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Differences between Asian teachers and myself
by Jay Gutman
2014-08-02 13:06:15
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Having been in the language teaching business on and off in Asia for the last 9 years (I taught English, French, Spanish, Arabic and Asian to foreigners) I have noticed a few differences between the way Asian teachers and I approach teaching EFL.  Of course this is purely anecdotal evidence, and I have no academic support whatsoever to back up my claims.

1) Level testing

In foreign countries, most level tests involve a test that is incrementally difficult. The first question will be something very easy like a picture of an apple and asking whether it's a) an apple or b) an orange, and the last question will be something relatively difficult, such as asking to find the correct synonym for the word "quotidian" or something of that nature.

In Asia, most level tests are very difficult and the difficulty is not incremental. The test is simply meant to find out whether there are students whose English is so good they can get excused from taking English classes.

2) Placing students by levels

In most Western countries, being a "beginner" "intermediate" or "advanced" student actually says something about your level, often after being tested using the incremental scheme I described above. In Asia, most times it doesn't. I have taught classes where the student levels ranged from "native" to "can barely read the alphabet" in the same class. Asians tend to place students in classes depending on their friendships with other students, or other random factors rather than their actual language ability.

3) Preparing a syllabus

I tend to believe time management is important when teaching EFL. Syllabi will usually involve finishing the textbook, as I tend to value completion over process. Also, I like to divide the textbook by dedicating an equal amount of time to each chapter. Most importantly, I along with most EFL teachers tend to try to stick to the syllabus as much as they can. My observation is that most Asian teachers tend to design their syllabi as a flexible plan, something that can change and will change over time.

4) Preparing lessons

I like to go to class with some kind of preparation, especially regarding how the class will be timed. I like to set goals as to how much of the lesson will be covered. I also try to "script" the class as much as I can in terms of how much time I will allow for each activity.  Asian teachers tend to spend more time preparing assignments, drills and homework for the students and less time trying to "script" the class as I would.

5) Teaching lessons

I've had many Asian co-teachers, and I noticed they tend to teach merely by reading and translating into Asian what's in the textbook. Also, Asian teachers will tend to take "breaks" from the textbook either to tell a personal story or a motivational story. The amount of time they spend per chapter can vary from one class to another. I tend to try to "milk" classes as much as I can and focus on student talking time as much as I can. Asian teachers tend to discourage students from speaking in class. Also, Asian teachers tend to see the syllabus and lesson plan as a rough guide and don't think consistent teaching between classes is important. For example, if they teach the same class 4 times, they don't mind being at different points in the textbook at the same time. I tend to like it when every class is at the same point in the textbook.

6) Homework

I tend to limit homework to something that involves creative writing, or something predictable such as completing drills in the workbook. Asian teachers will tend to give a lot more homework to students: mainly grammar drills and vocabulary to memorize. Most students tend to come to each class without having done the homework and will share the answers five minutes before class starts.

7) Discipline

I tend to want to be consistent in the way they discipline students, I tend to like fixed rules that I will stick to. I have noticed that Asian teachers tend to be flexible in the rules and those rules depend on their mood. If they're in a good mood, they laugh it all out. If they're in a bad mood, they can give students a hard time.

8) Grading

I know grading is a sensitive issue and as a student I had a lot of problems with what I thought was unfair grading (mainly for cultural reasons: I went to a French high school and did things the American way, and was often punished for that). So I tend to make grading very predictable and repeat the grading rules as much as I can throughout the term of semester. Asian teachers sometimes can be opaque in the way they grade the students. I would also give the tests back to the students so they can assess their mistakes and see if I did no mistakes in grading. The Asian teachers I know tend not to allow students to review their tests.

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