Hottest English teaching method

Hottest English teaching method. Carrie Chen

Carrie Chen’s successful chalk-and-talk method

In my previous post, I discussed the celebrity status of star teachers in Taiwan. Although their good looks and personality do play a key role in a star teacher’s popularity, this is only part of the story. These star teachers also possess the knowledge, skills and abilities to teach students in a way that helps them reach their goals. Interestingly, they usually do not employ the much-lauded Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) approach when they teach nor do they follow the monolingual English-Only Immersion Method. These teachers prefer to use more traditional and local approaches, such as grammar-translation and/or teacher-centered methods. This is due to the fact that the purpose of language teaching in cram schools is different.

In the case of star teachers, they are teaching in buxiban that are focused on assisting students with standardized exam preparation. The star teachers know that more traditional approaches to teaching are the best methods for helping students to pass standardized tests. Clearly, good teaching is context-dependent. It is impossible to separate English teaching methodology from the contexts in which it operates.

I will use the example of a highly successful star teacher, Carrie Chen, to demonstrate how a star teacher teaches their students. Let’s take for example Carrie’s approach to teaching English vocabulary.  Armed with only a blackboard and chalk, Carrie relies on her confidence, enthusiasm and teaching skills to motivate her students.

She begins her class (in the video 05:20) by saying the supposedly longest word in the dictionary, ‘pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis.’ She then writes it down quickly on the board to demonstrate her vocabulary expertise. This way she contends that English becomes fun and easy if students study with her saying and they won’t forget the content she teaches them.

Carrie employs a highly traditional and nowadays unconventional method of English teaching, i.e. no teaching aids and teacher centered. She uses Mandarin Chinese as the medium of instruction and the main focus of teaching is employing techniques (association, cognates, comparison …) to help students memorize English vocabulary. Using a combination of her witty humor, off-color jokes and personal anecdotes to make English vocabulary memorable rather than just being a bunch of syllables and sounds strung together.

For example, she makes fun of foreigners who do not know how to pronounce ‘謝謝 – xie xie (thank you)’ and ‘不謝 – bu xie (you are welcome)” in Mandarin Chinese correctly, instead they might say ‘shit shit (xie xie)’ and ‘bullshit (bu xie)’ to Taiwanese people. An off-color joke she used in the video described above is her strategy to memorize the word ‘phenomenon:’ she explains that ‘phe’ means a female elephant or a fat girl. If a girl is fat, ‘no’ ‘men’ are interested in being ‘on’ her. Hence an easy way to memorize the spelling of ‘phenomeon’ as ‘phe no men on.’

During a speech at a National Taiwan University, Carrie listed some keys to being a successful buxiban English teacher including: a smart and neat appearance, good command of English, and devotion and enthusiasm. She continues by emphasizing the need for encouraging students and remaining positive at all the times and incorporating humor and active learning techniques to motivate and sustain students interest.

The test-oriented method used in buxiban is not exotic or fancy. The secret lies in the way the star teachers conducts the class. The celebrity status of star teachers and their popularity does seem to be skin deep. Without their looks these teachers would not be able to pull in the students into the buxiban. Still, it is interesting to note, that although a lot of their popularity is premised on their good looks and charisma, many of these teachers do in fact know how to teach English very well. If they don’t teach well, their looks will not be enough to keep them their job and star status.

The quality of their teaching methods is reflected in the high scores their students achieve on the standardized tests given for admission into high schools or universities.

Author Jackie Chang

Jackie Chang is an assistant professor in the English Department at National Pintung University of Education in Pintung, Taiwan. She holds a PhD in Applied Linguistics from the University of Sydney, where she worked under the supervision of Ingrid Piller. Before becoming an academic, Jackie gained extensive experience in the English language teaching industry in Taiwan.

More posts by Jackie Chang
  • Rosemary Kuwahata

    The example about ‘phenomenon’ has reminded me of an example of a similar type of imprinting that I encountered in Japan for the English expression ‘Long, long ago’, which admittedly should not be very difficult to learn or remember. It involves the speaker pretending to be an old man stroking his chin downwards and gazing into the distance while saying “Long, long ago….” The Japanese word for ‘chin’ is ‘ago’, and when accompanied by a picture of a man with a rather long chin it is quite memorable. I have also seen a book full of similar quirky ways to remember English phrases, but do not know how effective such a method would be when used on the scale of an entire book. For the purpose of passing exams it might be somewhat effective as a tool for rote learning and memorisation of random words and expressions because of the fun factor, but depending upon the seriousness of the student, in real communication situations this approach has the potential to cause embarrassment, confusion and misleading lexical and phonological associations to students. Hopefully, as they become more accomplished and move onto higher levels they will be able to stop themselves laughing out loud at inappropriate moments when using such words as “phenomenon” that they have learned in this way, but I hope they continue to laugh inwardly and appreciate the desperate methods that their old cram school teachers employed.

