Teaching English on a Summer Camp in Nanjing, China – Part One

By Yolande Deane
DELTA qualified EFL teacher with 5 years’ teaching experience

Yolande in class in China

What did I want to know?

I am in China for a month teaching English at a summer camp in Yangzhou and Nanjing for four weeks with Suman Education. I thought doing some active research in China would be interesting because the script they use is  different from English. I wanted to observe how that affected the children’s experience of learning English.

On my first day teaching in Nanjing I was faced with five children aged between eight and ten, not the ten I was expecting and not possessing the level of English I was expecting! They were all beginners who could say a few words, but no sentences.

Animal post it gameFortunately, I had a packet of small post it notes and they were a lifesaver. It meant that the whiteboard suddenly became interactive; I asked one of them to draw pictures of animals while I stuck the words in English next to them.  Once they became familiar with the names of the animals I gave them the post it notes and they had to stick them next to the correct picture on the board.  I was then able to recycle the post it notes by creating a “new word” poster in the room, which was referred to throughout the two weeks – simple but very effective.

Observations

What I observed quite quickly was that they had very little sound or word recognition; I wrote, what I thought was a very simple poem, using the names of the animals they had learnt earlier. However, they had great difficulty reading it because they had no idea about the sounds of English. They could say the alphabet, but as English has many more sounds than the 26 letters of the alphabet, so, it was back to doing phonetics by the end of the week.

As I listened to them struggle reading the poem I was immediately reminded of my experience reading Mandarin as a beginner in my Chinese class.  I remember feeling frustrated by the fact that my brain was having a tough time trying to work out form and meaning at the same time. This is automatic in your own language, but the added layer of an unfamiliar script adds another layer of difficulty. They tried to just randomly guess the sound of the word. I think laying a good foundation in word recognition and phonetics from an early stage with Chinese children has shown itself to be essential. There is no language root connection with English, so random guesses are of no use.  My next camp will be in Yangzhou teaching a larger class, and I will talk about my classroom observations in my next blog.

Link: Website for young learners

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