A Resource Site for Teachers and Tutors of English as a Second Language Students


Classroom Implications for Teaching Chinese Students

1) Are there any significant differences in the educational system of your country of origin and the U.S. that would affect teaching an English language learner? What challenges would these pose both for teachers and students? Are there any advantages of coming from that educational system for your people? Which ones?

Confucian tradition emphasizes the importance of education thus academic success is a matter of fact not choice for many Chinese families. Children are expected to excel in school because it is the norm. Oftentimes, families feel ashamed if their child is not succeeding in school and see this as a reflection of their own shortcomings as parents. In China, students learn through observation, reading, and imitation, while the U.S. educational system places an emphasis on the importance of critical thinking and inquiry. Chinese students are quiet and orderly and the Chinese educational system looks down on volunteering information, whereas active participation is encouraged in the American system. These two differences are important for teachers to consider with Chinese American students because the home culture of the students stands in contrast to the expectations that American schools place on their students. At home, the message is conveyed to these students to be obedient and quiet and yet at school teachers want them to think participate and engage in discussions to try and construct their own meaning from the material.

2) What factors in the home or family relationships are critical for a teacher to know?

The following list is excerpted from Asian-American Education: Prospects and Challenges and it highlights the potential conflict between Chinese parent perceptions and American teacher attitudes. These differences must be understood and addressed as a bridge to foster a home-school partnership and because it will help Chinese students understand the different cultural conventions with regard to education.

American Teachers' Expectations

Chinese Parents' Expectations

Education is interactive and spontaneous Education is formal
Teachers and students work together in the teaching-learning process

Teachers should tell students what to do


Students learn through participation and interaction. Homework is only part of the process. Students learn through doing a lot of homework.
Teaching is an active process; students are not passive learners The teacher should teach and students should study
Factual information is readily available; problem solving, creativity and critical thinking is important. Factual information is important, fantasy is not.
Teachers should facilitate and model problem solving; students learn by being actively engaged in the process. Students should be taught steps to solve problems.
Teachers need to be questioned and challenged. Teachers should not be challenged.
Reading is a constructive process. Reading is the decoding of information and facts.

3) What challenges are common for Chinese students integrating into the American school system and culture?

Identity conflict is a common theme among Chinese American students and many other immigrant groups as well. Young students feel caught between two cultures but not firmly planted in either one. On the one hand there is this push to mainstream Chinese students and make them fit in, but families still want their students to retain cultural traditions and the Chinese language. To this end, many families send their children to Chinese language academies on the weekends to insure that they learn the Chinese language. But it is clear that many students struggle with establishing an identity. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan and Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston are two novels that describe this process of identity development.

In terms of academic adjustment, a common challenge for Chinese students is learning all of the rules of the English written language because it is so different from the character system they are used to.

4) What strategies are useful to help Chinese students overcome each of these challenges?

  • Use bicultural literature to help promote cultural pride among Chinese students. While English language development is key for academic success, the importance of the native culture cannot be overemphasized. Using stories then about Chinese heritage combines the dual efforts of English language development and cultural pride into one and can be a good motivational strategy for Chinese students. These stories can also be used to enrich the curriculum for all students and perhaps be used as a means of explaining cultural diversity issues to the whole class.
  • Build on the tendency for Chinese American students to learn through imitation by exposing them to specific examples of good writing.
  • Use different methods of teaching such as visual aids, modeling, hands-on, discussions, and collaborative learning to make the subject matter more comprehensible.
  • Embed the teaching of grammatical rules within writing so that students learn how to apply these rules to the different modes of communication that the English language employs.
  • Explain some of the differences between the Chinese language and the English language like the fact that Chinese is tonal and non-inflectional while English is intonational and inflectional.
  • Give students an opportunity to extend their language through a variety of means both formal and informal ones. Teach them different narrative styles including poetry and skit writing. Encourage them to participate in after school clubs and activities to help them build discourse and an understanding of the different discourses of the English language.
  • Use stratgies like peer editing in revising papers.

5) What are some key differences between Chinese and English?

  • A subject is not necessary in every sentence. In English, the sentence "It snows" would be a complete sentence consisting of the subject "it" and the verb "snows." In Chinese the sentence would be translated as "fall snow." This distinction is important to consider when teaching Chinese students writing because a subject must exist for a sentence to be complete whereas the Chinese writing system does not require this.
  • There is no Mandarin equivalent for the articles "the, a, an". For Mandarin speakers, in writing the sentence "A cat jumps on the bed," teaching these students the necessity of using the indefinite article "a" and the definite article "the" is a difficult concept to teach because these features of the English language are unfamiliar to them. .
  • Chinese symbols can either be the plural or singular of the word. The Han character for tree could either be "tree" or trees." In English the root of the word remains with the suffix changing to show the plural form of the word. To express the plural, the Chinese system uses a separate word rather than suffix.
  • Mandarin Chinese does not have consonant blends like bl, cl, cr, sh . . . which is a major challenge for native Chinese speakers when they learn English.
  • As a tonal system, Chinese syllables have diacritical marks above the syllable to indicate the proper tone. These tones are high level, high rising, dipping/falling-rising, and high falling.
  • To change verb tense, the Chinese system alters the suffixes of the root word whereas English
  • The Chinese language has a written language (wen) and a spoken one (yu). There is not a clear relationship between oral and written language as in English and the spoken form has undergone many modifications since its inception.
  • The Chinese writing system is logographic where each character expresses a morpheme. Each syllable in a word is illustrated using a different logogram rather than being combined to form one word as in English. The character forms are based on pronunciation and not the meaning of the word.
  • The Chinese do not use superlatives or embellishments to the same extent that English does. They tend to employ understatement which is a reflection of the culture itself.
  • Pronunciation is often difficult to teach Chinese students because the Chinese language and its dialects is monosyllabic with different tones for each syllable rather than polysyllabic with inflection on each word.
  • Consonant endings in Chinese are either /-n/ or /-ng/ so any English words that end with consonants other than these two could be an issue with Chinese American students.
  • In terms of teaching writing, the conventional English form of intro, body conclusion, with a thesis and topic sentences in each paragraph are dissimilar to the Chinese writing style. The Chinese writing style tends to have the point of the essay be discretely inferred from the text rather than explicitly stated and continuously reinforced.



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