Post graduate Chinese students studying in the UK

I went for a long walk with someone with whom I am planning a house swap.  She is a university lecturer, and we got talking about The Language List.  Because she was a bit critical about her university, I am not using her real name here – but will call her “Ute”.

Ute had some very useful insights, which I want to share with you in this blog.  Although we were talking about Chinese students in particular, I am sure much of it would apply to other international students.   However, for interest, I intend to have this blog translated into Chinese.

Ute Tell me about your new business Gaynor.
Me It’s a website where people can arrange English Homestay.  They can do it directly with the tutor, not through an agency.  This means it can be more flexible and cost-effective, as we only charge a 15% fee for putting the two in contact.  Normally this market is served by agencies which take a fee nearer 50%.  So if a student pays £1000 for a week, the tutor might get paid around £500.
Ute Who is it for?
Me There are three main markets; international students, particularly Chinese coming to UK to study; business people, and people who love the language and want to have a holiday as well as improve their English.
Ute I can think of many of my students who could benefit from that.
Me That does not surprise me.  I think it is very widely-known that universities get much of their income from foreign students.  There must be a great deal of pressure on them when they come over.  They have the expectations of their parents; they are learning a new language as well as a new subject, and they might be suffering from culture shock too.  Also, the language of the texts they have to read and write is so complex.  Academic English is not like spoken English.  In my student days, I didn’t see why it was better to write 50 words when 10 words would have got the message across!
Ute You are absolutely right.  I found it very difficult when I came over to the UK.  Although I am European, I learned English in the USA.  When I arrived I found the English accent and the regional accents almost impossible to understand.  It took me quite a bit of time to “get my ear in” as they say.

Many of my students arrive here speaking what I call “Chinese English”.  They have learned English in China, typically by a non-native speaker.  They have Chinese pronunciation and Chinese intonation.  Although they have passed the IELTs test, they can get a real shock when they arrive.

They also have the challenge of our alphabet, plus the fact that English is so different in the way that words are used.  One word can have many different meanings, plus there are the different contexts.  Chinese in many ways is so much more sophisticated, they don’t have that issue.

Me Really?  I thought English was supposed to be very sophisticated.  Are you saying that Chinese people find it hard to understand that the same word can be used for very, very different things?  So they don’t do that in China then?
Ute It’s just that they have so many more words (or characters).  Take for example the word “violence”.  There are many different types of violence, domestic violence, physical violence, sexual, cultural, emotional etc. etc.  In Chinese they probably have a different character for each of these.  Different ways of pronouncing a word alter its meaning too.  We don’t do that in European languages, as far as I know.
Me It’s fascinating.  It would be such a help to some students to live with a tutor all the time they are doing their course.  They would have the comfort of staying in a family home, have all the support needed with their thesis; the tutors could even look at their reading material and discuss it with them.  Lots of The Language List tutors have had very interesting backgrounds, and would probably love to study new things in the course of their work.
Ute That would be a fantastic service.  I can really see it taking off.
Me When I call universities, I detect some hostility. They tell me they can’t see the need for this sort of service.  They say they don’t accept students on a course if they would not be able to cope, plus they offer their own language support services.
Ute Who have you been speaking to?  You need to get to the lecturers not the administration staff.  I can tell you first hand that what my university offers is not sufficient.

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