    • Jackie Chang

      Thanks, Rosemary! I liked your story. My Japanese is a little rusty, but I did get the expression and thought it was a good way to remember “Long long ago.” As you pointed out there is definitely a difference in learning language for a test and learning it for communication. Thanks for the insight!

  • Very traditional methods! I wonder how their students compare in their spoken English to students who have learned in a more progressive and modern manner?

    • Jackie Chang

      Thank you for your comment! Yes, the method is very traditional. However, as noted in the post, the purpose of the buxiban is to assist students pass standardized test and not to speak proficiently. Taiwanese students that want to focus on speaking proficiency will study English at language schools where different teaching methods are employed and geared towards conversation, fluency and pronunciation.

  • Li Jia

    Jackie, thanks for your wonderful post! The star teachers in Taiwan remind me of a famous training school, probably the most popular one in China in terms of the number of students enrolled and the amount of salary teachers hold (the CEO is said to be the richest teacher in China). It’s called “New Oriental School (NOS)”. It’s the only English buxiban I’ve ever attended in order to improve my performance in GRE (general record examination). Reading your post, I find there are many similarities between teachers from NOS and female stars in Taiwan. The class was also teacher-centred, no modern teaching aids except chalk and blackboard and also Chinese as the instruction medium without using English immersion teaching style. There are also some differences from the star teachers in Taiwan. When I went to Beijing to improve my performance of GRE in NOS, it was in 1998 and the school was just established for 5 years , all of the teachers were males and those male teachers were equipped with talents in their special sense of humour relating English knowledge to Chinese classical figures and works so as to reduce students’ anxiety of memorizing tricky words, and understanding complicated literature theories. Clearly the sense of humour makes teachers both in Taiwan and Beijing popular among students and I think there must be some differences in the way teachers of different genders construct their humour. What are those humorous resources that male and female teachers quote and are there any different choices between males and females or is the teaching humour neutral instead of gender-related? I’d very much like to know more from your future post or your kind reply Jackie.

    • Jackie Chang

      Hi, Li Jia! I found your comments comparing the teachers in China to the star teachers in Taiwan really interesting and enjoyed you sharing your experiences with me. As for gender and different types of humor, I think you do have an excellent point. Unfortunately I can’t think of any comparisons off-hand, but when I come across any related information I’ll be sure to send it your way. For my next post, I am thinking about something related to teaching in language schools. I look forward to seeing what you think.

      • Li Jia

        Thanks for your encouragement, 大师姐,very much expecting to read your next post!!!

  • What an interesting and thought provoking post. A number of years ago a Thai colleague and I did some work on CLT and argued for a context-based approach – this may be of interest to readers

  • Grace Chang

    Thank you very much for a series of posts, Jackie!
    As shown in your posts, the success of star teachers in cram schools, especially for high school students, relies on teaching tips of memorizing English words rather than teaching English communicative competence. I think this phenomenon also reflects some other aspects in a larger picture.
    1. It shows the linguistic environment in Taiwan, where English is not operating as a communicative tool in daily life; thus, for a student, English is often merely a school subject and the major task for them is to pass tests.
    2. English acts more like a gatekeeping mechanism at many educational and employment transitions in Taiwan. Therefore, the form of examinations in English shapes students’ learning techniques and their choice of learning resources. For example, when they are taking speaking tests, they might instead look for teachers of native speakers.
    3. The attribution of cram schools is not only educational but also entertaining since cram schools also belong to service industry. Therefore, students might find it more enjoyable having a good-looking, good-manner, and amiable teacher in these after-hours cram schools after a full day in class. And it would be very exciting to meet the scandal figure!

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  • Dirk Westerduin

    The question is: does learning English solely for test purposes make sense? English, like any other language, is a communication tool. If the only goal is: passing a test, then English is not used, but abused. The English teaching system in Taiwan needs an overhaul, from elementary school to university. The English tests need a major overhaul as well. Exams need to meet reality, i.e. the way we use the language. Of course this is related to a variety of cultures. But we can create useful parametres. The education system as it is in Taiwan right now, is horrific.

    Though I am a foreigner, I admit that many foreigners in Taiwan do not know how to teach. This is idiotic, but created by Taiwan itself. The only thing you need in many cases is: being a native speaker of English and having any bachelor’s degree. Of course many youngsters from the Western world see Taiwan as a hen hao opportunity for an extended back pack vacation then.

    However, do Taiwanese English teachers have better teaching skills? At my university they use 100% Chinese at the Applied English Language department. Further, idiotic situations like an English teaching contest completely in Chinese are considered normal. This is a malfunction in the system as well.

    Anyhow, I am happy that I found this website. Still reading your dissertation.

    Dirk Westerduin, lecturer of English in Taiwan