The common characteristics of students from East Asia, Russia and Brazil are summarized based on the experiences of italki teachers. Please note that each individual is unique so please do not assume that every student will be like this. The purpose of this article is to increase cultural awareness and help teachers be prepared for the possible learning challenges related to cultural background.
Chinese students are often used to learning grammar and memorizing vocabulary but are unable to express their opinion openly. They often tell me what is a correct and appropriate answer and rarely contradict me. If they learn German because they intend to move to Europe to attend university or find a job, I discuss these cultural differences with them by explaining to them that in Germany, it's common and in certain situations expected to express our opinion and have discussions with colleagues, superiors or university professors. In that way, they know what to expect and start expressing their opinions.
-- by German Teacher, Daniela Fries
A common trait in students from East Asia (including China, Japan, and South Korea) is managing exhausted learners. These countries can have an intense working culture that means your student arrives to your class at 11 pm or later in their local time after a 14-hour workday. To manage this kind of class well, the most important thing is to have a clear plan. I like to tell my students the plan before we even begin so they know what is expected of them and what they will learn that day. If you can, go over the plan in the previous class so they will be prepared for the new topic. Above all, listen to your students and read their body language. If they don't seem enamoured with the topic, go into your plan B or ask them what they would like to learn.
-- by English Teacher, James
Nearly all of my Chinese students have trouble speaking English even when they have studied it up to university level. In China, they focus more on reading and writing and hardly practice speaking at all. For this, they are very nervous to speak, especially if it is the first time they have ever spoken to a native speaker. The first goal with Chinese students is to make them feel relaxed. Take your time, encourage them to speak and praise them. I always tell them not to worry about making mistakes; it is a part of learning. I try to decipher what they are trying to say and formulate some sentences with them. We then practice those sentences together. Once Chinese students relax and gain confidence, you will be amazed at the vast array of vocabulary they have hidden away inside.
-- by English Teacher, Lui Hepworth
Asians really like to do exercises and don't necessarily want to speak. There are many parents who book lessons for their children.
-- by French Teacher, Beatrice Perelade
Students in China do not appreciate speaking about Taiwan and/or blocked social media topics. Chinese students may hesitate to ask questions, so after giving them instruction in a subject, I turn the tables- they are the teachers. I have them explain to me as if I were the student and when they say something incorrectly or seem unsure, I ask questions as an inquiring student. This solidifies the instruction and they are able to "keep their face" and avoid embarrassment.
-- by English Teacher, Morgan Worden
Many of my Chinese students are incredibly hardworking and ambitious people but have a tendency to be very literal in their approach to learning English. Sometimes they are so caught up in the perceived correctness of grammar, that their meaning gets lost or is awkwardly conveyed. This is largely down to the 'verbatim drilling' in which English is taught in China. Many students fall into the trap of using complicated vocabulary in an effort to impress, but it is not always the best solution. My approach teaches them the nuances of the English language, introducing colloquial phrases and patiently explaining that ‘less is more’. It is important to remember that communication is really just a conversation, whether verbally or on paper, in making themselves clearly understood. This is easily solved by getting them to read their text aloud, and then asking them to rephrase it off the top of their heads in simple speech. Nine times out of ten, they successfully express the conversation or essay in a more comprehensible and fluid way.
-- by English Teacher, Lucy Lockhart
Japanese are rather reserved and discreet on these points. Talking about yourself is not polite in Japan, as I discovered a little later. Imagine my first conversation lessons with my 1st Japanese student: a nightmare for me! "Could you tell me about your last vacation?” »Answer« “It was good! ``'But still ?” »Answer« “it was cool “. Not easy to last an hour with such succinct answers. To finally succeed in conversing with my Japanese students, but also with some other more introverted students, I had to stay on neutral ground. For example: describing a photo, a landscape telling a film or a book explaining to me the content of an article or a video (without them having to give an opinion), talking about Japanese culture, talking about the differences that 'there is between France and Japan (or another country), and making a game like crosswords or cut words. I have also talked about myself on certain occasions and told an anecdote or an experience. So, little by little, through their passions and the confidence that was building up, I was able to get them to talk a little more about them and their experiences and thus broaden our subjects of conversation.
