EFL/ESL for Chinese Speakers

Standard Chinese is the name given to the official language spoken in Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China (PRC): this standardized version of Chinese is also known as Mandarin.

Without doubt, Chinese writing is completely different to that of the Latin based languages (LBL): unlike in LBL, Chinese writing employs a logographic system rather than an alphabet per se. Furthermore, Chinese is a tonal language: the pitch essentially determines the lexical or grammatical meaning of the word, e.g., depending on the pitch used to pronounce the Chinese word ‘ma’, it could mean ‘mom’, ‘horse’, ‘scold’ or ‘hemp’.

So, what should you, as a novice EFL teacher, be aware of when teaching Chinese speaking students? Here are just a few useful tips worth remembering

First of all, because of the nature of Chinese writing and the fact that Chinese is a tonal language, Chinese students often experience greater difficulty than LBL students in spelling, and in reading English texts: students who have mastered the grammar well may not be clearly understood when speaking because of their heavy accents; this is because of the difficulty experienced in pronouncing individual words and the problems associated with the use of intonation.
Because of this, you should make sure that the student gets lots of practice in reading aloud, and spelling tests should be done regularly. Lists of words having identical sounds for given consonant clusters and vowel combinations should be used to improve the student’s pronunciation: sound flashcards would also be useful here.

As it concerns Chinese grammar, here are 6 peculiarities worth noting:

1. Chinese is an uninflected language: meaning is conveyed via syntax.
2. Temporal relationships are not dealt with by the use of different tenses and verb forms.
3. Chinese modal verbs are narrower in meaning than English modal verbs.
4. There are neither definite nor indefinite articles.
5. The interrogative is formed by intonation alone.
6. Adverbial forms usually precede verbs.

Here are some typical sorts of wrongly written sentences that you might encounter: ‘I will tell you as soon as I will get there’, ‘He has got married last Sunday’, ‘She good doctor’, ‘How much he pay for her bike?’, ‘I wish I am clever’, ‘Japanese is a very hard to learn language’.

Once again, the use of grammar drills combined with intensive oral practice sessions is a very effective way of reinforcing difficult concepts and speech patterns.