Working with Chinese Children, by Sinead Hegarty

Having never worked with very young children before it was certainly daunting walking into my first classroom. I expected chaos: children climbing the walls, tearing each other to pieces. They were, after all, only four years old. What greeted me instead was a group of well-behaved children, albeit a little scared and teary. I could see them looking up at me and looking back at their parents – a definite question of ‘why are you leaving me with this strange foreign looking person?’ in their minds. Once I realized, however, that we were both scared of each other I was able to calm down and focus on teaching them English. That was the real challenge: how to encourage and educate Chinese children who rarely have any knowledge of the English language outside a classroom. Whilst Chinese children start learning English in school from a young age they hardly every have a chance to practice it, particularly their speaking and listening skills. Consequently they are usually extremely shy and anxious when it comes to communicating in English. This is why you have to make it fun through games and music and, essentially making a prat of yourself!

There is huge pressure on children to do well in school and succeed academically here in China. From a very young age they have a lot of homework and monthly exams, culminating in the terrifying Gaokao exam when they are eighteen. Therefore by creating a relaxed atmosphere in the classroom, playing games and removing their desks you are able to give them the freedom to play and learn through play. It’s such a joy to see a child’s confidence increase and to see that happiness on their face when they finally get an answer right or correctly pronounce that difficult word. As the term has progressed both mine and my students inhibitions have disappeared and, whilst their behavior may not be always perfect, their enthusiasm and enjoyment rarely wanes.

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