of critical thinking and inquiry. Chinese students are quiet and
orderly and the Chinese educational system looks down on volunteering
information, whereas active participation is encouraged in the
American system. These two differences are important for teachers
to consider with Chinese American students because the home culture
of the students stands in contrast to the expectations that American
schools place on their students. At home, the message is conveyed
to these students to be obedient and quiet and yet at school teachers
want them to think participate and engage in discussions to try
and construct their own meaning from the material.
2) What factors in the home or family relationships
are critical for a teacher to know?
The following list is excerpted from Asian-American
Education: Prospects and Challenges and it highlights
the potential conflict between Chinese parent perceptions and
American teacher attitudes. These differences must be understood
and addressed as a bridge to foster a home-school partnership
and because it will help Chinese students understand the different
cultural conventions with regard to education.
|American Teachers' Expectations
Chinese Parents' Expectations
|Education is interactive and spontaneous
||Education is formal
|Teachers and students work together in the teaching-learning
Teachers should tell students what to do
|Students learn through participation and interaction. Homework
is only part of the process.
||Students learn through doing a lot of homework.
|Teaching is an active process; students are not passive
||The teacher should teach and students should study
|Factual information is readily available; problem solving,
creativity and critical thinking is important.
||Factual information is important, fantasy is not.
|Teachers should facilitate and model problem solving; students
learn by being actively engaged in the process.
||Students should be taught steps to solve problems.
|Teachers need to be questioned and challenged.
||Teachers should not be challenged.
|Reading is a constructive process.
||Reading is the decoding of information and facts.
3) What challenges are common for Chinese
students integrating into the American school system and culture?
Identity conflict is a common theme among Chinese
American students and many other immigrant groups as well. Young
students feel caught between two cultures but not firmly planted
in either one. On the one hand there is this push to mainstream
Chinese students and make them fit in, but families still want
their students to retain cultural traditions and the Chinese language.
To this end, many families send their children to Chinese language
academies on the weekends to insure that they learn the Chinese
language. But it is clear that many students struggle with establishing
an identity. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan and Woman Warrior by
Maxine Hong Kingston are two novels that describe this process
of identity development.
In terms of academic adjustment, a common challenge
for Chinese students is learning all of the rules of the English
written language because it is so different from the character
system they are used to.
4) What strategies are useful to help Chinese students
overcome each of these challenges?
Use bicultural literature to help promote cultural
pride among Chinese students. While English language development
is key for academic success, the importance of the native culture
cannot be overemphasized. Using stories then about Chinese heritage
combines the dual efforts of English language development and
cultural pride into one and can be a good motivational strategy
for Chinese students. These stories can also be used to enrich
the curriculum for all students and perhaps be used as a means
of explaining cultural diversity issues to the whole class.
- Build on the tendency for Chinese American students to learn
through imitation by exposing them to specific examples of good
- Use different methods of teaching such as visual aids, modeling,
hands-on, discussions, and collaborative learning to make the
subject matter more comprehensible.
- Embed the teaching of grammatical rules within writing so that
students learn how to apply these rules to the different modes
of communication that the English language employs.
- Explain some of the differences between the Chinese language
and the English language like the fact that Chinese is tonal and
non-inflectional while English is intonational and inflectional.
- Give students an opportunity to extend their language through
a variety of means both formal and informal ones. Teach them different
narrative styles including poetry and skit writing. Encourage
them to participate in after school clubs and activities to help
them build discourse and an understanding of the different discourses
of the English language.
- Use stratgies like peer editing in revising papers.
5) What are some key differences between Chinese and English?
- A subject is not necessary in every sentence. In English, the
sentence "It snows" would be a complete sentence consisting
of the subject "it" and the verb "snows."
In Chinese the sentence would be translated as "fall snow."
This distinction is important to consider when teaching Chinese
students writing because a subject must exist for a sentence to
be complete whereas the Chinese writing system does not require
- There is no Mandarin equivalent for the articles "the,
a, an". For Mandarin speakers, in writing the sentence "A
cat jumps on the bed," teaching these students
the necessity of using the indefinite article "a" and
the definite article "the" is a difficult concept to
teach because these features of the English language are unfamiliar
to them. .
- Chinese symbols can either be the plural or singular of the
word. The Han character for tree could either be "tree"
or trees." In English the root of the word remains with the
suffix changing to show the plural form of the word. To express
the plural, the Chinese system uses a separate word rather than
- Mandarin Chinese does not have consonant blends like bl, cl,
cr, sh . . . which is a major challenge for native Chinese speakers
when they learn English.
- As a tonal system, Chinese syllables have diacritical marks
above the syllable to indicate the proper tone. These tones are
high level, high rising, dipping/falling-rising, and high falling.
- To change verb tense, the Chinese system alters the suffixes
of the root word whereas English
- The Chinese language has a written language (wen) and a spoken
one (yu). There is not a clear relationship between oral and written
language as in English and the spoken form has undergone many
modifications since its inception.
- The Chinese writing system is logographic where each character
expresses a morpheme. Each syllable in a word is illustrated using
a different logogram rather than being combined to form one word
as in English. The character forms are based on pronunciation
and not the meaning of the word.
- The Chinese do not use superlatives or embellishments to the
same extent that English does. They tend to employ understatement
which is a reflection of the culture itself.
- Pronunciation is often difficult to teach Chinese students because
the Chinese language and its dialects is monosyllabic with different
tones for each syllable rather than polysyllabic with inflection
on each word.
- Consonant endings in Chinese are either /-n/ or /-ng/ so any
English words that end with consonants other than these two could
be an issue with Chinese American students.
- In terms of teaching writing, the conventional English form
of intro, body conclusion, with a thesis and topic sentences in
each paragraph are dissimilar to the Chinese writing style. The
Chinese writing style tends to have the point of the essay be
discretely inferred from the text rather than explicitly stated
and continuously reinforced.