Thursday, October 2, 2008

老师,不好意思,我听不懂 -sorry teacher, I don't understand

It's funny this thing with teachers at the university. I think I've had all kinds: young ones, old ones, happy ones, unhappy ones, bitchy/bully ones (although I made sure to swap class in order to make this a short-term relationship), encouraging ones, male ones, female ones, slow-speaking ones, fast-speaking ones, and then... of course, the over ambitious ones.

My first, over ambitious teacher I had when I studied level 2 at Jiaotong University in Shanghai. She was my grammar teacher: a tall, loud woman who never even bothered to introduce herself to us. During our first lesson she stormed into the classroom 10 minutes late and started writing on the board. Her voice was very sharp and loud, and on those rare occasions when she addressed us, she did so by calling us -mmmgghhhppppffff- and pointing at us with one finger. My class, which at that time consisted of me, 2 Japanese girls, one Colombian guy and 15 young Koreans, soon learned that 'mmmgghhhppppffff' followed by a finger pointing in the air meant that some of us should read/answer a question. Mind us; it didn't happen on a regular basis. This teacher loved her own voice. Loved reading to us. Loved talking to us. Loved telling us about her smart daughter. Loooooooved having a monologue

It soon became clear to us that she wasn't really a level-2 teacher. Her goals for us were way beyond level 2. She often brought with her essays from some level 4-5 class that she thought would be suitable for us to read, since the text book we used was ‘sooooo easy’ (I have never used my electronic dictionary more!). At first, I panicked at her pace: during one week we would go through 3-4 chapters! Soon, however, I started to not give a damn. I remember the first time I asked her if she could slow down the pace a little bit... She looked at me with something between pity and amusement in her eyes. She promised she'd do, however, and during the next two lessons I understood a lot more than I'd done earlier that semester. There were also more of the 'mmmgghhhppppffff' going on during this class, although I think this sort of scared her, because when she started to ask us more questions and realised that we couldn't answer her, she got frustrated. And of course.... Soon she was back at her normal, fast pace and the 'mmmgghhhppppffff' stopped. On went monologue lessons and useless essay readings.

When our final exam approach she seemed to realise that no one in our class had grasped a lot of the grammar she'd taught us. So to make sure we passed, she wrote down the entire exam on the board. No, not question by question, but almost. She told us that the last part of the exam would involve writing a letter to a family member, and therefore advised us to go home and practice on this. I did, and scored an amazing 97% on my exam.

I was very happy when I noticed that all of my level 3 teachers at Suzhou Uni were the total opposite of my previous grammar teacher. Level 3 was a great course and I learned a lot.

I have already told u about my initial problems during level 4 (bully teachers) but since I have now changed class that's not a problem anymore. What has become apparent, however, is that our listening teacher seems to be suffering from the same, ambitious thinking as my old grammar teacher. She's already told us that the book is 'too boring' and that we should study it during our spare time. So, during our listening classes we are watching footage or listening to radio broadcasts that she has recorded from some local TV channel/radio station. Sure, this is good practicing but.... it's a little bit hard! Well, actually, hard is an understatement. It's in fact, VERY hard... and, I don't see why we cannot watch TV/listen to radio on our spare time, and then follow our book while we're in class? Because let's face it.. no one in the whole class understands her. We are all just sitting there, shaking our heads, rolling our eyes and almost laughing at the tasks she's giving us. I haven't spoken up yet because I have only been in this class for 2 weeks (where I have been sick for most of one week) but I am definitely planning to question her once we are back in class. It's just... a little bit.... sensitive sometimes to question a Chinese teacher. They don't really seem open to criticism.

In a way it would be better to shut up and just... suck it up. U know, sit there, listen (although it is hard) and do my best... But I don't know. Learning at a level that is much higher than your current level normally doesn't work so well when it comes to Mandarin. Because if you lack in terms of grammar or vocabulary it is very hard to keep up, especially when it is a listening exercise and the speaking pace is so fast... But then again, maybe I’ll get used to it? I am just thinking that gosh, how interesting it is going to be when our class takes our mid-term exam....

