In his Neither Here Nor There, Bill Bryson briefly talked about his French learning experience. It is very funny. Also, from my point of view, very sad.
He was in Wallonia, France. He wrote:
‘...... hardly anyone in Wallonia speaks English. I began to regret that I didn't understand French well enough to eavesdrop. I took three years of French in school, but learned next to nothing. The trouble was that the textbooks were so amazingly useless. ...... at no point did they intersect with the real world. ...... How often on a visit to France do you need to tell someone you want to clean a blackboard? How frequently do you wish to say, “It is winter. Soon it will be spring”? In my experience, people know this already.’
From this short description, I think two unfortunate things happened during Bryson’s French learning days. Firstly, the textbooks were useless. Secondly, his French teacher was not doing his/her job. The second point was far more severe than the first one, and carried a worse consequence. If Bryson’s teacher had been an inspiring teacher, Bryson would have had learned something despite the useless textbooks, and he might have picked up French again sometime after he graduated from all his formal education.
The same thing could happen, and did happen, in Chinese classrooms. There are definitely some Chinese teachers who got in the wrong profession. Here are five basic signs for you to tell whether or not your teacher happens to be one of them.
Sign #1. Your Chinese teacher says: “This is wrong. I have corrected you many times. When can you learn?”
Mistakes, even repeated ones, are part of the learning process. Both Chinese teachers and students need to know how to deal with them.
Sign #2. You spend most of your class time learning new words and a long list of Chinese grammar points. There is very little time for you to express yourself or to have a genuine conversation in Chinese.
Sign #3. Your teacher emphasises that he/she has passed a Putonghua level test, which is to prove that he/she is qualified for the job.
This is absurd. Scoring high on a test does not mean this teacher can teach well. To be a good Chinese teacher requires passion and dedication, which shine through each class and which have a huge positive impact on your Chinese study.
Sign #4. Your teacher emphasises that he/she has the perfect northern accent, or even a Beijing accent, which you can benefit from.
If, as the result, you are doing tons of pronunciation drills because your teacher wants you to speak like him/her, you are surely learning from the wrong teacher. Accents should not be overly stressed. Everyone has an accent, and it is totally all right.
Sign #5. Your teacher expects strict conformity during Chinese classes. He/She talks most of the time, and asks you to be quiet and to take notes constantly.
Learning Chinese should be a stimulating experience. Strict conformity kills everything.
Teachers who show one or more signs mentioned above usually have bland, boring and uninspiring Chinese classes. If you are stuck with such a teacher, remind yourself that you are not afraid of making mistakes, and that you don’t have to sound like your teacher. Otherwise, you will probably end up quitting Chinese. Alternatively, to save yourself from quitting, find a new teacher. There are countless wonderful Chinese teachers out there.