Challenges for Chinese-Speaking ELLs

Chinese, referring to both Mandarin and Cantonese, is the most spoken language in the world, with over a billion native speakers. In the United States, it is the second most common language among English Language Learners (ELL). Although all ELL students come across misconceptions in the English language, Chinese-speakers have certain challenges to consider. It is essential for educators to become well-informed of language barriers students encounter when teaching Chinese-speaking ELLs to provide more effective English language arts instruction. VocabularySpellingCity provides a list of common challenges for Chinese English Language Learners as well as additional resources to help with such issues.


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Unique Challenges of Teaching Chinese-Speaking English Language Learners

Pitch and Stress

  • Pitch particularly plays a larger role in Chinese than English. There are four tones in Chinese pronunciation, each indicating a change in meaning. In English, change in pitch may express distinct emotions, but it does not alter word meaning. Word stress is another key component in the English language, however, it is nonexistent in Chinese (Mandarin). The audio-visual features in VocabularySpellingCity’s games and activities will help Chinese-speaking English Language Learners become familiar with word stress in the English language.

Different Consonants Phonemes

  • The /v/ phoneme, found in English words like “love”, does not exist in Chinese. Depending on dialect, Chinese-speakers might pronounce the /v/ as a /b/ or /w/. Another phoneme not found in Chinese languages is the /l/. Chinese-speaking ELLs tend to confuse and replace /n/ for /l/. VocabularySpellingCity offers games specifically catered to phonics instruction, which will of benefit when teaching Chinese-speaking ELLs. Sound It Out! is suited to help with confusing consonant phonemes. ELL students playing Sound It Out! will practice phoneme (letter sound) and grapheme (sound spelling) relationships by clicking the sound blocks.

Consonant Clusters

  • The use of consonant clusters is especially challenging for Chinese-speakers. In either Chinese language, consonant clusters are not present. When teaching Chinese-speaking ELLs, you might notice they omit, add, or substitute sounds in clusters combinations, like [tr], [f], [pr], [pl], [sk], and [st]. VocabularySpellingCity provides consonant cluster word lists. Lists can be paired with the learning activity FlashCards, which breaks up the words into individual phonemes. Students can later hear the sounds blended together to hear the correct pronunciation of the consonant cluster words.

Gender Pronouns

  • In Chinese, pronouns are not differentiated by gender (he, she, his, and her). Therefore, Chinese-speaking ELLs often forget to use appropriate gender pronouns. Chinese-speakers usually default to the masculine form and may refer to a woman as “he” or “his”. Pronoun word lists are available on VocabularySpellingCity. ELLs can review gender pronouns using learning activities like Word Videos or FlashCards, where words are used in a sentence and read aloud.

Singular/Plural Noun

  • Chinese languages do not distinguish between plural and singular nouns. Context is used to determine whether the noun is singular or plural. As a result, Chinese-speaking ELLs tend to not use the plural form, for example saying “I have five apple” versus “I have five apples”. With VocabularySpellingCity’s singular/plural word list, Chinese-speaking ELL students can review the tricky concept. The word list can be used with Sentence Unscramble. In this game, students can hear a word used in a sentence. Afterwards, the sentence is scrambled and students must place the words in the correct order. Scrambled words are read aloud as well.