Chinese woman gets lesson in U.S. schools, English

November 20, 1994|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Sun Staff Writer

In some ways, Xiaochuan Huang likes the American method of learning better than the Chinese.

Chinese teachers may focus more on the basics and give more homework, but in American schools, students are given more encouragement and taught to do independent research, she said during a class at the Literacy Council in Westminster last week.

Ms. Huang, 39, has experienced both methods of teaching. She graduated from a Chinese university and worked in Beijing for years.

But when her husband, Xiaolu Zhe, got a job at Knorr Brake in Westminster in August, Ms. Huang found herself starting all over again at the Literacy Council.

"In China, I finished the university education," Ms. Huang said. "I started English there, but my English is very poor.

"I needed the tools to learn, so a librarian told me about the Literacy Council and how it can help me."

Twice a week, she meets with tutor Marilynn Meeker to increase her vocabulary, discuss the construction of English sentences and correct essays written for class.

Her most recent essay topic, which coincided with National Education Week last week, was to compare schools in her native China and the United States.

Aside from her experiences, Ms. Huang said she drew from those of her daughter, Mona Zhe, a sixth-grader at Westminster West Middle School.

"My daughter was very startled to learn that American students can eat and drink in class, walk around and sit on the floor," Ms. Huang said.

In China, the teachers are very strict; they insist the students sit still, she said.

If students misbehave, they must stand by their desks. After a second offense, a student must stand in the hall so he or she doesn't influence the other students, Ms. Huang said.

A Chinese education also is more systematic, students are taught to calculate faster and they are tested frequently to demonstrate what they know, she said.

But there are some things Ms. Huang likes better about American schools, she said. For instance, students have been taught to find answers to their questions.

"They look up data from the library by themselves," Ms. Huang said. "It is important to get the ability for independent study."

Also, American teachers are more supportive, encouraging students even when they aren't at the head of the class.

"My daughter likes the American school better," Ms. Huang said in her essay. "It's not as stressful, and she doesn't have as much homework, so she has time to read books that are her favorites.

"I think if they both learned from each other, they could offset the weaknesses."

Much of Ms. Huang's class time is spent listening to how other people speak, she said.

"She needs to speak English more correctly," Ms. Meeker said.

"I have to learn to write so my sentences are in American English, not Chinese English," Ms. Huang, said, with a laugh.

She also has to pay particular attention to English slang. For example, Ms. Huang said she was quite confused when someone told her to "take it easy."

"The opposite of easy is difficult -- what does it mean?" Ms. Huang said, recalling her thought process.

"That's very American," Ms. Meeker said. "There's no way to know what it means without asking someone. It's not in the dictionary."

Unlike most Literacy Council students, Ms. Huang also is taking two classes -- reading and English grammar -- at Carroll Community College.

Therefore, the women said, Ms. Meeker tries to keep Ms. Huang's homework to a minimum.

"I try to be reasonable," Ms. Meeker said. "She's a special case. She knows a great deal, and it's useless to study grammar, because she already knows it.

"We do more with the use of the language and oral work," she said.

"She's a very nice teacher," Ms. Huang said. "In the beginning, she asked me the name of my community college reading teacher.

"She contacted her and asked where I needed help with my English. Now she knows."

Before moving to the United States in July 1993, Ms. Huang was a mechanical engineer doing research and design work at the Hydroelectric Institute.

L Before that, she was an engineer in an electric power plant.

"If anything went wrong, she had to figure out what to do to fix it," Ms. Meeker said. "She had to design the plan to build the part, oversee the work and help do it."

Eventually, landing an engineering job working with computers would be perfect, Ms. Huang said. But, for now, she doesn't think much about her future.

7+ "Right now, I want to study," she said.

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