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4 Things My Chinese Students Have Taught Me

KATIE RAPP | MAY 12, 2020
It is always a fun thing when you are a teacher and you get to learn from the students you are teaching. For the past three years, I have woken up in the wee hours of the morning to teach some precious children in China how to speak, read, and write English. 

4:30 am isn’t quite so painful when an adorable five-year-old comes onto the computer screen and starts singing to you and telling you about their day.

Can I tell you a secret? I have learned from them too. I”m supposed to be doing the teaching but they are expert teachers and they don’t even know it.  They have taught me four main things, or maybe I should say these are my four favorite things I have learned from them. 

1. A 5 Year Old in China is the same as a 5 Year Old in America

Sometimes it is really easy to get caught up on the differences we see or perceive instead of seeing how we are the same.  The best way to bridge the culture gap is to understand what the similarities are.

I will never forget the moment that it hit me, a Chinese 5-year-old is so similar to an American 5-year-old. The same is true for a 7-year-old or a 9-year-old. One morning I taught a little girl that was the same age as my middle daughter at the time and then immediately taught a boy the age of my son at the time.

The little girl wanted to show me all of her dolls and tell me their names.  She was just so precious and that is exactly what my daughter would have done. I remember thinking how much she reminded me of her. My next student loved Pokemon and Legos. He was so excited and slightly hard to refocus on the lesson. Just like my son would have been.

I saw how much these children I taught every day were like my own kids. Children are children no matter the country or language. 

2. Learning a Second Language can be Fun

Before I started teaching English online, I really thought learning a second language was tedious and boring.  My students showed me how much fun they were having while they were becoming quite skilled English speakers. 

They made me take another look at what it could be like to be a second language learner and how having fun could make it go faster, or at least take the focus off of how long it can take to master a new language.

Many of my students have been studying for two or more years and I have been consistently impressed by how well they speak English. I really believe it is because the method we use to teach makes learning fun. 

3. Chinese Culture is Rich and Interesting

My favorite part of teaching my kids in China is learning more about what Chinese culture looks like for them. I love seeing what family is like and how much little girls just love their dads and how much mothers dote on their children. 

I love seeing the food, some kids eat in class.  I get to ask them to tell me what they are eating or what they had for lunch that day so I can learn about the foods that are popular in that particular city or province. Fish - 鱼 (yú) - seems to be pretty popular in some areas.   

We also get to talk about interesting places to visit and the history behind the special locations throughout the country. With older children, we can talk about current world events. The culture I get to see while teaching from thousands of miles away is the next best thing to visiting China again. 

4. How to Really Celebrate the Chinese Holidays

Just like in the United States not everyone celebrates Christmas the same way or Thanksgiving with the same foods, there seem to be slight variations to how some holidays are celebrated. I remember one Dragon Boat festival I asked my student if he was going to be doing anything for the festival with his family.  

He said that they were not watching boats but they might eat some special foods. But another student was going to watch the boats and eat street food. 

I also love asking what foods students eat during Chinese New Year.  Some eat dumplings and noodles while others eat chicken with rice.  Some eat mandarin oranges while others don’t. It makes me feel very normal that while we have basic traditions in our country, families get to choose how they celebrate. 

It is great to also know that there are things like fireworks and lanterns, dragon dances and red envelops filled with money that are almost always involved. 

Thank You, Students

I don’t think I have enough words to say thank you to my sweet Chinese students for all they have taught me. As I continue to learn Mandarin through YoYo Chinese and learning Chinese culture from my students, I can only hope for the day that I can return to China.

Maybe next time I get to go, I will know enough Mandarin to see some of my students in person and speak to them in whatever language they choose to use.  

I encourage you to never stop looking for opportunities to see how we can be taught my the most unlikely teachers and to learn a second language!