Even Language Teachers Have Language Barriers

, , , , , | Learning | March 22, 2020

(I am working as an online English teacher for kids in China. Sometimes during a lesson, a kid might not understand what he is supposed to do. The most direct explanation would be to explain it in Chinese; however, there are three reasons why this is the last resort. The class is supposed to be immersive and the students should not hear or speak Chinese during the lessons. My Chinese is not good enough to carry on a conversation. Despite my best efforts, my accent confuses kids who have not had much English experience and they think my Chinese is just more English they do not understand. Here is an example of what can happen when I resort to Chinese.)

Me: *circling the fire truck on the screen* “What is this?”

Boy: “What… is this?”

Me: “No, no… What is this?”

Boy: “What is this?”

Me: “No…” *still circling the firetruck* “Zhege shi shenma?” *“This one is what?”*

Boy: “Zhega shi shenma…”

Father: *laughing and saying in Chinese* “No, the teacher is trying to speak to you in Chinese. He is asking you what this is.”

Boy: *sheepish chuckling* “Oh, oh, oh… It’s a firetruck.”

(The rest of the class proceeded much easier as he got better at recognizing the receptive language. It’s nice when there is an English-proficient parent around to bail me out.)

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