On 9 December, David Barick gave an online presentation for the SENSE Ed SIG titled ‘Teaching Writing to Chinese Students’. A large number of members were on hand, most of whom had had a fair bit of experience either in teaching Chinese students or editing texts for Chinese clients. Below, David gives his account of this session.
We began by taking a quick look at a number of online discussions of this topic, in the form of screenshots. Before investigating what was said there in detail, I asked participants about their own experiences with Chinese authors, and to mention any typical issues in the chat. Comparison of these comments with the online discussions disclosed many similarities, which fell into two categories. First, personality characteristics and cultural differences played a significant role. Many people found Chinese students to be shy and reticent, not comfortable about expressing opinions, or at least when working in groups. Linguistically speaking, a number of well-known confusions came to the fore: Chinese has no articles or gender, and hardly any plurals. Verbs always have the same form, and tenses are only indicated by adding particles to other places in the sentence.
Having made our lists of possible sticking points, we then turned to our expert guest for the meeting. Lin Shang is a Chinese-born dentist who holds a PhD in dental science from the University of Amsterdam and is employed as an assistant professor at the Academic Centre for Dentistry Amsterdam (ACTA). She confirmed that many of the remarks being made could be applied to at least some of her compatriots, and told us about the difficulties she had experienced in adjusting to an English-speaking academic life in the Netherlands. We had overlooked some things, however. For example, Lin pointed out that she had a tendency to overload her sentences with too much information.
This led us to the next part of the session, in which we discussed how to approach giving feedback to these students in a way that took their feelings – in any case, as we ourselves perceive them – into account. As it happened, the first example we looked at from one of my own students, which was grammatically flawless, contained two enormously long sentences of the type Lin had described. In this case, at the time, I split the entire class into work groups to look at the long sentences and discuss various ways of subdividing them into shorter ones.
We then looked at two introductions to scientific articles that mirrored one another to some extent. The first one, which involved the optimization of a hospital procedure, was full of grammatical and linguistic errors of the type we had already mentioned. The student did have to be made aware of them, but the feedback she received also emphasized the fact that she had structured her writing very correctly.
The second introduction, by a psychologist, was about the ways in which Chinese parents can influence their children’s choice of friends. Here, the language use was excellent, but this was a very complicated subject which required a great deal of explanation of cultural attitudes. As a result, clarity suffered, and the overall structure of paper was quite jumbled. In this case, I approached the author separately in the Zoom chat during class and asked if she would like to discuss her work with me during the break. This was delicate, as I did not want to give the impression that the author was going to be scolded or reprimanded. Fortunately, it turned out she was happy to have the opportunity to meet with me, because she had already been working on the paper for a month and was still dissatisfied with the result. This led to a total restructuring of the paper.
SENSE members can view the PowerPoint slides for this session, as well as the Zoom chat, in the SENSE Ed section of the SENSE Forum, here.
|Blog post by: David Barick