I am wrapping up my Chinese teaching experiences in University of Idaho’s Confucius Institute (UICI) in a few weeks, though I am really reluctant to do so. Two years ago, I stepped out of my former comfort zone of life in Guangzhou, China and nervously arrived at Moscow, Idaho, to become a Chinese teacher in the Confucius Institute, University of Idaho. I had had asked myself such questions many times before I finally got here, “Is it an adventure or just making myself a goof ball?”, “Is it a challenge or just a getaway?”, “Is it going to be a series of surprises or disappointments?”
These questions have always been lingering on me in the past two years as well. Nonetheless, as I am wrapping up my trip and looking back today, the answers to these questions suddenly become clear. Adventures are exciting and full of joys; therefore, this special experience is not being silly. Challenges coexist with hopes. Therefore, when you meet with challenges, you are not escaping from but seeking for new hopes, which bring constant surprises to your unchanged life. These hopes and surprises help you explore and discover new balance, comfort and beauty of your life.
As a Chinese teacher, my primary job in the past two years is to teach Chinese. However, I have accomplished the most complicated teaching tasks and met with the most diversified students over my 25 years of teaching career. Being a full-time, part-time or substitute teacher, I have taught students ranging from kindergarten to adult community class. Therefore, students are varied not only in their ages and interests, but also in their races and nationalities. Among them, there are three or four-year old preschoolers, cute primary school pupils, rebellious adolescents, youthful high schoolers, vigorous college students, mature and rational middle-aged people, and sophisticated and experienced senior citizens. Faced with so complicated and diversified students, many a time I am suspicious at myself and do not know whether I can cater for their individual needs while trying to finish my assigned teaching tasks. Fortunately, what I can relieve myself now is that I have tried my best to make things done when I look back.
As for preschoolers and elementary school pupils, I spent most of my time on the organization and management of teaching, tried every possible means to prepare suitable and effective teaching facilities and tools, made efforts to explore and attract the kids’ interests and attention, so that they can experience and feel the charm of Chinese language and culture while learning some basic Chinese words and expressions. I believe, for kids, interest is the best teacher. So long as they develop interests in Chinese language and culture, they will have the potentials to make everything possible, not to mention to continue to learn Chinese language.
As for high school and college students, their learning ability is strong enough to accomplish various tasks independently. Therefore, language teaching should not stagnate on words and expressions. Instead, teachers should help students comprehend sentences and discourses, in order that students can become active learners from passive ones, thus passive language learning can change to active language acquisition. I personally hold that in order to realize this goal, the only effective way is to feed the students with reading materials with appropriate difficulty, so that the students can cultivate and enhance their linguistic sensitivity from constant and sufficient reading, thus further strengthening their language learning motivation and improving their language learning efficiency. The implementation of this teaching conception benefits my students a lot. Most of my students can achieve their goal of having the basic ability to listen, speak, read and write in Chinese and realize basic communicative purpose after one or two years’ constant learning.
As is known to all, language learning is not merely for language’s own sake. It is more important to know about the culture behind the language and to facilitate communications in all aspects with language as a carrier. This is especially true for some community students and short-term trainees. Their ultimate goal of learning Chinese is to help meet some practical needs in work and life, not to grasp the linguistic rules of Chinese language, for instance, Chinese Pinyin, tones, syntax, etc. They do not want to waste time on these theoretical aspects. Therefore, I deem that teaching must be more pertinent. Adult students are innately restricted in their language learning conditions. Failing memories, time shortage, mother-tongue transfer, poor pronunciation or intonation, and so forth are all negative factors that prevent them from fast learning of a language. However, teachers should not be depressed by these factors because adult students have their own advantages as well. In general, adult students are highly motivated and possess stronger analytical ability. In addition, they have stronger integration and combination than their younger counterparts. Therefore, for these students, I have to make a more customer-based syllabus and teaching plans to satisfy their individual needs, although which might be varied, from business purpose to marital factors, from travel destination to dietary reasons.
In short, my teaching experience in UICI is short but fruitful and precious for me. It not only enables me to have this opportunity to better know about the American society and participate in American education, to have chance to observe ordinary Americans’ daily life in a closer distance, but also helps me utilize my Chinese teaching experience to washback my English teaching after I return back to China.
~ 陈洪 (Chen Hong)