Tag Archives: lessons

Teaching English to Migrant Students in Shanghai

By Jasmine Zahedi

[4 minute read]

While studying abroad in Shanghai, I had the incredible opportunity to work with Stepping Stones, a non-profit organization through which I taught English to grade school students at various Shanghai migrant schools. Through my experience, I learned that there is a huge influx of migrants moving from the farmlands and agricultural areas into Chinese cities, with Shanghai having one of the highest concentrations of migrants in China. In recent years, the government created many new schools to provide the children of migrant parents with access to education they might otherwise not receive. In theory, the idea is a good one, but there are still many underlying issues affecting the quality of education these students are receiving.

Photo by Jerry Wang on Unsplash

Stepping Stones placed me at Huabo Lixing Hang School, an elementary school about an hour away from the university campus at which I was studying. When I first arrived, I immediately noticed that the area was much poorer than the area in which I lived in and went to school. I noticed that even the inhabitants looked recognizably different (or distinguishable) from the Shanghainese people I normally saw in the city, probably due to the fact that they originally came from inland provinces such as Anhui, Hunan, and Sichuan.

The government chartered school I worked at clearly stood out from the rest of the environment. Its modern architecture seemed out of place among the surrounding buildings and shops. The classes were packed with students. A normal class size was around 60 which, as one might imagine, made teaching English incredibly difficult. The children were extremely excited to learn, but there were many daily challenges in the classroom. Having so many peers, the students were often rowdy and distractible, and the ones in the back of the classroom had trouble understanding what was occurring at the front. Furthermore, the children were all greatly varied in their English abilities. This is a common characteristic in migrant schools, as students who weren’t born in Shanghai have a wide range of educational history. One of the Chinese volunteers who worked with me in the classroom told me that her elementary school was nothing like this. She said everyone was always well-behaved because parents reinforced their children’s behavior at home. Unfortunately, with parents that often have to work late, these children tended to have very different home lives, and these differences translated into the classroom.

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Tips for My Ten Year Old Self

By Eugene Chang

Being an international student isn’t easy. When placed in an alien and unfamiliar world completely different from your own, surrounded by people who speak different languages or celebrate different holidays, it is difficult to adjust. How would I have known this transition would be so hard? I moved to the United States when I was ten years old from Hong Kong. Here in the States, cars drive on opposite sides of the road, electrical outlets are completely different, soda cups are bigger than my face, and if you do not tip your waiter, you’re a terrible customer. The list goes on and on, and for a kid who spoke at best grammatically incorrect English, this was terrifyingly overwhelming. I made a ton of mistakes along the road, and the journey has most certainly been bumpy, but I enjoyed every moment of it. However, if I were to go back in time, sit my ten year old self down and talk to him, I would give him the following advice. Whether you’re an international student at USC who is scared of the new environment, or you’re a USC student thinking of going abroad this summer or later, I hope that my tips to my former self can benefit you as well.

1. Do not be afraid to ask for help.

Don’t understand what the teacher just said? Ask him or her to repeat it. Don’t know where your next class is? Politely ask a stranger for directions. Need help brushing up your English speaking and writing skills? Don’t be afraid to hire a tutor or to ask friends to practice speaking with you. Whatever your concern in this unfamiliar place is, people are always willing to help. It is completely ok to ask for assistance, because that is how people learn how to do anything! When I was little, I was extremely hesitant to ask for help because I was embarrassed about my thick Chinese accent and I didn’t want to burden anyone. That only ended up hurting me, because as I spent more time in the US, I learned that people are very friendly and will almost always help if you have a problem. Speaking of my irrational fear of speaking in English, here is my second tip.

Photo by Christopher Mance

2. Try to speak the native language as much as possible.

Learning to be comfortable with speaking a language that is foreign to you is like learning how to play a guitar. Do you think Chuck Berry knew every single chord and could play any song he wanted when he first picked up a guitar? No! He spent hours and hours practicing and playing until blisters formed on his fingers. The same goes for speaking a language. You do not have to be good at speaking, you just have to speak. Get comfortable speaking broken English, or Italian, or Chinese. Because in the end, you’ll notice that the more you speak in the country’s native tongue, the more you catch your own grammatical mistakes by listening to people around you. Speak it, listen to it, read it, and sooner or later you’ll find yourself catching other people’s mistakes in their speech. Take this time when we are stuck inside to get ahead on your language-learning skills on your own time!

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

3. Make friends that speak the language you want to learn.

This might be the only time that peer pressure will help you. When you surround yourself with friends who speak a different language than you, you will get more motivation and incentive to learn and speak that language. They can also help point out your mistakes and help you become a better speaker. There is no better way to learn new slang or idioms than from your new buddies overseas. Obviously this does not mean to avoid making friends who speak the same language as you, but the more you spend time with people who speak the local language, the more you will force yourself to speak it. Even texting, calling, or video chatting them will help improve your speaking in small increments throughout the day.

Image from the USC ALI New Communities Through Conversations Event on February 4, 2020, at Troy Hall East
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The Universality of Human Connection

By Anthea Xiao

At a young age, I was introduced to and fascinated by Japanese culture through the channel of Japanese animations such as Studio Ghibli films and Doraemon. Eager to learn more about the Japanese language and customs, I enrolled in Japanese as my foreign language class and took the initiative to study Japanese culture on my own. My Japanese teacher recognized my passion and introduced me to an exchange program, which allowed students to live with host families and experience life as a Japanese High School student. I quickly seized the opportunity, and in the summer of 2016, I embarked on an unforgettable journey to Kanazawa, Japan.

Prior to flying to Japan, I diligently memorized Japanese phrases applicable for specific situations, read countless articles regarding Japanese etiquette, and even watched host-exchange “horror-stories” online from other students to prepare myself for any undesirable scenarios.

My heart was leaping out of my chest with anxiety and excitement when I saw my host-family waving the sign “ようこそ, アンセア!” (Welcome, Anthea!) at airport gate. During the initial stage of my stay, my host-exchange experience was exceeded beyond my imagination and expectations. I tasted a diverse array of authentic Japanese cuisines (a superb bowl of ramen was only $5 USD!), I quickly bonded with classmates through organizations such as the student acapella and traditional tea ceremony club, and I was able to improve my language ability through practicing colloquial Japanese outside of a classroom setting.

However, despite enjoying my host situation, I found it difficult to feel completely at ease with my host-family. I had read in textbooks that it is impolite to address Japanese people in an intimate or casual manner upon initial greetings. Therefore, although my host-parents asked me to address them as “mother” and “father” just like my host-sister did, I insisted on calling them Mr. and Mrs. Yoshida in fear of breaching their existing family structure.

The phrase “迷惑” (meiwaku) means to burden or to cause inconvenience for others. In Japan, a collective and harmony-focused society, causing meiwaku is a taboo and could signal a person as self-centered and uncouth. To avoid being seen as a meiwaku to my host-family, I refrained from seeking for help when I had trouble finding the way home from school or did not understand how to operate machine devices at home.

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