My name is Stanley, and I am what they call an ABC, which stands for Australian Born Chinese. I graduated from the University of Melbourne Australia with a Science degree in Physiology. I later attended Monash University’s Masters of Business Systems program. After graduation I was offered a job at an Engineering company which designs and manufactures cellular panels. I later went into documentary filmmaking. Although documentaries are able to reach people on a mass level, I began to realize the importance of teaching and reaching out to people on a more personal level, and that is how I began my teaching career. I taught in a Private English school in Nanjing called Canilx . This school offers English language instruction to people of all ages and of all walks of life. I have taught high school students who were preparing to leave china to an English speaking country, I have taught business managers whose sole purpose was to communicate with their English speaking counterparts. Later on, my wife and I migrated to Canada, where we are currently involved in a lot of student work both at the high school level and at the university level. We both teach English at the University of Toronto, under the Centre of International Experience.
Hi, I’m Pam. I was also born and brought up in Australia and of Chinese descent. I learned Chinese as a second language. In order to avoid having extra translation, I will try my best to answer in my limited Chinese. Please forgive my limitations. My background is in Education, I graduated from the University of Melbourne Australia with a Bachelor of Education degree, specializing in TESOL, which is Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. During my teacher training, I had the opportunity to observe and teach in a variety of different schools in Australia, including an English Language school, which caters for students who are new to Australia. The school supports newly-arrived ESL students of primary and secondary age who have been in Australia less than 6 months. Eligible students are offered a 20 week intensive, full time program to improve their English knowledge and skills before enrolling in a mainstream school. I had an amazing experience there and met many students from all different countries, including refugees from war torn countries.
Being of Chinese descent, I had a heart for the Chinese people. So after graduating from University, I went to Nanjing, China to teach English. So for about two years, I taught English to Master Students at Nanjing University of Technology, as well as at a local business language school. While I was there, I conducted English Corners at the university, providing students with the opportunity to converse and mingle with native speakers of English.
During the summer, Stanley and Pam organized an IELTS program for high school students. What would you say are the differences b/w the program that you offered compared to the program other organizations would provide?
We personally have not attended other IELTS program, but we had a student who had attended both our IELTS program as well as another one offered elsewhere.
From his feedback, he identified that our program focuses on the basics and fundamentals, e.g. vocabulary, sentence structure, interacting in English, while the other program focused on the strategies of getting a high IELTS mark, and because their focus was on ‘beating’ the system, they taught the classes in Chinese.
I personally believe that it is important to understand the strategies for achieving a high mark, but that is only a short term solution. Once the student gets into University, he or she will have a hard time coping with their studies because they have not focused in building up the foundation of their English communication skills.
In our IELTS program, we drilled the students in writing, reading, listening and speaking. The books that we chose and teaching material offered subjects that ranged in all kind of topics, from talking about different types of personalities, to science and technology to the human brain to the environment. So not only does our IELTS program drill our students in English, but it also exposes them to a wide range of topics in science, arts, human physiology, sociology, psychology, environmental science. Being familiar with these topics, when going through the reading and writing exercises in the IELTS program, will eventually help high school students understand what their teachers are talking about when they finally attend regular school classes.
One of the students who joined the summer IELTS program recently shared with us that when he went back to regular school for the fall semester, he was able to recall what he had learnt in IELTS and apply the skills and knowledge to the subject at hand.
The most important element in fostering good studying habits, is to build up morale in the class. As long as the morale is high, then each student is excited to learn and to participate. Morale is built up when the students learn to build up a healthy relationship with one another, and that is why apart from teaching the students English, we had also organized some activities that promoted team work, these activities also encouraged these students to have fun while learning. Some of these activities included sports, problem solving activities, word games and board games. We have observed that people learn the best when they are having fun being engaged in healthy activities.
Relationship between the teacher and the student is one major factor in helping the students to improve their English. Throughout the summer program, the students were extremely supportive to us as their teachers and that in turn helped them to improve their level of English. In turn, we have observed in the past that those who do not want to build up a relationship with their teachers or their peers, will not only affect their English levels, but also impede the improvement of others.
Lastly, the objective of our IELTS program is not to make money, but to offer an environment whom are genuinely interested in learning English and building up healthy relationships with their teacher and fellow classmates. And thus our classes are small because we filter out those who are willing to learn, from those who only come because their parents force them to come.
The objective of this IELTS program is to build up a group of people who will also learn to care for the needs of people. Essentially this IELTS program hopes to build up leaders of the future who care and who can make a contribution to society.
For example, after the conclusion of the summer program, we had a group of high school students from China who were new to Canada. We organized a day activity for these new comers. These activities were conducted in English. During the activity, there were some new students whose command of English was extremely weak, and he would have sat through the whole activity without understanding anything. This is the case for many who had just come from abroad to Canada. But at that moment, we were able to assign one of students from our IELTS class to translate and befriend this student so that he would not be ‘lost in translation’. Our student was eager to help and was extremely effective.
有句话说得好，”Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”意思是：教育不是装满水桶，而是点亮孩子心中的火，让他发光发热。老师的任务就是帮助学生，培养、激发他们的潜力；反观中国教学方式要死记硬背一些知识，那这两种方式各有优势，西方的教育容易失去自律，东方的教育比较死板。
There’s a phrase by William Butler Yeats – a key figure in 20th Century literature Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. Western Education focuses a lot on independent learning, creativity, interaction and initiation. The teacher plays a role in helping students harness their potential. While the Eastern Education system is much more to do with rote learning.
