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Learn Chinese in China

My rant: Problems with the Chinese Teaching System


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There are potentially two topics here which could be split out, but as the thread is so long and the topics are intertwined I'm not going to take the time to do so. When it's a simple matter of splitting off a few relatively self-contained posts that's fine, but in this case I'd need to pick out the relevant bits and pieces of individual posts and edit them one way or the other. But anyway, let's not add the third topic of 'how to split topics' to the two already active.

My idea was to try to be very targeted and rely on word of mouth after I got started, but I obviously (based on feedback) haven't done a good enough job selling the value proposition and I am reevaluating my service offering]

I'm not sure if you've done any paid marketing, but I certainly haven't seen any adverts from you in the places I expect to see adverts from new Chinese schools. Winking at a girl in the dark?

All the best


PS If you happen to have an epic post on the adventure of setting up a business in China, I'm sure we'd all be interested to read it - that's one aspect of the saga that hasn't been covered 8)

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  • 3 weeks later...
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I've also been toying with the idea of starting a small private language learning service in Beijing. Unlike self-taught-mba, I'm advocating a full immersion approach based on what I learned at this school in Thailand: www.algworld.com

It immediately struck me that many of self-taught-mba's ideas are entirely correct. The way the Chinese Universities teach is far too focused on the written language.

However, I think that the implimentation could be better. For instance, if I was going to sign up for martial arts courses while learning the language, I would want some assurance that the martial arts courses would be entirely conducted in Chinese...

I also think that, from a business standpoint, full immersion makes a lot more sense. There's no longer a need to only market to students of a particular language background. I haven't seen any evidence that full immersion is not a good approach. In fact, it seems many language professionals are saying that listening skills are more important to Chinese than other languages...

My feeling is that when people come to China and study Chinese they have individual goals. One person may want to learn Chinese martial arts. Another may want to learn Chinese medicine. I would like to provide a service that would set up an private teaching situation in which the student would learn Chinese while fully engaged in their individual goal as well. I don't think it even has to exist as an actual bricks-and-mortar school. It is more of a referral service sombined with some training for the Chinese tutors in the language teaching methodology to be adopted.

I'd like to see what sort of reactions people have to this idea.

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I don't see how you can offer a 'full immersion' service without providing the environment. Unless you are offering a full-time classroom setting and the accomodation, then your students are going to be in whatever their own environment is outside of classes, and immersion or not will depend on what they want to do. I had a look at the site you link to, but couldn't get the 'programs' page to load, so I'm not sure exactly what you mean. At the moment I don't see the difference between what you would do, and what a tutoring service would do.

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  • 3 weeks later...

"My feeling is that when people come to China and study Chinese they have individual goals. One person may want to learn Chinese martial arts."

This is a terrific idea. Since I am planning to study Chinese history full-time, I would love to study that in addition to language -- in Chinese, of course. Furthermore, being an avid athlete, it would be really cool to train in running/biking with some of the Chinese teams (maybe through the sports university?).

Roddy: did you know in the U.S. they have a program at Middlebury where you are completely immersed for 8-9 weeks in the summer? Granted, I don't *exactly* know how they do this, but you sign a language pledge and are put in dorms, classes, and activities with a team of Chinese teachers and students and are not "allowed" to speak English or write English for the entire time, with the exception of emergencies (although I'm not sure how this works when contacting family members or eating on campus). I've heard that this is actually valid. If so, wouldn't it be incredible if someone could work out a similar program in Beijing? I'd sign up in a heartbeat.


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The middlebury system:

though I have never gone to Middlebury, I have had friends and students attend, and colleagues who have taught there. They have a variety of ways to regulate the language pledge outside the classroom. The students of different languages all live in the same dorms, and must eat in the same cafeteria. I believe there are language specific RAs in the dorms, as well. Before the days of the internet, cell phones, and email, it was much easier to regulate the language pledge even in communication. Now they just hope that students will maintain their pledge to not communicate with the outside world in non-target language specific format until the weekend, and even then limit their use of non-target language to a minimal amount. Middlebury is probably one of the only places in the US that can provide an immersion experience without actually leaving the country. The problem with schools like Middlebury is that they tend to be prohibitviely expensive, though the results are fabulous.

As for some of the concerns raised by MBA's rants about the teaching methods of Chinese language teachers (both in the US and China), I have mixed feelings. The "we've always done it this way" approach applies not only for CHinese language teaching but for other languages as well. One of the reasons - albeit a somewhat lame one - is that it takes a lot of time to switch textbooks. Not only does the teacher (and sometimes the entire program if there are many teachers) needs to alter the entire curriculum. Teachers need to learn the textbook - ideally, we aren't just one day ahead of the students, and know what the linguistic progression entails. Also, MBA mentioned supplementary materials - you can't just willy nilly add them into the curriculum. There needs to be some sense of continuity between the texts, the current vocab, the current grammar/sentence patterns, and/or content/themes of the supplemnetal materials and the main texts. Otherwise there is no linguisitic reinforcement of the newly learned materials. Everyone is frustrated, the pace slows WAY down, and not a whole lot is actually learned. The supplemental materials I use have been developed over the last 10+ years. They are not a stagnant set of materials, and are constantly changing. Using gadgets and technology in or out of the classroom has its benefits, but again, is it just for show? or do these gadgets actually complement what the student learns? I use my tablet PC, and power point, and written activities, as well as games, supplemental (theme or content related) audio from online or from other texts, but these have all been carefully selected to add maximum benefit for the class.

