The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The changing face of China

This week has seen the start of my annual teaching stint; teaching EAP (English for Academic Purposes) to international students hoping to start on postgraduate courses at Bristol University in the autumn. The majority of the students generally come from Asia and my class this year is no exception, with mostly Chinese students, a couple of Japanese and one lone Spaniard.

The approach and attitude, particularly of the Chinese students, has changed quite remarkably over the five years I've been teaching the course, and seems to reflect the huge changes that have taken place in China as a whole. Just a few years ago, students fresh off the plane from China would obediently soak up the facts, "learn" them by heart, and spit them out. Everything was black-and-white and every question had a correct answer. The concept of critical thinking was completely alien to them. Getting them to question ideas, to engage with the whys, wherefores and maybes was really an uphill battle.

Over the past couple of years things have begun to change. More "westernised" students have started to crop up. They're better dressed, have all the latest gadgets and know as much about Western popular culture as any British student of their age. At first there were just one or two in each class, but the numbers have definitely grown.

In my first academic research writing class this week, I started off with small group discussions about what their expectations were of the course and what skills they thought they'd need to write successful academic essays. The results were quite startling, without exception, every group came up with ideas about critical thinking, evaluating sources and drawing their own conclusions from evidence.

Now I'm just waiting to see whether they can put their ideas into practice. Will their first attempts at research writing reflect their apparent awareness of what's expected of them? Or have they just learnt all the right things to say from their friends from last year's classes? I'll let you know next week ...

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