It took a while for my teaching placement to be finalized, and then immediately after China had a 1 week break so I haven't done too much teaching yet. Instead of that I'd like to focus this post on language learning. China is not very English friendly; very few people speak English and many signs and menus are only in Chinese. While we were tourists in Beijing and Guilin we could get by without very much Chinese language ability, but the more time I spend here the more I feel a need to learn.
Before coming to China I could only speak a handful of phrases. I could count, and say some useful things such as "hello" (你好), "sorry" (对不起), "thank you" (谢谢), and "it's okay" (没关系). As I spent time in China I was able to slowly learn more and more as I needed to. It was a lot easier to remember words when I needed to use them compared to when I tried to learn them in Canada. Learning words when there was a context associated with them was much more efficient than learning them from a book. For example, I kept forgetting the word for apple before I came to China, but it became much easier after I tried to buy one.
I'm constantly surprised by how much I can understand even though I don't speak the language here. We've been lucky enough to be given the opportunity to attend a Chinese language class. Every class we learn about 5 new words. With each new word I feel as though the amount I am able to communicate increases exponentially. More useful than this however is body language. Often if someone cannot understand what I am trying to say, they can at least piece it together if I am also pointing or gesturing with my hands. Similarly I can often only understand a few words when someone speaks to me, but I am able to use context, facial expressions, and gestures to understand what they are trying to say.
Being in China has given me a more authentic experience on what it would be like to be an ELL student. If I were to suddenly sit though a lecture in Chinese I would likely not pay attention, and I definitely would not understand what was going on. The amount I know does not match what I can communicate. In English I am able to write very long essays very quickly, but in Chinese it took me over 2 hours to write a 100 word paragraph about my life in China. In class we talk so much about the importance of engaging ELL students and incorporating their prior knowledge, however I didn't fully appreciate why that is important until now.