SPECIAL NOTE: I am the author of CRAZY AMERICANS, GROWING UP CHINESE, and soon to be released book THIS IS CHINA (available in May 2018 at Amazon.com) and I like to share my thoughts in response to an article by Eric Fish in SupChina.com about what is happening to many mainland Chinese students studying overseas. Stephen Ling
WeChat ID 1962816801 February 4, 2018
The article (“How Chinese overseas students are learning harsh life lessons: From conflicting ideologies to outright racism, for many youngsters from China, the reality of university life abroad is far from what was expected”) by Eric Fish that appeared in SupChina recently gives me an opportunity to share my own perspectives about mainland Chinese students going abroad—USA, Canada, England, Australia and New Zealand, primarily English speaking countries, though there are others now enrolled in institutions of higher learning in Germany, France, Italy and other European countries.
I was invited to be a visiting professor to teach at the School of Journalism, Xiamen University, an elite school in China, 2008. It was quite a revelation after 7 years living and working in China. I wrote about my experiences in a soon to be released book THIS IS CHINA, available at Amazon.com coming May, 2018. From the start I was “shocked” to discover that students who studied the sciences could speak better English than most other students pursuing other majors in the campus. When asked, they were not shy to tell me because “we are interested to pursue advanced degrees overseas”! Obviously to these students, the ability to write and speak English proficiently is critical to their future studies and research abroad. In less than a semester, I would soon realize that English is taught in China as early as 3rd grade, through junior and high school.
Granted English is one subject out of several others which students are required to take for their grueling 2-day National College Entrance Examination (or Gaokao, in China), the ability to speak the English Language is optional. More recently a few top government officials are suggesting to increase the scores for Chinese, and lower the scores for English in this Gaokao. Because a few major renowned universities in China were not happy that some top students in math and sciences failed their Gaokao because of their lower scores in English. In fact a few schools are now offering their own college entrance examinations to allow these students to apply for admission to their schools. A sad day in China, but the Ministry of Education did not oppose this implementation.
I am saying this for a reason. Many top government officials do not believe English is necessary or critical to a good education in China, or an advantage when working for the government or the high-salary private sectors.
The consequence can be seen why so many of our Chinese students could not write or speak fluent or decent English in China. As an American college professor in China, it was most discouraging that most of my students, even those who majored in English, could not hold a decent conversation with me, inside or outside the classrooms. And 99.99 % of them would avoid speaking English to you. And their rationale or excuse? “Why bother to speak English. We are Chinese and we all speak Chinese!”
I was confronted with this crisis when I visited a distinguished high school in Taiwan. My son and I went to his former school because I was interested to see how they taught English in Taiwan. The female teacher was elegant and eloquent and I thought she had studied in USA or England. No, she said. But I soon was confronted with a problem: When my son and I stood in front of this very intensive English class of the best high school students, we waited and waited for anyone to respond to our questions. None spoke in class. As I watched the teacher taking over the class, she was using Chinese to teach English. No wonder, I concluded, the students could not and would not speak English to us. Because the teacher did not encourage them to speak English to her…everything was conducted in Chinese.
Years later when I was in China, I found the same problem…within my campus. Almost all Chinese teachers of English did not use English in Class. When I talked to them privately, I could not believe my ears. “You are new in China. You know nothing about us. Do you know that if I were to use English to teach my students, and if they fail in the tests, I would not have a job tomorrow.” So, in their thinking and rationality, they persisted in using Chinese to teach English. No small wonder, most students could not speak English with anyone. Because throughout their schooling, from elementary to secondary to college, they were never encouraged to speak English in class.
Now you understand why many of our mainland Chinese students have difficulty adjusting to American or other English classrooms…why many do not understand the rules of western education or communication. For years, I worried because many Chinese students would keep to themselves because they do not have the ability to communicate with students of the host countries.
That is the crisis China must address…how to train future teachers so they can be effective teachers of English. Without a mastery of the English language, how do we expect them to understand what is going on in western countries and western classrooms.
You can say all you want, but this is the root of the problem I see after 7 years living and working in China.
Over a decade or two ago, yes, it is true, most mainland students who went to study overseas were the best and brightest and smartest! Today, most of them are sent overseas by their ambitious parents who want to outdo their friends…with money to throw away. And kids are not abroad to study, but to enjoy life…living in fabulous places and driving fabulous cars! A much smaller percentage of students now going overseas are those equipped with the knowledge and language skills and desire and determination to pursue higher education.
So who are those returning home to China? Most of them are those who still cannot speak good or fluent English, thus they are not able to find jobs in the west. But the rich parents have family businesses awaiting them, and thus they are not required to learn the western culture. Sad but true…I see this happening over and over again: many kids are sent to the west for extended 4-year vacation! Not to learn anything seriously but to enjoy life in the west.
So, my dear Mr Fish, I want you to know what I know about many Chinese students and their problems surviving meaningfully in western schools and universities. Many lack the education, knowledge, communication skills and appreciation of what the west has to offer them. And preparation…lack of preparation from elementary to junior to high schools in mainland China.
Yes, you can rightly blame it on the Chinese government and the educational system in China. Blame it on the parents who are eager to bestow on their kids their wealth but not knowledge and critical experiences to survive in a different culture.
Yes, mastery of the English language is the key to understanding the west…the same when I spent 7 years in China…knowing the Chinese language is the key to learning, knowing, understanding and appreciating the wealth of our Chinese culture, traditions, beliefs and practices. I am lucky because my grandparents hailed from Fujian Province, China, and later settled in Malaya (now Malaysia).
I share my thoughts, thinking and perspectives about the socio-economic-political and cultural issues in my coming book THIS IS CHINA, soon to be available at Amazon.com in June, 2018.
Peace passion power, Steve USA Feb 4, 2018