by Lee Mook

“Leh, leh, leh.” Jennifer’s face is contorted as she tries to make out the sound of a “v.”

“Let’s try again: veh, veh, veh,” I say.

“Beh, beh, beh,” she replies.

Teaching English, or any language, I’d imagine, takes patience, precision, and creativity. For the past four and a half months I have been teaching English and Spanish, and I have discovered the truly puzzling difficulty of explaining how to make certain sounds. I have resorted to pointing, explaining, drawing diagrams, and even making freestyle raps about how to say banana correctly (copyright pending). The girl, Jenifer (English name), from this particular experience is, similar to all my students, an incredibly quick learner with ambitious goals.

I have found through teaching I have been able to connect with students here on a deeper level, and this has allowed me to make many good friends.

My experience teaching English in China has been beneficial for my students and for me. Most Chinese students have been learning English since kindergarten, and can understand high level conversations; however, almost all the Chinese students I teach have a very hard time speaking English. They can read, write, and understand English perfectly, but when it comes to speaking, most are too embarrassed to attempt talking. I have found that in one-on-one session most students can speak much better than when they’re around others. The fear of judgment is one that affects each of us to some extent; however, when others are removed from the equation my students are able to simply speak without worrying about misspeaking.

My experience teaching English has led me to some beliefs about confidence. Simply put: be confident even if you are not, and you will be. Personally, I have decided that I need to speak and act confident even when I am not. I have joined a character writing competition, made multiple public speeches, and even tried a joke or two at my Chinese Grandmother’s birthday party.

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Spanish, on the other hand, has been difficult to teach. The conjugations and many of the sounds are esoteric for Chinese students, and incredibly difficult for them to reproduce. The heavy and sharp sounds in the Chinese language do not mix harmoniously with the soft, smooth sound of Spanish. However, the students working with me every day after school and at lunch are steadily improving, and basic conversations are becoming increasingly easy for them. By translating one culture and language into another I have been able to explore the unique intricacies of both Spanish and Chinese. For example, Spanish conjugations allow the speaker to state very clearly the time period in which a certain action is done; there are past tenses, present, future, and many in between. But in Chinese there is usually only one “le” attached at the end of the sentence to let you know it is past tense.

I really enjoy my group of dedicated students. They have become some of my best friends here in China. I have discovered a certain beauty in learning, one that spawns from conversations with intrigued and curious students with a burning desire to learn English. Real learning does not necessitate money, classrooms, textbooks, or even a teacher, but instead simply two people with a passion to improve themselves and the drive to do it.

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