(This Is China-31) February 4, 2019 – Chapter 30 from THIS IS CHINA



PERSONAL NOTE: I decided to share this book with friends and students in mainland China because it costs too much to order a copy from Amazon.com. Enjoy it and share it with people you care and love. Peace, Steve USA Feb 4, 2019  stephenehling@hotmail.com   wechat 1962816801  blog – https://getting2knowyou-china.com

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Chapter 30

Native speakers only? Is this a blessing or a curse to China? Is China so blinded by the color of the skin? That any one who qualifies as an English native speaker is acceptable without checking seriously their academic qualifications and teaching experiences, before they enter the Chinese classroom?

James Thompson was a young man I met in the United States. His father was a technical computer expert in my school district. James and I had met a few times and he came to China to teach in a distinguished high school in Beijing. At least he was prepared to come to China because he had taken some college courses in Chinese studies. He also got the job because he was a true English native speaker. A white American.

“Wow, I cannot believe you are now teaching in Beijing,” I said to him via the internet.

“I got lucky. They were looking for an English native speaker. And I got the job without much problem. I am now teaching in a very good high school. The kids are great. I love working with them.”

“I am curious about one thing. Do the administrators, the people who hired you, come to watch you teach?” I wanted to know. That to me would tell me something about the school.

“Are you kidding me? …Never… One time my class and I found a few mistakes in a text book and we tried and tried to tell the administrators,” he said, a little annoyed and upset.


“They did not bother to respond to us when we told them about it.”

“And when this happened, what were you thinking then? About your students? About the people who hired you?”

“They are not interested about the students and what I tried to do for the students. Their response is not to respond to me and the class. I was disappointed. I decided there and then to do what pleases me the most.”

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“So why are you still there? Or why do you continue to teach there?”

“Honestly speaking, the money is good in China. I need the money. They did not hire me to teach here. Here is the real deal. You better believe me. All they wanted is to have my photo on their promotional materials. This is a big fucking money making institution. They are not interested if I can teach or not. They got me because I am an American native speaker. More than that, now they could use my photo to advertise to the parents: look, look at this wonderful great school. We have foreign teachers to teach your kids English. Come. Enroll in this school. We have the best foreign teachers here.”

“So what you are saying is this: they hire you to make the school looks good and attractive to the Chinese parents.”

“Yes, you better believe me. They do not care what I do in the classroom. All they care is to get more students to come so they could make money. One other thing, the chief or the head or the principal is the man who makes all the fucking money. He drives a big American car and lives in a big mansion.”

I am aware it is not easy for China to get the best trained teachers to come to teach here. So China is desperate to hire any one who fits the bill: English native speakers. Many do not have the right or correct college degrees. Many are not trained to be teachers. Most Americans who have years of teaching experiences would not come to China to teach because of very low pay. Some have children who are still in schools or universities. Many have high mortgage payments each month. Most Americans, if you know them, exist from hand to mouth. That means many have not learned to save when they work or when they are young. Instead, like the country, they spend and spend. Imagine my country borrows money from China to spend. So they live from hand to mouth. China pays me about a tenth of what I was paid when I stopped teaching in America. I could afford to come when Xiamen University invited me in 2008 because I owned my own big house in Puyallup, my son has graduated and is now working, and because I am a Chinese I was smart to save and save when I was working in America. I have enough savings and investments to last me till I die without having to toil or sweat.

Many Chinese in China save, so I was told, because many do not trust their government and they want to make sure they can take care of themselves when they grow old. Smart strategy. Many in China today are poor because the government is still working on a pension plan that would take care of all people, rich or poor, urban or rural, educated or uneducated, skilled or unskilled, in China.

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China needs to think differently about people like me, who are NOT an English native speaker. What is so ironic is that I pay a lot of attention in my teaching here in China from the very start to introduce new words to my students because the simple truth is without enough words, they cannot write or speak decent English. And making sure they are able to enunciate each word correctly and able to use it in a sentence. What I have discovered teaching in China is simple: many Chinese students have problem speaking because most times many of the students, who might have learned these words, but they actually have no idea how to pronounce these words. So when they listen to someone speaking, they have problem understanding what was spoken. Because of this discovery, I continue to pay a great deal of attention to make my students learn the words and especially their correct pronunciation of them. This is critical to improving their speaking and listening skills.

Here is the truth about China. Sadly students have the chance to learn the English language from primary all the way through high school. Because most teachers are not trained to teach English the way English should be taught, they do not speak English to their students. And so through the years, most students can read and write and do their English exercises but they are not able to speak because they seldom hear their so-called English teachers speak English to them. Teachers in China are not required by their government to speak English eloquently or proficiently to their students. In general, most so-called English teachers are not trained to teach English. The ability to speak is not a requirement. Written English test is a requirement.

