In December 2006 I finally had my TEFL certificate from TEFL Barcelona, one of the greatest, most exhausting, and wonderful months I have had. I’m a native Swede, and went back to Sweden and started to do TSFL = teach Swedish as a foreign language. The method is the same, the language is different.
I was going to teach in Shanghai International Studies University, a top ranked language university – most of the languages in the world can be learned there. My class, 13 girls and 2 boys, had Swedish as their major. The reasons for choosing our small language were really varied – ”Sweden is a beautiful country”, ”Not so many students study Swedish, so not so many to compete with”. I think that’s fair enough.
I came to Shanghai prepared and inspired with all my knowledge from our TEFL course. I had my bags loaded with material that I created – games, stories, pictures — all of you who have done the TEFL course know. And most of all the intention to only speak Swedish in the classroom from day one. I have to mention that I had two Chinese assistants- students graduated from the Swedish class same year.
First day – big clash! 15 students and 2 assistants just stared at me when I started to talk and tried to do the first introduction with a name game. As soon as I said something the assistants translated it into Chinese. So ok, first a small round with the names and then explanations and whatever in English – just today. But I have to admit – I had to compromise and give up a little bit of what I learned.
The students told me later that they were totally confused and scared that they would not be able to pass the exams. When I listened to my assistants teaching, it was only in Chinese with some Swedish words here and there. The normal way to teach a foreign language is to learn by heart, for example go-went-gone, just learn this but not how to use it. However, Chinese students are good at memorizing and reciting, but not so good at applying their knowledge. I call the teaching – feeding baby birds – put the knowledge in their heads. They are also very good in repeat after me – in chorus. All this reflects the education system in China.
Anyhow, after some time I could start to do my material from the TEFL course, especially as I didn’t use a book in this class. And little by little, the students appreciated this very much. I taught this class for two years and today they graduated after four years. Their Swedish, most of the time, is very good, but unfortunately they don’t have the chance to use it and the assistant teachers still talk in Chinese.
My students have often said ”we are poker face”, and it is so true. If you ask if they understand, everyone nods and you can never read in their faces or eyes if they actually don’t understand. You can never see a question. Or if you say ”do you understand what I say or do I speak too fast?” – nobody will give you a sign.
But the more I have gotten to know my students the more they can now can tell me when they don’t understand something. So it’s a challenge with Chinese students, but very rewarding. Some of them will be my friends forever.
It’s challenging to teach and live in Shanghai, but so rewarding. A wonderful experience which I highly recommend.
by Liselotte Kjellme