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July 2018 Voluntary Teaching Report

Francesca Chapman - University of Oxford

After taking part in the Chinese History Learning programme at the start of July, I taught in two
Henan counties: Guangshan and Linying. This was the first time I had ever taught properly and
worked with young people for so long. The students in Guangshan were aged between 12 and 14,
while those in Linying were between 14 and 16. It was interesting to work with adolescents in these
two age groups, as there were clear differences in their ability to grasp new concepts. Another
insightful comparison was between the two different counties in Henan. At first, I regretted that we
would not be teaching in two different provinces like some of the other groups, as this seemed to
offer more variety. But in the end I was glad to teach in Henan for two weeks: this allowed us
experience the culture of Henan in more depth; and it painted a rich picture of the diversity within a
single province. While 寨河 in Guangshan epitomised the rural, rustic China I had expected ("农民
的孩子很淳朴," I heard a teacher say), 南街村 showed a more developed China, fitted with lively,
colourful shopping malls and teenagers on electric scooters. As a student of Economics, it was
particularly interesting for me to observe such diverse levels of development. Voluntary teaching,
then, has taught me many things: about myself as a person and a teacher, about working with others,
about communicating clearly and simply, about how foreigners learn and grapple with the
challenges of English, about the Chinese language, and about China itself.

河南光山寨河 9th July - 14th July

Teaching in 寨河 was challenging but rewarding. First, it was very hot and the classrooms had no
fans. This was difficult for teachers and students alike. Teaching students who struggled to focus
because of the extreme heat, while being very hot myself, was a new experience. But given that part
of my expectations of this trip was that I would be pushed out of my comfort zone, this was not a
bad thing for me. I discovered the second challenge when I opened my first lesson with "Hello, I'm
Francesca, and I will be teaching you in English this week"; my statement was met with blank
looks. "Do you understand?" I asked; more blank looks. It transpired that the students could
understand very little English, which required patience and flexibility. This was also a welcome
challenge, as there was clearly room for progress and I was happy to teach in an area where I felt I
could make a difference. My knowledge of Chinese came in useful when explaining certain things
to the students, to the extent that I might have felt a bit lost if I did not speak Chinese (and so would
the students!). The third major challenge was the living conditions. Unfortunately most of the toilets
I had access to did not flush. Still, having heard about other groups' experiences, I think my group
was relatively lucky.

I really enjoyed teaching the students. As their knowledge of English was limited, I focused largely
on language. I did this mainly by showing photos of places/things and teaching them the relevant
words; tongue twisters; encouraging students to speak about themselves, for example where they
would like to travel to. The students seemed to enjoy the tongue twisters. To make the lessons more
engaging, I played games such as charades, guessing where countries were on a map, and taught the
students how to dance the Viennese Waltz. Thus, I was also able to teach them about other cultures
through basic English, some Chinese, songs, games, and pictures. The students were all very kind
and eager to learn.

河南临颍南街村 15th July - 23rd July

Teaching in 南街村 was also challenging, but in different ways. Our hotel was more comfortable,
but the weather felt even hotter than in 寨河. The students' level of English was far higher than in
寨河; this gave rise to new challenges as to how to make the lessons simultaneously engaging,
informative and inspiring.

My teaching focused on two main themes: my experience at university (Oxford), and travelling and
European cultures (including the three countries I come from: Britain, Poland and Luxembourg).
Due to the students' high level of English, I divided teaching more evenly between language and
concepts. For the language part, I taught relevant vocabulary (Oxford-relevant terms such as
punting, afternoon tea; country/city names, types of food), and tongue twisters to improve
pronunciation and boost confidence in English. In particular, I focused on the transition between
"sh"/"ch", the notorious "th" sound, and the tricky "r".

The conceptual/cultural part was more broad. During the Oxford lessons, I talked to the students
about philosophy; I asked about their plans for the future; and stereotypes: the differences between
"Western" and Chinese students (we discovered that they are not so great!), and the reason why
stereotypes are rarely true. Many students had not encountered this concept before, and I struggled
to find an accurate Chinese translation. For the travel lessons, we discussed where the students
would like to travel and why; how cultures and languages vary across Europe; how English is an
important language in Europe and is therefore very useful to learn. I think I could perhaps have
conveyed more concepts more quickly in Chinese, but I consistently spoke in English, as this was a
good opportunity for the students to practise. They were intelligent, curious and motivated. Above
all, they were extremely kind. So, they were a pleasure to teach.

Although this is my fifth time in China, taking part in this voluntary teaching programme has
helped me discover places and aspects of China that I never imagined. It was also fascinating for me
to meet the students. I have broadened my own horizons, and I really hope to have broadened theirs
as well.