Both systems have their strengths and weaknesses, Western Education, although is much more creative and dynamic, at times lacks discipline. Eastern Education on the other hand is very disciplined, can be quite rigid.
I remember when I first entered into a classroom of 80 masters students. I was meant to teach them spoken English, there is no way you can teach spoken English to a class that size, that was the first mistake, with 80 students, how they even get a chance to speak? However, I had no choice, so I had to think of other ways to make it work. I decided to split them up into small groups of 5. Since these were adults in their early to mid 20s, I asked them to form their own groups, just to gather themselves in groups of 5. After about 5 minutes, I noticed that the majority of them had not moved into their groups. When I asked what was wrong, it turns out that they didn’t really know their classmates and no one took their initiative to form a group. I the end I had to point at them, 1,2,3,4,5, you you you you you, you’re one group! The kids that I had taught back home had no problem forming their own groups, but this group of 25 year olds were too scared to interact with each other. They came to the spoken English class expecting to just listen to me lecture for 3 hours! From that, I realized that all this time, these students have been trained to do one thing and they do it very well. That is to sit there quietly and passively listen to the teacher.
That is one of the main differences between Western and Chinese education.
So when students come over to study, they need to be prepared for endless presentations, they must be willing to work with other people, work in groups, offer ideas, show initiation. You have to understand, that kids in the Western world have been trained to do that since they were 5. I remember when I was in school, even before grade 1, every kid was given a day to do what we call ‘show and tell’, so if you were scheduled for Monday, every Monday, you would bring something to show the class and tell them about it. And every student was given this opportunity.
So to do well in the west, you will have to learn to show initiation, nobody is going to force you or monitor you, particularly when you get to University, your teacher is not going to keep track on how you’re doing. You have to manage your own time, you have to form your own groups. This can be quite intimidating. But if you are prepared, you have nothing to worry about, make friends with people who know what they’re doing and learn from them.
What would you say are the main problems that Chinese students’ face in terms of learning English?
The lack of confidence to speak and practice their English is in my opinion the greatest obstacle for Chinese students. Some of these students express themselves very well in Chinese, and they suddenly feel inferior when they can’t express themselves in English. Those who can overcome the barrier of being self conscious usually see an improvement in their English level. When we teach at the university of Toronto we try to use English activities to boost up their confidence and we have found that when their confidence is raised, they perform a lot better.
Also, as a result of the need to communicate, these Chinese students would usually stick with other Chinese who speak their own language.
I have often encouraged Chinese students to find local Canadian friends so that they can practice their English. However I understand that many of them are afraid that they can’t understand the local Canadians, so they are not as confident in finding local canadian friends. However, Canada, especially Toronto is a very multicultural hub. You can always find someone who doesn’t speak Chinese, like a Korean student, Japanese student, Brazilian student, Iranian student. All these students share something in common, and that is English is not their first language. If English is not their first language, then you are on common ground and you don’t have to feel uncomfortable in speaking English. I have known many students who have ventured off in looking for friends who don’t speak their language, and they have significantly improved. Within one year of coming to Canada they have changed from an ESL environment to a completely local English environment.
We have even taught students at a university level, who eventually became English teachers in their own countries, all because they chose friends who did not speak in their own native language.
How does the performance of a high school student’s English affect their future at university (as you have taught multiple students at university ) ?
There is a joint research project currently being conducted by the Toronto school board and the university of Toronto. Their current findings indicate that students who barely passed their English exam in high school had a much higher tendency to drop out f university. Many students who drop out are too afraid to tell their parents and they ended up squandering a lot of money yet achieving nothing.
A more extreme example of university students suffering from the neglect of building a stronger English foundation can be shown in a case that happened a few years back in an Australian university, min ash university. A Chinese PhD student had a lot of trouble with his English, and as a result he was under a lot of stress and pressure. This stress finally erupted and he began to shoot his fellow students. It is very rare to hear of firearm related cases but this was caused as a result of his ability to communicate and to relate properly with people.
What suggestions can you give to Chinese parents & students?
Language and culture are inseparable. Therefore, in order for a student to improve in their English, it is important that they become part of a community where they can interact with local people outside of the school context.
Students can sign up for volunteer programs, or sport groups, or attend church. These also provide students with opportunities to build up healthy relationships with people who have good habits.
From my teaching experience, I have noticed that those who are genuinely interested in western culture will usually excel in their English standard. We have known students who spend time watching English speaking entertainment, and not only does their English improve, but the nuances, the slang also improves. However, the only set back with the content on TV is that there is a growing trend in using foul language and sexual content. In order to avoid this habit, I would recommend TV programs that were made in the 90s. A lot of programs nowadays on TV is very entertaining but is really garbage for the mind, so choose your programs wisely.
I attend church, and I have found it to be very beneficial, and so I also encourage parents and students to attend church. What I have observed is that those who willingly attend church do much better in terms of English and school work than those who do not want to attend church. Although this is not the case for everyone, but from my observations, that is the case. Of course, church is not just about religion, but it is about learning to build up a healthy relationship with one another, and building up good habits that are taught in the bible.
The church also provides a community of people with healthy habits. People who do not engage in healthy habits will not want to attend church in the first place.
The sense of community is extremely important because it is only when you are with people that you are comfortable with, you can then have the desire to build up healthy relationships.
In terms of English, another option that parents can consider is to send their children to smaller Canadian towns where there are less people speaking Chinese. Then your child will be forced to learn English. After 1 or 2 years of high school experience, their English would have improved enough for them to be transferred to a university in a larger city such as the University of Toronto.