The Top 5 Benefits of Teaching English to Chinese International Students
August 13, 2019
During the 2018-2019 academic year, I taught English as a second language (ESL) to AIEP international students. Granted, these students already knew an impressive amount of English. Nonetheless, AIEP hired me to provide some additional assistance to its students, placing me within the context of a large range of value-offering services that the organization offers. Teaching English brought new meaning and insights into my life, the most important of which I’d like to share with you today. Without further ado, here are the top 5 benefits.
Seeing the World Differently
The culture of China has its roots in Confucian philosophy and evolved from a very different historical timeline than that of Western civilization. It goes without saying that a Chinese way of seeing the world differs tremendously from ours, a cognitive and philosophical difference that academics and professionals alike have dedicated themselves to understanding. Herein lies one of the first key benefits of working with Chinese international students: the opportunity to acquaint oneself with the Chinese perspective. From discovering Chinese value-systems to experiencing Chinese culture, these students have empowered me to enrich my world-view. The Chinese have different conceptions of: family and community, power and authority, education and discipline, and where humans stand in this world. Without elaborating on the specifics of such, the Chinese ultimately taught me a lot about myself and what I believe through contrast. As the adage goes, a fish has no clue about water.
Enhanced Sense of Unity Between Peoples
This is where paradoxical thinking comes into play: yes, working with international students taught me the differences between Easterners and Westerners. Yes, the Chinese differ from Americans at critical points. Yet, it’s also true that working with Chinese international students taught me to look past cultural differences to see the greater, more fundamental humanity within all people. Through interaction, observation, and reflection, I realized that all people have the same human essence, even despite their major differences. To phrase it bluntly: regardless of the cultural background from which one emerges, a teenager behaves and thinks like a teenager. They have the same concerns, perceptions, thoughts, and feelings as a teenager from anywhere else in the world. No matter how different, they are the same. This taught me to act compassionately toward others, as well as toward myself.
Increased Motivation and Study Discipline
The Chinese, by and large, get stereotyped by society as studious and focused. In my experience, I have found that the Chinese do not necessarily study harder than Americans, so much as they take a different approach to studying. When it comes to studying and training, the Chinese take a much more rigorous, bottoms-up approach to the consumption and acquisition of knowledge than Americans. Both the American (and Western) educational philosophies have their own merits and pitfalls, but the Chinese approach brings a diversity of approach into the classroom. Personally, I studied very hard in college; I graduated Summa Cum Laude with Phi Beta Kappa membership. Even so, I found myself baffled at the rigor of many, though not all, of these Chinese students — whereas Americans focus on higher-order thinking and intellectual creativity, the Chinese drill on facts and recollection. It is a different approach, and one that Americans deem old-fashioned, but it drives the Chinese to excel in a number of fields that value this sort of learning. Working with students who adopt this approach has benefited me tremendously! Their energy and determination has inspired me to raise the level of my own daily studies, a change-up which has served me well.
Improved Linguistic Competency
Surprisingly, working on English with Chinese international students brought benefits not only to the students’ English levels, but also to my own! To explain why this is so, I must offer a little bit of background information. First, Mandarin functions differently than English with regards to grammar, vocal inflections, and writing systems. Because of this, Chinese students view the English language completely as outsiders-looking-in, unlike international students from any European country. This perspective gives them the ability to mentally compartmentalize English in ways that “insiders” (native English speakers) cannot. Working with these students brought to my questioning many fundamental assumptions about English, how it functions, and what makes it “tick.” By working with students who approach the language from such a different linguistic background, I had the opportunity to take my writing from an advanced to professional level. It was at this time that I began to write and publish books with relative ease, and I attribute much of my progress in this area to my experience teaching Chinese students the English language.
Beyond all else, these students amaze me. In pursuit of a better education and a better life, they moved to America for schooling. These students continue to overcome cultural and linguistic barriers, all the while grappling with the regular challenges of academics and the teenage years. Whatever challenges these students face, you cannot help but to root for them. As any educator can attest, teaching involves much more than the mere transmission of knowledge; teaching also involves compassion and consideration for students’ emotions. Working with these international students evoked from me a sense of compassion and empathy, which expressed itself in devoting extra effort to these students’ continuing success.
These five main benefits barely scratch the surface of what I experienced. Certainly, the entire experience brought about profound satisfaction in my life, instilling me with the knowledge that I, as an educator, can help guide international students down the path toward victory. Despite the meaningful ways in which I contributed to these students’ lives, I know that they gave back so much more: simply witnessing these students persevere in the face of overwhelming obstacles inspires me to push forward myself.
If you are an educator who is interested in working with students from China, please do not hesitate to contact us here.