Tips for Teaching English to Asian Students

By Mary Ann Zehr — July 03, 2007 1 min read
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If you have a large number of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, or Vietnamese students in your English-as-a-second-language classes, you might want to purchase the summer copy of MultiCultural Review (a single copy is $25) or find one in a library. The issue, which isn’t free online, contains an article, “Asian ESL Students and Literacy Development,” that tells about the learning styles of Asian students and summarizes some differences between several Asian languages and English. It’s written by Peter Edwards, a professor of education at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va., and Hui-Chin Yang, a professor of education at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

The article says “one characteristic of the Asian learning style is a teacher-centered, closure-oriented learning mode, leading Asian students to dislike ambiguity, uncertainty, or fuzziness.” I recall how when I was an English teacher in China nearly two decades ago, I had a student who believed he could become fluent in English by learning all of the grammar rules for the language. To be able to connect with my Chinese students and build on what they already knew, I had to learn quite a lot about English grammar.

The comparisons between languages offer insight not commonly discussed in education journals. In the Korean language, disagreement is expressed more directly and forcefully than it is in American English. In Chinese, nouns, adjectives, and adverbs don’t have suffixes. The word, “happy,” for instance, can be used as several parts of speech without any change, while in English the word changes to “happily” or “happiness.”

You teachers have a challenge to explain to students why English is the way it is, and it can’t hurt to know where students might be helped or hindered by influences from their native languages. By the way, does anyone have a good explanation for why I need the word “does” in this question? I know from my own teaching experience that it’s hard to come up with explanations for some of this stuff on one’s feet.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.