Full Immersion

Do you really need to know how to speak Chinese to teach students English? Full immersion in the classroom can improve students’ language abilities overall.

But how will I teach students English without being able to speak Chinese? Will someone translate for me?”

I have heard the same questions, or variations of these questions many times over the years from inexperienced teachers and Chinese people. There is a common myth that you need to speak to your students in their own language to effectively teach English language concepts and vocabulary. However, many ESL schools encourage their teachers to use English exclusively in the classroom. So, let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons?of an English-only classroom, and some of the things you, as a teacher, can do to?create an English-only environment in your classroom.

Constant exposure will help students to hone their listening skills and opportunities to speak will aid with fluency and pronunciation.

Bilingual Education vs English Immersion
The Pros of Teaching English-Only Education:

Imagine learning to ride a bike without ever taking off the training wheels. It feels comfortable and easy, but you will never really learn to ride a bike. The same is true of learning any foreign language. If you’re always relying on the crutch of your first language, you have no chance of becoming fluent. On the most basic level, students need to interact with English to learn it. Constant exposure will help students to hone their listening skills and opportunities to speak will aid with fluency and pronunciation. The other clear benefit is that of setting an example. How can you expect the students to speak in English if you and/or your Chinese Teaching Assistant do not?

The Cons of Teaching English-Only Education:

Students may feel intimidated by English, associate it with endless rote learning, endless memorization of grammar rules, and–especially younger learners–see it as having limited use in their everyday lives. For that reason, you might run into a high level of resistance to using only English, at least initially. A lot of ESL students in China are used to learning English from Chinese English teachers. Often, those teachers will use a mixture of English and Chinese in the classroom. That is what many students may expect when they turn up for your first class. Some students will overcome their hesitancy relatively easy, some will be excited by the prospect of putting what they have already learned to use, but for others it might be a bit more of a challenge.

How to Teach ESL Without Speaking Your Students’ Native Language
The benefits of an English-only classroom are clear, and the resistance to it is relatively easy to understand. How to make it a reality, however, might not be so obvious. In my opinion, there are two things you can do to achieve this.

  •  Create a new set of expectations:

Stick to your guns. Speak only English, and respond only to English. At first, the absence of Chinese might irritate and confuse students, but it will not take long for it to become the norm. Within a week or two you will have created a new set of expectations. These expectations must also be created by your Chinese Teaching Assistant, and sometimes they can be the worst perpetrators of the “No Chinese” rule.

  • Make yourself more comprehensible:

Teaching English may appear to be a challenge at first. However, with a few techniques and some practice it’s nowhere near as difficult as it might seem. Communication is so much more than just words. Use non-verbal cues to your advantage. Hand gestures, actions, pictures, posters, drawings and text can all aid understanding of instructions and concepts. You can also change the pitch, tone and intonation of your voice. Select the vocabulary that you use carefully and simplify your sentences. In other words, you can use many of the same techniques that you use to communicate with a small child.

The Best Way to Teach, and Learn English
It is possible to teach English without using Chinese, and not only is it possible, it is the most effective and efficient way to teach it and learn it. Using Chinese as a crutch is what they will expect and what they will feel comfortable with. Although that is the path of least resistance, it will only hinder their progress in the long run. The initial effort often dissuades many teachers from trying the idea in the first place. All you need, however, is a little persistence and you will see.