What's your view of over-ambitious teachers? Good? Bad? Painful? Encouraging? Any ideas how to slow them down?


Jon said...

hi,"i'm the sofa".你知道这是什么意思吗.考验你的中文咯?

Jonna Wibelius said...

'I'm the sofa?!?!'

不好意思, 我不明白你的意思?

Jon said...

SOFA means 沙发.就是第一个在的NEWPOST里留下COMMENT的人.

Jon said...

i dont't think an ambitious teacher is good for the foreign student.First of all,both sides should get through the culture barriers.and i think your level2 grammar teacher is not noly ambitious but also overestimating you guys as her wish.So seems like she never think over what you guys really need.

Anonymous said...

Where do you study?

Mark's Blog said...

Hi, Jonna, Thank you for this post!

I am going to teach some Kiwi kids Chinese tomorrow, my boss told me exactly the same things!

Some thoughts
1.How to communicate with Chinese teachers about their problems.

My advice is to do it in private. Find some place that there are only two of you (for face saving), then tell her what you think in an indirect way. For exampling, saying Both YOU and YOUR CLASSMATES cannot catch up instead of telling her to slow down. But do not do this in class unless you are exceptionally excellent, that will only makes the teacher think you are not even qualified for making complaints (提意见的资格). Let her understand your difficulties as well as your classmates', AND, at the same time, appreciate her efforts in its own right, after all, she only what you to progress faster.

2. Education in a Chinese sense in quite different from its Western counterpart. Chinese has a saying "书山有路勤为径,学海无涯苦作舟", which pretty much summarises the Chinese approach to learning, that is, learning is a painful, stressful process. It is like a wall to be passed, an enemy to be conquered. It can be done only with an ego being suppressed, desire being controlled. The individual has to be PUSHED!

From what you described in the post, this overambitious teacher is very typical. My guess is she really believes that push approach to learning, that's why she always give you difficulty materials. She just want to challenge the class, push you and your classmates to study.

If you cannot change her, which, I have to say, is very unlikely (because it's her personal style already), it's better to accept her challenges

Jon said...

who are you?

Anonymous said...

Yeegads you have had some horrible experiences Jonna!

I must applaud you for your perserverance in studying Mandarin in China!

I wanted to ask you about the mobile phone in the pic with your red plastic spoon and rice. My attention was drawn to the mobile first- it looks cool. Do you know what brand or model it is?

Have a good day!


afritzse said...

While this is a Chinese teacher, most of the students aren't Chinese or even Asian. Why should the teacher decide their teaching style? Shouldn't the class do so, seeing it is in the majority? Isn't there a culture of questions, where the teacher says, if there is anything you don't understand, just interrupt me to ask? I would arrange with the rest of the class to just ask the teacher questions whenever you don't understand. ("What does this mean", etc.) Then the teacher has no choice but to slow down. I figure the other students have the same concerns as you do. I wouldn't feel bad about asking questions at all, at least if you're well prepared. If it's about some word you don't know, and the teacher says "Open your dictionary", this should get her thinking. If you try it, I'd be curious to hear if it worked.

Anonymous said...

My kids are learning Chinese in America. They go to a Chinese language school for 2 hours on Saturday. They complain about their Chinese teachers all the time. Their teachers pretty much sound like those mean ones you have described. It must be cultural to be mean to students.

Jonna Wibelius said...

Adrian -sorry dunno about the phone in the photo... since we gave our plastic rice spoon away I had to nick this photo from the net... Bad bad me.

Anonymouse x 2, Mark & Afritze -something tells me that this teacher is very into her teaching method and won't change. Maybe I made it sound more horrible than it is... I mean, u have to give her some credit for wanting to teach us things outside the book... but yeah, I don't know why they are sometimes so hard to communicate with?! It's like they put themselves outside the whole thing, making the situation very black and white. No room for inputs.. but I guess that is Chinese teaching in a nutshell?