As far as communicative ability - I will grant that most TB have tons of seemingly useless vocab and topics. I get annoyed at the textbook I have been using for this very reason (among others). However, as any advanced student can tell you, most of the grammar/ important sentence patterns you will ever need is usaully covered in the first year or two, regardless of the textbook or classroom. the vocab is there to help you have something to talk about while using the grammar, and often times, it is necesssary to have in order to use the grammar. As far as pronunciation, only so much can be done in the classroom without driving everyone nuts. More concentration in the beginning, and constant reinforecement throughout. Some people take a lot more time to get it. A little practice all throughout is necessary, and pronunciation/tone correction needs to be kept in balance with communication. Not only is it discouraging to be corrected every other word, but it can impede the overall fluency of expression. Now on to communicating: whether one gets practice in spoken communication at the early levels, regardless of where the language is learned, is all up to the class structure. While MBA seemed to make a blanket statement that students who learn in the US cannot communicate worth beans, I don't believe this is true, and it all depends on how the language is taught in the beginning.

In language pedagogy, there has been trends in different methodologies. For a while (in the 80's ) I believe the vogue (and this is for all languages) was in immersion. During the 90's, I believe it was in communicative methods (often at the expense of grammatical accuracy), I believe now there is a trend moving towards proficiency-based methods. Probably the best teachers will try to encourage student output (writing and speaking) through a combination of different methods. Not everyone learns the same, and so a variety of teaching methods need to be utilized for maximum effectiveness.

I have said before in other posts, that being proficient in a language and being able to teach it effectively are very different things, and not everyone is an effective teacher. Perhaps MBA has been unlucky in finding a program and teachers that fit his needs?

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I am researching the possibility of a new text book to teach English speakers, Mandarin and also of a new set of materials (i.e. mp3's to go with textbooks) and wondered after reading your post your thoughts. II am trying to find out the most popular textbooks used to learn mandarin, and the problems with such books. I am also trying to get hold of statistics of the number of indivduals learning mandarin, either across the world, or in indiviudal counties.

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  • 6 months later...
Incidentally, is this a total myth or what? Does anyone know ANY non-Asian business person who is learning Chinese in order to do business in China? I mean this as opposed to someone who has been dispatched to China or otherwise found themselves here and is learning Chinese because of that. Unemployed students hoping to get into business don't count.

I'm just curious, because one hears a lot about this category of student but I honestly don't know a single person who is already in business and is now trying to learn Chinese in order to enter the Chinese market.

Well ... you know one for now: me! :mrgreen:

And I honestly believe every international business person, whatever the field she/he is working in or on, should consider learning the languages of their market area.

That's why I speak several languages fluently, and that's also one of the major reasons why I, in addition, teach business English. Furthermore, I got a second degree a in Adult Education... just because I understand the importance of lifelong learning (in order to continuously succeed).

Making your potential customers feeling comfortable and culturally at ease is key in succeeding among competition! No matter where they are in the world!!!

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The fact that you teach business English severely lowers your credibility when you claim to be a "business person".

I don't think the "business people" that the poster was talking about would waste their time teaching English.

What you call "a waste of time" some might call an "investment". Many attempts in international business have been failures, simply due to "miscommunications" and cultural "misunderstandings".

In addition, I use other sources for my credibility than the teaching aspect alone ... and which are not related to the topic of this thread.

Business is not all and only about earning money, although I do feel sometimes to be in the minority of people thinking this. :mrgreen:

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I am also one of those "business people" who are here learning Chinese, in order to set up my own company here. I have had my own company in the US since 1981, and I want to branch out to an international (Asian) area. I am in software consulting.

I planned for two years before coming, and saved up a lot of money to afford to keep up with expenses back home while simultaneously being here (and consequently earning very little).

When you say you believe no one would "teach English" if they were a serious business person, it makes you sound as if you only have a narrow experience of either teaching or of running a business. That's the impression I get from it, anyways.

I do also teach some English, because it allows me to make connections with many people at different levels. Connections for me are very important. It also means that I get to influence people, meet their parents, meet other students, etc. The ways are too numerous to enumerate. Senzhi said it well.

By the way, I am over 50.

I have also met other people from the US who are doing the same thing, and on their own dime.

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