Differences to Know When Teaching English to Chinese Speakers

Teaching English to Chinese students is quite a challenge, because the teacher has to take into account both linguistic and cultural differences. The English and Chinese languages differ from each other as much as both cultures do. It is not necessary to know Chinese if you’re teaching English online, but it is important to understand those differences when working with Chinese speakers, as it for all Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.

If you’re teaching English abroad in China or online from your home, it’s common for students bit confused during your first lessons, so your task is also to adapt your teaching style and classroom management methods to better suit the culture of Chinese-speaking students.

There are also striking differences between the Chinese and English languages, so it is quite difficult to learn English for Chinese speakers. Let’s find out what the most common differences and which techniques you can use to facilitate the process of Chinese students learning English.

The Alphabet

Probably the most obvious difference between English and Chinese is that they use different alphabets. English uses the Latin or Roman alphabet, which consists of 26 letters. Chinese uses a non-alphabetic script of characters, each of which represents a word, and there are literally thousands of them. Therefore, when learning English, Chinese speakers have to learn an entirely new concept of alphabet.

English Syllables and Word Stress For Chinese Speakers

teaching english to chinese students

There are several problems that Chinese students encounter when they get familiar with the structure and logic of English language. These are just a few. 

Monosyllabic mother tongue

Chinese is a monosyllabic language, i.e. each word (character) is represented by one syllable. As a result, Chinese students tend to pronounce each English syllable very carefully, as if it was a separate word.

Tone and intonation

In Chinese, the same syllables can have different meaning when pronounced with different intonation. Therefore, Chinese speakers put stress on each syllable, thus changing the meaning of the English word.

Ending of syllables

Chinese syllables end mostly with vowels, and can end only with the “n” or “ng” consonant sounds. Therefore, Chinese students tend to add a vowel after an ending consonant that is other than “n” or “ng”, for example, “dog-a.”

The best way to explain the syllables and word stress in English for Chinese speakers is to have them memorize the rules first, and then give them lots of practical exercises, ESL activities, and games. One of practical activities can be treasure hunting – a teacher hides cards with different syllables somewhere in the classroom, with stressed syllables marked with another color. After that, the students work in teams to search for those syllables, join them up to produce words, and read them aloud.

For examples of ESL activities, see this article.

English Grammar for Chinese Speakers

chinese learning english

Grammar is also significantly different in both languages, so it is important to be aware of those differences as well when learning English from Chinese

No subject

In Chinese the subject is not necessary in every sentence, whereas an English sentence without a subject is just a phrase.

No articles

There are neither definite nor indefinite articles in Chinese language.

No plurals

The plural form of nouns is absent in Chinese language. A number word is placed in front of the noun, or a word that means something like “many.” Therefore, Chinese students forget to change an English noun because it is plural.

No tense-related verb changes

Chinese verbs do not change when the tense is changed – there are other ways to express tense in Chinese language.

No gender in spoken language

Chinese has written pronouns for each of the genders, but they all sound the same in speech.

Different forms for written and spoken language

This can create some disconnect during writing activities or speaking activities.

To improve their English grammar skills, your Chinese students should immerse themselves in real-life examples instead of just memorizing the rules. For example, you can start each lesson with reading the news and then discussing it. You can also devote some lessons to movies that can be watched several times – with Chinese subtitles, with English subtitles, and then without any subtitles. Finally, you can organize some music or podcast listening activities.

English Pronunciation for Chinese Speakers

Chinese students have most problems with the following English sounds: /l/, /r/, /v/, /w/, /th/ and consonant combinations such as /tr/, /dr/, /st/, and /pl/. Therefore, it is important to enrich your ESL lesson plan with various pronunciation activities and games, such as tongue twisters, bingo, total physical response, rhyming pairs, silent mouthing, and so on.

So if you were wondering about how to teach Chinese students English, we hope that you have found some answers in our article. Good luck and happy teaching.

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