The obstacles faced by Chinese students in mastering English

The obstacles faced by Chinese students in mastering English
thabet_sava May 27, 2014 17:37

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to reside and teach in China for the past ten years. I had the chance to teach students of all age groups and various educational backgrounds. Unfortunately, I discovered that most of my students were facing several obstacles in attaining competence or achieving fluency in the English language.


Being a writer with an inquisitive mind prompted me to study the phenomenon.  Through my interactions with my students and endless discussions with them, I discovered that the causes behind their difficulties with the process of mastering English could be summarized as follows:


          An acute case of timidity/shyness that is the result of a long conditioning process that began at childhood and continued up to adulthood.


          Lack of self-confidence that could be caused by a diverse variety of reasons.


          Lack of a strong foundation in the English language, which resulted from having careless teachers, who ignored the importance of grasping the essence of the language starting from the basics and advancing toward the depth of the language.


          Putting too much importance on others’ perceptions of them (Fear of losing face).


          Going through the useless process of translating from English to Chinese and vice-versa, which is an exhausting experience for the human mind.


          Lack of opportunities to practice English outside the classroom.


          Associating committing errors with being stupid.

The fundamental question should focus on the necessary measures that must be taken to facilitate the process for the Chinese students. After a great deal of contemplation and consultation with both Chinese and foreign English teachers, I came up with some constructive recommendations.


To accomplish their goals of being fluent in English, students must:


          Comprehend the fact that it is their privilege to make mistakes and it is the teacher’s responsibility to correct their mistakes.


          Believe that by no means, asking questions signifies being stupid as the proverb states:  “If one asks a question, one might feel fool for 5 minutes but if one does not ask, one will be fool for life.”


          Eat, sleep, walk and accomplish most tasks in English, which means that students should be inquisitive about everything that they may encounter in their daily lives.


          Be active participants in classes.


          Make speaking proper English a habitual activity.


          Stop the futile method of memorizing the language, which they are conditioned to do through the various stages of the Chinese educational system.


           Familiarize themselves with the concepts of phonetic, which is essential for pronouncing English words properly.


          Focus on syllables not the alphabet letters when they attempt to write or spell a word.


          Learn the conceptual art of writing.


          Classes are golden opportunities for them to practice their English since they will have a teacher available to correct their mistakes. Consequently, students should seize them to be active participants during classes. 


          Make practicing English a daily habit. They can practice with a classmate or with a roommate.


          Clear, from their minds, the idea that they have to sit down to learn English. Any place at any time is a golden opportunity to polish it. 


          Carry electronic or small dictionaries in their pockets wherever they go. They might need it to look for a word that they may hear or see on a banner.


          Having pens and blank papers with them at all times to write down English words while they are waiting for buses, classes or meals in restaurants.


          Cut out an article or make copies of pages from English books or magazines and put them in their pockets to look at while they are bored or watching television (during commercials).


          Understand that they have no other option but to organize their studying habits to allocate some time to pursue their favorite activities to achieve balance in their lives and to minimize their resentment toward their studies.


I do believe that teachers, students and their families are very essential participants in achieving the objective of attaining competence in the English language. Consequently, they must work together for their common goal of guiding the students toward the path of success in attaining fluency in English that would permit them the opportunity to land prestigious positions in the future and subsequently lead reasonably happy lives.

Tags:Business & Jobs Language & Culture


All comments are subject to moderation by staff. Because we wish to encourage healthy and productive dialogue we ask that all comments remain polite, free of profanity or name calling, and relevant to the original post and subsequent discussion. Comments will not be deleted because of the viewpoints they express, only if the mode of expression itself is inappropriate. Please use the Classifieds to advertise your business and unrelated posts made merely to advertise a company or service will be deleted.