-- by French Teacher, SYLVIA
Brazilian students are full of energy and excited to learn. However, they are not highly motivated to finish homework, so most of the instruction needs to happen during class-time. I have found that using Youtube videos for listening, shadowing, and intonation practice highly effective. I try to focus on teaching them stress-timed language tips such as reducing the function words. Brazilians are eager to learn but generally lose focus quickly, so the classes need to be upbeat.
-- by English Teacher, Morgan Worden
Brazilians are very social so they love to get together with friends and hang out and they are also very active on Social Media. Netflix and Amazon series/movies are also very popular in Brazil and they also love to travel within Brazil to the beaches in summer or around the globe. These are very engaging topics to be explored which can keep them motivated. They are not very focused on planning things and tasks in advance, so maybe that is why homework is not the number 1 priority, however, they are very creative, innovative and engaged.
-- by italki staff
I worked in Moscow and I know some Russian. This is listed on my profile, so a lot of Russian-speaking students choose to have lessons with me. Russian school systems are typically strict and teacher-focused, so people from this country tend to put their full trust in the teacher. My Russian students don't make many requests and like to follow the lesson formats I plan for them. They generally feel uncomfortable if asked for their personal requests or feedback, and they would lose their trust in my professional skills if this happened. This is my personal observation.
-- by English Teacher, Ariana
Students from Russia are more persistent, they do everything they can to succeed and never give up their learning. Therefore, whenever I have a reservation from a Russian student, I am happy to know that it will be a more productive and serious course.
-by French Teacher, Shirin
Spanish Teacher Jara advises 3 steps in managing cultural differences.
Step 1, find out. Find all possible information on the countries of origin of your students.
Step 2, question. Immerse yourself in understanding the current situation in their countries, their history, customs and their people. Keep an open mind and do not have preconceived ideas. Take advantage of “Talk about yourself” to get to know your students in-depth and try not to generalize. Be honest. Talk about these prejudices, joke with national topics, invite them to tell you which are true and which are not.
Step 3, respect. This is undoubtedly the most important. Respect your students. We all know that participating in class may be unusual in Chinese culture. Respect it. Invite your students to participate, but don't force them. Little by little they will gain confidence. If you have a Muslim student who needs to pray at certain times, respect him/her. Give him/her the necessary time to organize the classes so that he has that time for his prayers. If your student is in the middle of Ramadan, understand that he will be much more fatigued.
Chinese and Vietnamese students often benefit from practice in critical thinking and wherever possible seeking out balanced views, even for argument essays, to a certain degree in IELTS but without doubt in university work.
I am so thankful for this article. Love understanding our student's need and views and cultures etc. Thanks for this article, super insightful.
Some cultures have more respect for teachers than others. In North America, I think that they see their teachers as "products" and I don't feel comfortable with this attitude.
Tertiary teachers in Australia are not so much viewed as products by students as being seen as pieces of portable equipment by the management. At the highly regarded uni at which I teach, 5 big brother signs glare down in the teachers' room - none mention respect for teachers, all refer to things such as " A great customer experience". It's a by no means coincidental influence as one tries to fail a $50,000 per year international student from the region you mention, fully aware of the WeChat comments about the institution which might follow any such demeritous grade. Of course the management can always be counted on for full support..... by the customer, who is naturally always right.
Very interesting comments too. As to share with you, I would say that I feel very clumsy with Chinese and Korean students, since my German culture values honesty and being direct as positive traits but the exact same is seen impolite in China and Korea. I usually excuse myself in advance and make them aware of my doubts on what is actually character and what is culture. Always a great topic to talk about.
This is really fascinating! Is it possible to add a section about students from the Middle East? I would be really curious to learn and share with other teachers about some potential common characteristics.
Excelente información! Me abrió mucho más el pensamiento, es maravilloso entender y comprender como piensan otros. Gracias
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