It’s been more than one year that I moved to China where I study Mandarin and teach French (and English) part time. Life is exciting over here and I learned many things of course. I met a lot of friends, I improved my knowledge about Asia and China, and I learned to speak (simple) Mandarin. I remember my first time I had lunch with a native speaking only mandarin. We all have a different way to learn things over the world. Mainly because different education systems but also a different approach of the individual in the society.
I started learning Mandarin online with a private tutor. It was really effective. First, because I am a teacher myself and I knew what kind of problems I would face. I chose several tutors, one for teaching me grammar, vocabulary and structures. and two others for practicing conversational chinese. At this stage I improved quickly. At first I suggested my tutor to use a method with inductive grammar (since chinese grammar is almost inexistant compared to French). But she eventually suggested to follow her method. It was also good. But I started to notice that she would not be able to teach me with another method. Because teachers (I think all over the world) teach as they were taught. So students in China need to learn in a well-defined environment otherwise they are scared and lose confidence. They can’t think by themeselves (sad but mainly true), even at a university level. All is well-defined and it’s hard to create something for them because they are not taught that way.
Arriving in a classroom environment, I realize it was also well-defined. French teachers in France use methods of course, but they feel free to add any extra material they think relevant for the lesson. Some teachers don’t even use a book or a method. They just print exercises or lessons on a loose sheet. To this extend I also feel a bit confused as a student! But I would say it’s almost the opposite that I found in China. It’s only my experience but it seems to be mostly like this.
So asian students are often passive in the classroom environment. They just repeat what they are told to and there is almost no pressure to help them to « create » something on their own. Therefore, they are really good at memorizing things (especially when they have no idea of the meaning 🙂 ). They are way better than westerners at this game. They trained the part of the brain to imitate, copy, repeat (and that is also why Chinese are famous to copy everything, it is in their nature, they don’t mean to be bad. Copy is not stealing for them, and actually it is encouraged because it is part of the collective aspect of asian societies, you should do like everybody else, otherwise you are a weirdo). This being said, they are, like us, unbalanced. They are really good with technical stuff, grammar, pronunciation process and analysis, structures, but they lack of intuition and feeling.
They can’t say things they know (like their name, address, age etc…), because they learned it a certain way, and if they don’t remember THIS EXACT WAY, they can even forget their own name. It is really like this.
They have on the contrary a better pronunciation than French for English language. I realized that in France we don’t learn English pronunciation that deep. Many words are so similar (similaires) that we think that we should not really pay attention (attention). Big mistake of our education system. Chinese learn the IPA (phonetic alphabet, not the beer) in order to learn english pronunciation and that is a really good thing. They have no other choice, but it makes them better than French concerning pronunciation.
Thanks to my students (thank you!), mostly english speakers, I erased the bigger part of my FRRRench accent. We have so much to learn confronting our weaknesses.
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