- Arianna Pappone
How hard is it to learn English for Asian people? Perspectives from Chinese Students
Although learning English can be a challenge for many people all around the world, some languages might have more similarities in terms of grammatical structure, spelling system, and sounds to English than other languages do. Many European languages, for example, share a lot of vocabulary and grammar with the English language, and therefore it might be easier for speakers of those languages to learn and speak. In addition, cultural factors could impact people’s learning process as well: people that were born and raised in Western culture might have a different experience when it comes to approaching a language than people from other cultures.
This article will focus on a category of speakers that might find it challenging to learn English: people that come from East Asian countries. For this article, I briefly interviewed some Chinese students studying in London and asked about their own English learning experience. Here is what they had to say:
“I think after learning English we always felt that we are good at writing and reading. Because we have more time to prepare these two. But we find that listening and speaking are more difficult for us. Especially speaking, Chinese grammar is very different from English. And also sometimes we don't know how to express certain concepts in English. Just for me, I felt I'm bad at oral speaking in English"
"The environment is very important when learning a language. Chinese students, parents, and schools are more focused on grades. This means that learning English is fine as long as the test scores are high. However, language is a tool and needs to be used. In China, there are very few places where English can be used. In English exams, some areas do not test listening or speaking English, only knowledge of grammar points, reading, and writing. This situation has resulted in most Chinese students having poor listening and speaking skills in English."
There are some important points that could be made regarding what can be learned from their words. First of all, hearing about their unique English learning journey can help us understand how not only linguistic factors but also cultural elements can pose a challenge to Asian people learning English. In this context, a strict focus on academics could result in students approaching English solely as a school subject rather than a tool to communicate with others. This is also something that many Italian students often experience: a lack of interest in the language beyond the need of scoring high on school tests. Secondly, such cultural barriers and the rigid structure that English is given within the school system also lead to Chinese students not practicing fundamental skills such as listening and speaking. Finally, cultural barriers are not the only
What can we learn from Chinese perspectives on learning English? Probably the most important lesson is that the way we approach a language is the real game-changer. When students see it as a tedious subject that we must study to overcome a language barrier, chances are it will be extremely difficult for them to become fluent. If, instead, they used English as a tool to learn more about some things they really liked, they might not only become fluent, but have fun along the way.