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LAST WORD: Typesof Chinese English Learners
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Typesof Chinese English Learners

By Mike Cormack

BT 201607 240 02 Last words 7101395BIf you have taught English in China - and if you are an English speaker in China, there is a good chance that you will do so at some point - you will become familiar with the recurring types of adults who study the language. They are, of course, to be commended, for their perseverance and desire for self-improvement. But there are definitely certain types of students within the cohort of English learners, each of them with their own foibles and idiosyncrasies. Here they are laid out, so that you know how to handle them.

The Young Businessman

The young businessman is probably the best of the English students. He’s engaged, energetic, and sees the direct rewards of his study efforts. He'€™s married with a young child and works insane hours in a junior managerial position, so he might not be the most punctual of your students. But he knows what he wants to learn, and will let you, the teacher, know it. He has had a bit of life experience and so has interesting conversational content. You might be his teacher and he might defer to you for now, but you know that in ten years he’ll be earning ten times more than what you are.

BT 201607 240 03 Last words 20130730152733750The Student

Some high school students sit in adult classes, perhaps when they’ve reached an adult competence or (essentially) if there'€™s no space for them. Though students can be up to nineteen or even twenty years old, it can be tough teaching them in an adult setting. They’re plenty keen, and will assist others who struggle to understand a point. But their life has been studying and cramming and revising and homework and exams for years past; they'€™ve probably been forbidden relationships; and their evenings and weekends been always crammed with extracurricular classes. What, then, do they have to talk about? Nothing.

Muscle Man

Muscle Man is a young man, in his early-mid 20s, with a liking of basketball and hiphop. He'€™s fit and has the arrogant vitality of a man in his prime. He'€™s probably the most difficult type of student to teach. It’s not that he's less able or less hardworking than other students. It'€™s just that he hates not being capable of something, and takes it personally. So, under his voice or in little ways that you can'€™t understand, he lashes out at you for him not understanding. It’s all basic projection of frustration, of course, the sort of thing you see all the time as a high school teacher. But Muscle Man is accustomed to overcoming and to dominance, which makes his own attitude and behavior self-defeating - not that you could ever tell him that.

BT 201607 240 01 Last word hl01The Babe

Pretty much every class has the Queen Bee, the hot stuff, the babe. Oh, she knows it, alright. But she can be a solid member of the class. With her constant use of Weibo and WeChat, she often has an excellent grasp of Chinese current affairs - usually more so than anyone except the Young Businessman. If you’re a male teacher, your attention will be required, if not demanded. If you'€™re a female teacher, you may find your hold over the men in the class lessened as she strives to assert her place in the hierarchy. (Don'€™t pretend this stuff doesn'€™t go on - it’s always going on). But while a male teacher may hold a certain attraction to her, let'€™s be real: you'€™re in a foreign land, renting a flat, without a car, and earning around RMB15000 a month. You just ain’t going to cut it, buddy.

The Bored Housewife

Aged anything between 30 and 55, depending on the wealth of her husband and her ability to stand in life without much challenge once their child has gone to school, the housewife seems to endure rather than enjoy classes. She doesn'€™t contribute much in class but is good in groups. Although probably older than you, she hasn'€™t the life experience to make valuable classroom discussion points in the same way as Young Businessman or The Babe. Her conversation therefore tends towards the fantastically cliched - did you know that China is peaceful, Paris is romantic, or that South Korean people often have plastic surgery?

BT 201607 240 01 Last words letter 1219547The Future Exchange Student

You would think this type of learner would be the most fun to learn. Through parents willing to fork out for tuition fees and accommodation, teachers obliging with nice academic references, and maybe the assistance of an editing company able to, ahem, finesse his application essays, this student has been offered a place in a reputable university in US or UK. But first they'€™ve got to get their English up to the mark. You think they’d be nervously excited about going abroad, and keen to pick up insights of foreign student life and academic approach? Wrong.

This student has been stuffed full of education, like a goose force-fed with a tube to produce fois gras. Like The Student, they know nothing more to life than a cram-it-in education. But, worse, all of their youthful vitality has been squished out. With no experience of extracurricular activities (beyond studying) or self-development, it’s little wonder they coalesce into their own little colonies once abroad. It'€™s just a shame that all those wonderful experiences available to them go begging.


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