About 100 Chinese teachers are expected to arrive at state schools in the United Kingdom (yes, that haven of foreign language education) by next year, but schools which have already employed some of those teachers in their classrooms (which they described as “lovely”) have already found problems, such as the following:
- “Their lack of familiarity with the English system of discipline, target setting etc is a problem.”
- “They also tend to have different, perhaps unrealistic, expectations of pupils.”
- “Concerns are expressed about Chinese teachers’ abilities to manage pupils, particularly whole classes or where there is a tendency for students to be disruptive.”
- “You need skilled teachers who can cope with the negativity.”
We don’t know who these Chinese teachers are that are being sent to the UK and where they’ve taught in China to begin with, but we do know we shortened our life expectancy by at least a decade or two teaching rowdy Shanghainese kids. But then again, most of the kids we taught either didn’t want to be there or had no personal interest in learning English, and were simply forced to take up the class by their parents (who were able to afford it). One wonders if the kids in the UK are given some degree of choice in which foreign language they want to take up? Maybe some of those kids would rather learn Esperanto instead? Or perhaps a language as useful as Latin?
Schools have also requested the exam boards to “make GCSEs in Mandarin easier because the language was seen as too difficult even for bright pupils”. We don’t know what this means for the world fifty years down the road, but one need only take a look at the armies of students that China is sending to the ends of the world, and the number of them that are coming back as interpretors and translators in French, German, Spanish, Italian, Arabic, etc. Just turn on CCTV on any given day and whenever you have a top Chinese politician or diplomat meeting his/her foreign counterpart, you will see that both interpretors sitting behind them will undoubtedly be Chinese. We could be wrong, but we don’t recall seeing any foreign interpretors.
In his previous life, Shanghaiist was a Chinese-English translator. And we were informed by the big boss that in the early days of China’s opening up, the translation market was mainly dominated by English-Chinese services as foreign enterprises rushed to China. In the last few years though, Chinese-English translation services have grown exponentially as the world suddenly realises it needs to understand China on a much deeper level.
We’ve also been told by friends in the human resources industry that as fat expatriate pay packages become a thing of the past, many American/European managers (who refuse to master Chinese) are getting replaced by bilingual/bicultural Singaporeans, Malaysians, Hong Kongers, Taiwanese, ABCs, BBCs etc., who eventually are replaced by local managers a few years down the road if they aren’t able to continue bringing value to the company.
In the age of outsourcing and the internet, none of our jobs are for life. Any job can be packed and shipped to some other location, as Thomas Friedman, author of The World is Flat says. Now, good luck to anyone trying to tell that to British schoolchildren. But the real lesson for expatriates planning to stay on in China is this: Either be willing to gain more than a perfunctory ability in Chinese, OR prepare to ship out over the long run.
The Telegraph: Rowdy pupils disrupt schools Mandarin project
Richard Spencer: The tribulations of teaching Mandarin
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