Posted by: wanton me | January 14, 2008

华语 cool.

I have this student from China. His classmates sometimes tease him that he doesn’t understand what I’m talking about in class. Sometimes I see them translating. When I talk to him I realise he’s not that bad, but I did tell him he could (and should) ask his friends for translation when he’s unclear of anything, and if there’s really a need, ask me in Chinese if he really can’t put it across in English.

So one day we were doing newspaper reflections i.e. read the paper, write the reflections. Then he raised his hand. He attempted to ask me in English, but I didn’t quite understand what he was trying to say, so I told him it’s ok you can ask in Mandarin.

He asked, ”  ‘苛刻’ 怎么写?”

I immediately thought to myself: Wah lau eh this word so damn cheem his classmates how can understand siah. Luckily my chinese is quite powerful wan.

I translated for him. Just for the record, and in that context, the words he wanted to use should be ‘stringent criteria’.


The English standard for my two classes are quite bad, or at least to my expectations they are. Just today, I gave the Sec 1 the same pieces of news articles, and many of them struggled to comprehend what they were talking about. Quite a handful even asked me what the phrase ‘Give a summary of…’ means. I was shocked.

Throughout (and actually prior to) my learning in NIE and teaching experience (however limited), I’ve frequently pondered upon the idea of using Mother Tongue i.e. Chinese (because I’m a Chinese. -_- ) to teach the English language. Of course I wouldn’t be using it when I’m teaching the class, because that would seem unfair if there are students of other races who do not comprehend Mandarin.

But when I’m say, coaching or supervising one-tp-one or groups, why can’t I translate certain words into Chinese so that they can understand better? You know there are always words that can be immediately translated into Mandarin and the student gets it, but if you try to give the definition in English, it just kinda confuses things.

The standard varies from student to student, class to class, school to school. Macro or micro level, we all have different standards of writing and speaking English. While I agree that if the students have sufficient amount of proficiency in English, then we can do away with Mother Tongue. But it seems like my students are really quite bad. I am obviously not giving up 3 weeks into the term, but I can see it’s a daunting task already.

I’m thinking if we tell them that we should all be bilingual, and should they realise that their teacher, yours truly, is proficient in both English and Mandarin (at least for speaking), they will pay more attention and realise the importance of the English Language?

Today, a girl from my sec 1 class was saying “The pen draw until.”

She was holding her pen and pointing at her chin. Initially I had no idea what she was talking about. I asked again and she said the same thing. I kinda got it at the same time that her classmate explained it in a full sentence.

Well, even if it was a full sentence: “The pen draw until my chin.”

This is terrible English.

I don’t know. Couple of years ago they were thinking of infusing English into the Chinese curriculum. It meant that Chinese teachers could use the English medium to help teach the Chinese Language.

Why can’t it work the other way round?  Like I said, obviously not when I’m teaching to the class, because instructions should be given in English. But I’ve heard of many, many, many non-English teachers using Mother Tongue to teach their subjects.

“这个time这个, 然后plus这个。。。”

For your information, ‘time’ means ‘times’ i.e. ‘multiply’.

Yes I’ve heard of maths teachers, humanities teachers, science teachers talking to their students in Mother Tongue, and sometimes saying a few words in Mother Tongue when giving remedial lessons as well.

Some say English teachers should always be a role model to students. Some students hardly interact with another speaking in English, so the English teacher is all they’ve got.

Does that give other teachers excuses to mispronounce things, or worse, use Singlish in class or after school?

Frankly, I don’t see why not. I find it very fake and pompous if one were to speak forever in proper English, but I do see the need to not speak Singlish during English lessons.

Back to speaking Mother Tongue. I mean, if it helps the student to learn English, why can’t we explain in something which they understand? If my imaginary Spanish teacher tried to explain certain words in Spanish, I will have no idea what she (yes it’s gonna be a hot latina teacher) is talking about. But if she gives me the translated word in English, it will definitely aid me. THEN she explains in Spanish. Ah. Puts things in perspective.

Well at least I can hear that some English teachers are speaking in Mandarin in the staff room. I love to dramatise myself and show off my excellent range of English accent or two, but I’d hate it if everyone speaks in proper English everyday. Dammit. So it’s cool.

So, any thoughts? About English teachers using Mother Tongue to aid teaching. I used the word ‘aid’ ok. Means it works as a supplement.

Alright time to get back to work. Not gonna proof-read this. So here’s your chance to spot errors! Have a good week.

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