Way before I was invited by Xiamen University to teach in China in 2008, I had the unique opportunity to visit a high school in Taipei, Taiwan. I had asked someone to take me to his high school, to see a special group of high school students engaged in intensive English. I was told by a female teacher this group of students was the best under her supervision. I was very impressed by her spoken English. I thought she had studied either in America or in England. She said she never did leave the country to go anywhere. This was my first time to witness the problem with my own eyes and ears. I saw the problem within the first ten minutes when I was sitting at the back of the class. She was using Chinese to teach English. More than 95% of the time, she was using Chinese to teach and to talk to the students. And so when I stood there in front of the students and asked a few simple questions, not a single student could respond to me. They were not encouraged to speak or talk in class. The teacher was more concerned with finishing the chapters in the book. Not with teaching students to understand and speak English as a language that is used internationally. A language that is alive everywhere in the world. As one teacher to another teacher, even though this was the first time I met her, I was brave enough to suggest to her that she should initiate some co-operation with students in other schools, especially students in an

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international school, to improve her students’ English communication skills. That she should spend the first 10 or 20 minutes of each class to talk to students, encouraging exchanges between the teacher and her students using spoken English, another way to improve the oral English of her students. We had a friendly exchange on how to improve the students’ mastery of the written and spoken English in her classrooms.

And this was what I discovered when I first came to China. It was the same problem with all my so called English major students. Most could not speak a word of English to me, inside or outside the classrooms.

Live in China and you might understand why there are thousands and thousands of English language schools all over the country, creating a booming industry, making millions from parents who believe they must send their kids to these schools for the simple reason their normal schools are failing to teach their children the proper English language. Now our Chinese moms are becoming like the Japanese moms in the 70s and 80s. In Japan, they call it the cram schools. That is why Li Yang, one of the first Chinese gurus to spread the gospel that anyone can learn English, his crazy way by shouting most times. If his method is effective, and if what he said is true, China today would have thousands and thousands of students and adults able to speak English fluently anywhere you go in China. That is not happening, tragically. He makes his fortune by spreading this naïve stupid gospel and many naïve stupid Chinese believe him. And now he has almost disappeared from the scene. What about thousands of other English language schools everywhere in China? Trying to provide the remedy because regular normal Chinese schools are failing miserably to teach the English language to their millions of students everywhere. Like Li Yang, they too are laughing all the way to the banks, to fatten their bank accounts, and they continue to grow like certain mushrooms after a rain, and expand into every corner in China today.

What is so shocking to me, an outsider, is the fact that the parents are not up in arms about all this, and they are willing to pay tons of money to send their children to these so-called English language schools. I often wonder what Chinese parents would be doing now if they only know things are not that much different in colleges and universities. I was shocked when college Chinese teachers told me if they were to use English in class, and should their students fail, they would lose their jobs the next day. So nothing is changing the way English is taught from primary through college. True in many college or university campuses across China. More surprising is the government is not saying anything about why these English language schools have mushroomed in every corner of China. Nobody seems to raise the question about the gross failure of our schools to teach children the English language the way it should be taught.

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Since coming to China as a visiting professor at Xiamen University in 2008, I heard some clamoring for change in the nature of the Gaokao, the national college entrance examination. Lower the English score, raise the Chinese score. They proposed. Is that the solution to the chronic problem of English language teaching in China? Goakao is not the problem. They need to examine the root of our problem in the way English language is taught in China.

Some universities are proposing to write their own college entrance examinations, to do away with the English portion of the test because to them, the English part of Gaokao is discouraging or failing the bright ones in math and science to enter these universities. That is their solution. Imagine the loud voice of a top government official who said openly we should teach our children to be more patriotic and learn more Chinese, less English. So far I have not seen any protest or disapproval from China’s Ministry of Education to his remark.

Canada does the smart thing. Many children in Canada not only learn English in schools but also they are exposed to French when they are very young. We all know children can learn another language without problems. I saw the kids—Malays, Chinese, Indians—playing out in the streets in Singapore and they could speak freely Indian, Chinese or Malay. Many American missionaries once worked in Singapore and Malaysia. Very soon, their children could speak Malay or Chinese because the servants or maids or nannies taking care of them are Chinese or Malay, while the adults had a tough time learning the language. In America, I witnessed rich parents many summers would send their children to Spain, so their kids could pick a new language living with Spanish host families. I had seen some doing the same from Korea, Japan, China sending their kids to America, England or Australia, spending time in camps or with host families so their children can improve their spoken English. Children, like parrots, can learn by imitation. Like sponges they tend to absorb something new fast and quick without too much doubts, questioning or hesitation which we adults suffer. We adults encounter too many problems when trying to learn something new, like a foreign language.

And so what kinds of teachers should China hire? Not those English native speakers who just graduated from colleges, coming to China looking for fun or an extended vacation. Hire many of those who have retired after teaching in America, now they have the time and the means to spend some time in China. It is so sad that if you are 55 or over, China would not allow you to come to teach in their schools. You are considered retired. Recent American retirees should be encouraged to come and teach in China because of their years of experiences as classroom teachers. American teachers are more conservative when it comes to money than the general public. Many

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have saved for their retirement. And they can afford the low pay in China. Coming to China to teach is considered a reward and a privilege.

Allowing English native speakers to jam the classrooms of thousands and thousands of English language schools across mainland China is not the solution to the problem of teaching the English language in China. China must be serious about this and start to train their own teachers how to teach the English language from primary through colleges in China, the right way. This is China.


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