The westerner may find it a daunting experience in Asia. To be put into a class with a group of students staring wide-eyed at you. Dealing with the culture shock of a new environment and trying to put theory into practice.
The ideas explored below aims to give practical advice to new teachers surviving their early years. Seasoned educators may also dwell on these ideas as they think back on their experiences.
The most effective way for people to assimilate a language is to create a full English immersion environment. Learn English using the English they already know. Expose their visual and audio senses exclusively to English. They learn to think in English without reverting to the habit of trying to translate everything into their native tongue. The longer students can keep up this environment the easier it will be for them to think naturally using English.
This is a challenging task for most students. In schools around Asia the traditional approach to language learning is by direct translation and this develops strong habits. Also in this age of modern technology we have apps that allow us instant translations between languages.
When we create and enforce this immersion environment we should consider the nature of the learners. How strongly are they motivated? What is their current English ability? How much willpower do they have and how receptive are they to new habits of learning?
Getting Students to Open Up
Students must willingly practice conversations if they are to improve their oral English. They need to articulate sounds which they find difficult and try to communicate in a language alien to them. Brave students can openly make mistakes within a group. This is a feat for more reserved and introvert people, especially in Asian culture.
The teacher needs to create an open, relaxed environment within the group. Encourage mistakes. Allow a place where one can say anything without being ridiculed. We need to bring the people together to form a group. We feel more at ease with others we are familiar with as opposed to total strangers. The group dynamics are just as important as the teacher. The students need to bond and develop positive relationships together in a spirit of learning.
Activities in the Classroom
To promote an effective oral practice environment we should not focus solely on traditional textbook learning. It is exhausting to sit and listen to the teacher for students who attend classes repeatedly throughout the day.
The teacher needs to bring a creative approach to the material. We stimulate the full range of senses. We can use audio or visual resources to stimulate the student’s senses. Adopting physical activities can get the student up and in motion. Group discussions, role-plays, presentations, artwork and teamwork activities all can play a part. There are a whole range of techniques the teacher can bring to the classroom to engage the students.
The Performing “Foreigner”
Many Chinese (or Asians) may view the typical westerner differently. Depending on their exposure to the West, the “foreigner” may bring an air of mystery and uniqueness to their character.
As teachers, we have the task of engaging the students and stimulating their interest in English. We can supplement our teaching with strong positive personalities and character. The classroom is a teacher’s stage. During our performances we not only develop their language abilities, but we open up their perceptions to the different cultures around them.
Preparation and Planning
Preparation is an important element to a successful class. Having the ability to speak fluent English is just one of many requirements. We carefully plan our material for the class (or curriculum). We need to consider what activities we will use and the best way to carry out them. Flexibility is an important element as the teacher is ready for many possible unknowns outside their control.
A common scenario for the beginner is to spend extensive hours preparing for the class. Note that preparation is just the beginning. We need to execute our plan as well with finesse and the right mental approach.
Teaching requires the right state of mind. We are genuinely motivated to educate others. We connect with each of our students and bring our passion to the content we are using. It is not just the materials themselves that are important but who we are. The persona we bring into the classroom and which lingers as students continue with their lives.