The big problem today is THAT THE PEOPLE WHO HIRE TEACHERS {ONLY) CARE ABOUT ONE REQUIREMENT: NATIVE SPEAKERS FROM USA, CANADA, AUSTRALIA, NZ,UK AND SOUTH AFRICA. And of course, they have been hiring a lot of drugs/alcohol users/backpackers (including decent improvised teachers) who know nothing about teaching. Teaching is made of a good METHOD AND great TECHNIQUES. NOT OF 'NATIVE SPEAKER'. How could you think that an improvised (that never have been a SECOND LANGUAGE student) OR have a degree in Education, could be a good SECOND LANGUAGE teacher? THIS IS THE BIGGEST MISTAKE THAT CHINA IS MAKING ON THIS MATTER. Now we have thousand of 'native TEACHERS' MADE IN CHINA. And they are cheap products. Of course!

Jun 10, 2014 14:02 Report Abuse



This is a joke, right? I would have to say that I'm not surprised your students are facing challenges. The English of this article is atrocious!! And that's not an exaggeration---dangling modifiers, poor sentence syntax and variety of sentence structures. I could not get past the first paragraph without cringing. Poor English all together. This reads like one of my AVERAGE student's English. Yes, there are severe problems here in China pedagogically, but as this article exemplifies, many of those problems are because there are too many untrained, unskilled teachers. Having a PhD in English Literature, I (notice proper sentence structure!) certainly am over picky in these matters.

Jun 09, 2014 20:20 Report Abuse



Another problem here is the standard of spoken English as used by Chinese English teachers. I have met very very few who can pronounce words correctly and when it is drummed into students that you do not question the teacher because the teacher is always right you end up with students who think they are good at English but in reality are quite poor. I remember one time at English corner being corrected by a boy of about fourteen because my pronunciation was different to his teacher. When I gently explained the error and why it was wrong he just ignored me. It could of course really be my fault as I am English and only lived there for fifty eight years before moving here clearly I did not study well enough.

Jun 05, 2014 12:52 Report Abuse



Thabet_sava ..... you offered recommendations, what ensued?

Jun 04, 2014 15:30 Report Abuse



You write that the goal of your students is to master the English language but are you really sure that this is the goal of the majority of your students. Having taught the language for some time, I would say that especially at lower levels, the main goal is in passing exams and later in getting their certificates to move on. It is of course further complicated by the fact that the Chinese education system puts most emphasis on rote memorization of words and grammatical rules. Many of my university students have in fact never spoken English to a foreigner (or Chinese person in some cases) before in their lives. This is a fundamental problem that would need to be changed if the students are really looking to improve or master the English language. Just my perspective on a few things.

Jun 03, 2014 19:33 Report Abuse



Wouldnt these points be completly true for any group of people learning any language? Lots of people feel shy dont dont want to look stupid and pretty much everyone translates from and to their native language. I didnt see anything China specific. Ten years and this what you got huh? You needed years and endless discusions to figure out students can be shy? Your a quick one. If you keep at it, in another 20 years you may uncover the mystery of why students are bored in you class.

May 30, 2014 20:17 Report Abuse



Just to give you an example..... "an acute case" the word acute is used to describe something that has just happened the word you are looking for is chronic. Chronic means longterm. This is an oversimplification but it serves my purpose. I wont list anymore,but if you like i will. I think you should spend some more time reading English books before you call yourself a writer. Also echinacities should pay a little more attention to their editorial and "journalistic staff"

May 30, 2014 16:41 Report Abuse



obviously you missed the slang phrase because you want to concentrate on someone elses percieved error. Lighten up Paul. We use this phrase quite a bit in the west.

Jun 04, 2014 06:48 Report Abuse



donnie, you might consider using a dictionary to look up the definition of slang :)

Jun 11, 2014 12:00 Report Abuse



It is interesting you write about mastering the English language. This article is very poorly written. Grammar mistakes aside there are numerous words used out of context. I am being critical because i took the time to read your article. What would be a more interesting read would be the poor command of English most foreign English teachers possess. Before you preach you should practice.

May 30, 2014 16:35 Report Abuse



I work in a Chinese kindergarten and the children only get a set amount of time for the English class. I have to teach 6 classes in the morning and 4 classes in the afternoon and some of the classes have over 40 kids in the class.our kindergarten has a very low level of English .they will not get any better because of the system and the way the kindergarten is run.once our class is finished it goes right back in to speaking Chinese again.

May 30, 2014 13:32 Report Abuse